From SFA Athletics
NACOGDOCHES, TX (Press Release)- With their collective sights set squarely on a trip to the Southland Conference Championship Tournament for the first time since the 2013 campaign, the Stephen F. Austin baseball team begins its 2016 season on Friday afternoon at the Clay Gould Classic on the campus of UT Arlington.
While there, the ‘Jacks will play four games including two against the host Mavericks as well as a pair against No. 7-ranked Oklahoma State. Below are the pitching matchups for each of the ‘Jacks four tilts on opening weekend. All statistics listed are from the 2015 season.
Friday, Feb. 19 • SFA at UT Arlington • 11:00 a.m.
SFA • RHP Jarred Greene (2-4, 6.97 ERA) | UTA • RHP Kadon Simmons (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Saturday, Feb. 20 • SFA vs. Oklahoma State • 11:00 a.m.
SFA • LHP Eric Nouis (0-0, 0.00 ERA) | OK State • RHP Thomas Hatch (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sunday, Feb. 21 • SFA vs. Oklahoma State • 11:00 a.m.
SFA • LHP Patrick Ledet (3-0, 1.53 ERA) | OK State • RHP Jensen Elliott • (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sunday, Feb. 21 • SFA at UT Arlington • 2:30 p.m.
SFA • LHP Eric Polivka (1-4, 9.95 ERA) | UTA • TBA
Below is a season preview of the ‘Jacks 2016 squad.
Gone are the ‘Jacks top two win producers from the 2015 campaign, meaning the squad will be in search of some new leaders on the hill. An 11-game starter a season ago, junior Jarred Greene has been installed as SFA’s opening-day starter and seeks to surpass a sophomore campaign which saw the Pasadena, Texas, product register 23 strikeouts in 50.1 innings of work.
Looking to make a positive impact in his inaugural season with the ‘Jacks, junior Eric Nouis has been penciled in as the number-two arm in SFA’s early-season rotation. A southpaw hurler out of Houston, Texas, Nouis put in a year of service at the College of Southern Idaho and another at San Jacinto JC before signing on with the ‘Jacks.
Following an admirable tour of duty as SFA’s most-utilized arm of out the bullpen during his sophomore campaign, Nacogdoches, Texas, native Patrick Ledethas been elevated to a starting role to begin his days as an upperclassman. No SFA pitcher made more appearances than the 26 racked up by Ledet who tossed 29.1 innings and fanned 17 batters. In that span, he notched a 3-0 record and was tagged for a slim 1.53 ERA by opposing batters who hit .202 off of the lefty.
One of the ‘Jacks nine seniors, Eric Polivka, has been penciled in as SFA’s fourth starting arm to begin the season. Another left-hander, the Georgetown, Texas, product fanned 12 through 25.1 innings of work in 2015. Polivka compiled a grand total of nine appearances which included six starts during his first year in SFA colors.
Now in the final leg of his collegiate career, Austin Smith gives the ‘Jacks another additional returning arm to bolster their staff. Hailing from Little Elm, Texas, Smith stepped onto the mound in 20 of SFA’s 51 tilts and fired 16.2 innings. Sophomore Cody Adams is back following an opening collegiate act that saw the Seymour, Texas, native make six appearances, and ups the number of returners on SFA’s staff to six.
Other than Nouis, four other men – two junior college transfers and a pair of freshmen – joined up with the ‘Jacks in the offseason. Juniors Austin Hagy and Cole Ridgely are both right-handed firers and the former dons purple and white following a two-year stint at Murray State College in which he claimed All-Conference honors as a sophomore. Ridgely captured 2013 District Pitcher of the Year honors as a prep and spent the first half of his collegiate career at McLennan Community College.
Freshmen Seth Campbell and Austin Hearn are all set to cut their collegiate hardball teeth following their star-studded prep campaigns, too.
There will be an ample amount of experience, speed and power returning to patrol the ‘Jacks infield in 2016. Foremost among SFA’s cadre of dirt defenders is 2015 All-SLC Second Team selection Kyle Thornell. His prowess at the dish is unquestioned following a junior season in which he led all of NCAA baseball in triples (eight) and produced offense at a rate of .301/.412/.524.
Thornell was tops in SFA’s lineup with 30 RBI, and led the 13-team Southland Conference in batting average (.402), on-base percentage (.512) and slugging percentage (.629) in league games only. The senior will likely be stationed at first base when called on to play the field as opposed to his 2015 positioning in the outfield.
After making a splash among the SFA ranks as a true freshman a season ago, Eric DeJesusreturns to the hot corner with intentions of building on his one year of collegiate experience. The product of Diboll, Texas, was the only other ‘Jack besides Thornell who bettered the .400 threshold in terms of on-base percentage (.402) and drew a team-high 21 walks in 45 games played.
One of the most consistent figures in the ‘Jacks infield is back for his first season as an upperclassman. Nick Ramos has been a fixture at second base since he began sporting purple and white and there’s no reason to believe that trend won’t continue in 2016. Ramos started all 48 games he appeared in last season and amassed a team-high 108 fielding assists to go along with his .288 batting average.
Replacing the departed Dan O’Neill (first base) and Hunter Wilson (shortstop) were items on SFA’s preseason to-do list and Cardenas – along with his staff – seem to have done just that by adding the likes of Tyler Kendrick, Brent Patane, Henry Sanchez and Slayton Vaughan. Of that grouping, Vaughan appears to be an early contender for one of the starting vacancies.
A dearth of catchers – something that hasn’t been available for the ‘Jacks in recent years – are available for insertion in the lineup, but that foursome is headed up by Litchfield, Ariz., product Tyler Boxwell who served as the ‘Jacks primary backstop as a junior in 2015. The then-junior heard his name called in the starting lineup for 35 of SFA’s games and appeared in a grand total of 45. He also finished second on the team in putouts with 231.
Junior transfers Clark Kahawaii and Will Foreman are joined by freshman Jarrod Huber in the list of available catchers at SFA’s disposal this season.
Displaying the most consistency of the ‘Jacks three major areas, shoring up the outfield won’t be necessary as all three of SFA’s primary pieces from a season ago are back for 2016. The team’s leader in batting average (.306) last season, Conner Fikes played in all but one of SFA’s games and tied for the team high in walks while taking his cuts. In what was his last season as an underclassman, the product of Rowlett, Texas, primarily resided in left field.
The sole three-year letterwinner on the ‘Jacks 2016 roster is primed to make his final season as a collegian a memorable one as Matthew Dickey returns to his old centerfield stomping grounds. A speedster on the basepaths, Dickey swiped a team-best 21 bags in 2015 and also mashed an SFA-high 12 doubles. A Kilgore, Texas, native, Dickey started 48 of the 49 games he played in.
While it wasn’t quite a 50/50 split, both Garrett McMullen and Anthony Soriano spent their fair share of time hustling down fly balls in right field as first-year juniors throughout the 2015 campaign. McMullen was the lone player on SFA’s roster to take park in all 51 games last season. Of those 51 games he took part in, he was a starter in 44 of them and went 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts while notching a .261 average at the plate.
Soriano logged 34 appearances, 21 of which came by way of an insertion into the starting lineup. In those games, he batted .239 and drew 10 walks.
Returning for his third season at SFA is junior Brandon Smith, who spelled the ‘Jacks’ regulars with eight starts in 31 appearances. A .297 hitter in 2015, the Carthage, Texas, product joins the likes of junior college transfers Gavin Gregory and Zach Mischener in the hunt for playing time.