'Jacks open 2017 season in Nacogdoches by hosting Southeast Missouri State and UT Arlington

'Jacks open 2017 season in Nacogdoches by hosting Southeast Missouri State and UT Arlington

SFA Athletics

NACOGDOCHES ,TX (Press Release)

• Baseball is back in Nacogdoches as the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks start their 2017 campaign by hosting 2017 Ohio Valley Conference favorite Southeast Missouri State and UT Arlington for a three-day round-robin tournament at SFA's home venue of Jaycees Field.

• Friday | RHP Trevor Kiminski (SFA) vs. LHP Robert Beltran (Southeast Missouri State)
• Saturday | LHP Erik Nouis (SFA) vs. RHP Trae Patterson or LHP Jakob Hernandez (UT Arlington)
• Sunday | LHP Patrick Ledet vs. LHP Nate Green (Southeast Missouri State)
• Sunday | RHP Tony Grabowske (SFA) vs. RHP Reid Petty (UT Arlington)

Overall vs. Southeast Missouri State | 1-2 (.333)
In Nacogdoches, Texas | 0-0 (.000)
In Cape Girardeau, Mo. | 1-2 (.333)
Last meeting | Southeast Missouri State won, 9-5, on May 15, 2016 (Recap + Stats)
Last 10 games | 1-2 (.333)
Cardenas vs. Southeast Missouri State | 1-2 (.333)
Sawyers vs. SFA | 0-0 (.000)

Overall vs. UT Arlington | 23-34 (.404)
In Nacogdoches, Texas | 14-20 (.412)
In Arlington, Texas | 8-12 (.400)
Last meeting | UT Arlington won, 13-5, on March 1, 2016 (Recap + Stats)
Last 10 games | 5-5 (.500)
Cardenas vs. UT Arlington | 12-9 (.571)
Thomas vs. SFA | 10-14 (.417)

• Less than nine months after capturing the 2016 Ohio Valley Conference regular season title and the 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship, the Redhawks are under new leadership as first-year head coach Andy Sawyers takes the reins for his first collegiate head coaching assignment. The Redhawks' green skipper already has a wealth of weapons both in the field and on the hill to work with, however. Pitchers Robert Beltran and Clay Chandler were named Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference as was senior outfielder Chris Osborne. Another place where Osborne saw his name listed was on the NCBWA Preseason All-American release as the final-year man was named a Third Team All-American by the agency. Last season, Southeast Missouri State ranked among the top ten nationally in such categories as scoring (eighth, 7.9 runs per game), walks (fifth, 335), runs (sixth, 474), on-base percentage (seventh, .409) and strikeouts per nine innings (seventh, 9.2).

• Under the direction of 10th-year head coach Darin Thomas, the Mavericks hit the 30-win mark in 2016 and retain the services of three All-Sun Belt performers from their 2016 club. Foremost among that list of returners is senior catcher Brady Cox who hit .365 as a junior and earned a spot on the Preseason All-Sun Belt team. Pitcher Kadon Simmons racked up a league-leading nine wins while toeing the rubber for the Mavericks. Quintin Rohrbaugh round out the list of returning All-Sun Belt players among UT Arlington's ranks and he hit at a .343 clip as a junior.

• Since the formation of the SFA baseball program back in 1984, the 'Jacks have posted an 8-15 record in season openers. Three of those season-opening wins have come recently as SFA has emerged as the victors in each of their last three season-opening games. When the 'Jacks open their season at home, they are 5-2 all-time with the only two losses coming in 1986 and 1987. In their most recent opener at Jaycees Field, SFA posted a 4-1 victory over visiting Washington State on Feb. 13, 2014.

• Stephen F. Austin is coming off of a 2016 campaign that saw the program reach the 30-win plateau for the first time since 2011 and reach the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time since 2013. In all, SFA posted a 30-30 record as well as a 14-16 showing in Southland Conference play

• Six players earned All-Southland Conference acclaim in 2016 including now-senior Zac Michener who is the reigning Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year. Michener, a product of Kennedale, Texas, was also listed on the All-Southland Conference Third Team.

• Senior infielders Tyler Kendrick and Nick Ramos collected All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention citations last season.

• As the number-eight seed in the Southland Conference Tournament, the 'Jacks dropped their opening game of the postseason to top-seeded Sam Houston State before bouncing back to eliminate both Lamar and Central Arkansas from the postseason. The 'Jacks got their revenge against the Bearkats by scoring a 1-0 win to match a program record for Southland Conference Tournament wins but Sam Houston State won the elimination game rematch by an 8-2 score.

• Numbers-wise, the 'Jacks made plenty of noise at the plate, ranking second in the Southland Conference and 38th nationally with a team batting average of .298. SFA led the 13-team conference and was 34th among all NCAA Division I baseball teams with 120 doubles and racked up some 608 hits - the second-highest total in the Southland Conference and the 41st-most hits in the land.

• In the Preseason Southland Conference polls, Stephen F. Austin was picked to make a repeat appearance in the Southland Conference Tournament. The coaches poll saw the 'Jacks get listed in seventh place while the sports information directors poll had SFA in the eighth slot. Over the past three seasons, SFA has risen from 12th to 10th, to eighth place in the league standings at the conclusion of the 2016 regular season.

2017 Southland Conference Preseason Coaches Poll | First-place votes in parentheses
1. Sam Houston State (11)
2. Southeastern Louisiana (2)
3. Lamar
4. McNeese
5. Central Arkansas
6. Northwestern State
7. Stephen F. Austin 
8. New Orleans
9. Nicholls
10. Houston Baptist
11. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
12. Abilene Christian
13. Incarnate Word

2017 Southland Conference Preseason SID Poll | First-place votes in parentheses
1. Sam Houston State (10)
2. Southeastern Louisiana (3)
3. Lamar
4. McNeese
5. Northwestern State
6. Central Arkansas
7. New Orleans
8. Stephen F. Austin
9. Nicholls
10. Houston Baptist
11. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
12. Abilene Christian
13. Incarnate Word?

• Returning for the 'Jacks are seniors Conner Fikes and Zac Michener - both of whom collected Preseason All-Southland Conference acclaim prior to the start of their final seasons in Lumberjack colors.
• Fikes latched on to Preseason All-Southland Conference First Team accolades after securing a spot on the All-Southland Conference First Team in 2016. The Rowlett, Texas, product patrolled left field for the 'Jacks, but it was at the plate where he did the most of his damage. Fikes wrapped up 2016 with a .362 batting average that led the team and ranked third among all Southland Conference players. Additionally, he led the league and ranked eighth in the nation with eight sacrifice flies to his credit and struck out just once every 13.2 at-bats, making him the 13th most difficult player to strike out in the nation.
• A Preseason All-Southland Conference Second Team choice, Michener was stationed in right field for the entirety of his first season in Nacogdoches. In 2016, the Kennedale, Texas, native hit .322 with 13 doubles and five home runs.

• While hitting was the 'Jacks' calling card in 2016, it's likely that pitching will be in 2017 as SFA returns nine arms from last season - including its entire weekend rotation.

• 2016 wins leader Patrick Ledet returns for his senior season following a 2016 campaign that ended with the Nacogdoches, Texas, product's record settling at 6-2. Ledet totaled a team-high 72 strikeouts in 85 innings of work and boasted a 3.92 ERA.

• Seniors Erik Nouis (4-4 in 2016) and Jarred Greene (4-6 in 2016) are the other two SFA weekend starters who are returning. Also back are sophomore relievers Austin Hearn and Seth Campbell as well as seniors Austin Hagy, Cole Ridgely and Ryan Thomas

• By accumulating seven saves and racking up 45 strikeouts in 42 innings of work, Tyler Starks was lauded as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American at the conclusion of the 2016 season. The Mesquite, Texas, product produced a 3-3 record on the hill, but thrived as the 'Jacks' closer.

• Before his sophomore season begins on Friday, Starks has already seen his name listed among the 60 that make up the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List. He is one of just two Southland Conference players on that list.

• The 'Jacks will remain in the state of Texas to face off against Big 12 opposition for the first time in 2017. On Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m., College Station, Texas, will serve as the site of SFA's non-conference showdown with No. 20-ranked Texas A&M. The game will be broadcast nationally on SEC Network+.

Almost nine months removed from its first 30-win season in five years, the Stephen F. Austin baseball team is looking not only to match the successes of their 2016 campaign, but surpass them as well.

A three-game sweep by Lamar at Jaycees Field on the final weekend of the 2016 regular season nearly spelled doom for the 'Jacks' postseason chances, but SFA captured the eighth and final spot for the Southland Conference Tournament field nonetheless. While in Sugar Land, Texas, for the first time since 2013, the 'Jacks proved numerous doubters wrong, eliminating both Lamar and Central Arkansas from postseason contention and pushing 2016 Southland Conference regular season champion Sam Houston State to within one game of elimination.

It was a 1-0 victory over the Bearkats - who are picked to repeat as Southland Conference champions in 2017 - which proved to be the 'Jacks' final win of 2016, but ninth-year head coach Johnny Cardenas believes SFA's 30th win from last season has set the table for a special year in 2017.

His players have bought into that mindset as well.

Something never before accomplished in the history of the Stephen F. Austin baseball program, a 40-win season is what the 2017 version of the 'Jacks hope to accomplish by the time all is said and done.

One of the driving forces behind that lofty goal is the postseason success the 'Jacks experienced in 2016. That, coupled with a roster that features four infielders and two outfielders that saw a vast majority of playing time at their respective positions in 2016 as well as the return of their entire weekend lineup among a crop of nine returners on the pitching staff makes SFA's goal seem attainable from every man on the roster.

Offensively, the 'Jacks ranked second in the Southland Conference in batting average (.298), hits (308), runs (393) and hits (608) in 2016 and led the 13-team league with 119 doubles. That high-powered offense alone, however, was not enough to push SFA into the top half of the league in the regular season standings.

Now, players up and down the 'Jacks' roster are embracing the mindset of the multiples processes of a 56-game season and making sure to stress the importance of routine to both themselves and each other.

Should they accomplish that 40-win goal, the 'Jacks will likely finish higher in the Southland Conference standings than the eighth-place spot they were listed at in the preseason poll by the league's coaches.

Known for producing some impressive offensive numbers in 2016, the 'Jacks' identity in 2017 is now geared toward pitching. A veteran staff which includes the likes of seniors Jarred Greene, Patrick Ledet and Erik Nouis as well as sophomore relief arms Seth Campbell, Austin Hearn and Tyler Starks returns to the mound to power the 'Jacks.

The workhorse of the 'Jacks' pitching staff last season, Ledet tossed a team-high 85 innings and finished with a 6-2 record as the Friday night starter. His 3.92 ERA was bettered only by Campbell and Starks and his 72 strikeouts were almost 20 more than the next closest pitcher on SFA's roster.

Ledet was called on to preserve a 1-0 lead against Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference Tournament and got the job down by pitching four frames to earn his first and only save of the season. That performance helped the 'Jacks' match a program record with three wins in the Southland Conference Tournament.

Nouis represented SFA's number-two starter in 2016 and closed out his first season in Lumberjack colors with a 4-4 record and a 4.17 ERA in 15 appearances (all starts). Beginning the season as SFA's Friday night starter, Greene's record settled at 4-6 at the conclusion of 2016. The left-hander pitched SFA's only complete game of the season and emerged as the winner in Natchitoches, La., and the 'Jacks downed Northwestern State 4-1 on March 25.

Called on as both a midweek starter and a middler reliever, senior Austin Hagy threw 47 frames for the 'Jacks last season and collected his lone win of the season in a four-inning relief performance during the 'Jacks' 5-2 win over Lamar in the Southland Conference Tournament.

Starks headlined the 'Jacks' bullpen by collecting a team-high seven saves on the strength of 45 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched. A 2016 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, Starks wrapped up his inaugural collegiate campaign with a 3-3 record as well as a 3.64 ERA.

As middle-inning relievers, Campbell and Hearn made a combined 49 appearances. Campbell's ERA of 3.24 represented a staff-low and it helped the freshman go 3-0 on the hill in 2016. Hearn fired 38 innings and recorded a 2-0 mark to go along with a 4.97 ERA.

Waving goodbye to the bitter cold winters and crushing snowfall of the northern portion of the United States, Minnesotans Trevor Kiminski and Tony Grabowske represent a pair of intriguing potential starting arms for the 'Jacks in 2017. Both juniors could be called on to start, and Kiminski would be the first option of the two to do just that. At Indian Hills CC in Ottumwa, Iowa, he earned a pair of ICCAC All-Region Second Team honors and struck out 102 batters in two seasons.

Grabowske helped lead North Iowa Area Community College to the NJCAA Division II World Series in each of his two seasons at the institution. In all, the New Brighton, Minn., product put together a 10-4 record on the hill while registering 95 strikeouts.

Returning seniors Cole Ridgely and Ryan Thomas further strengthen the 'Jacks' deep bullpen as does Will Vest who transitions to a pitcher after spending the first two seasons of his Lumberjack career as an infielder. Also returning to SFA's pitching staff after a one-year absence is left-hander Chris Hassold.

Freshman Aaron Cardona, Jackson Gore and Josh Ponder are all expected to complete for time on the mound as is junior newbie Ivan Garcia who was named SFA's fall world series MVP as a result of his performances on the mound.

Never in head coach Johnny Cardenas' career at Stephen F. Austin have the Lumberjacks had the benefit of having two seniors in the middle infield spots, but that is now the case as 2016 All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention selections Tyler Kendrick and Nick Ramos return to play shortstop and second base respectively.

Representing one of the five Lumberjack regulars who hit .300 or above in 2016, Kendrick was plugged in as SFA's everyday shortstop right away and started 55 of the 58 games he took part in. Kendrick's offensive prowess - coupled with his speed - resulted in a team-high 16 doubles from the Arlington, Texas, product. He concluded his first season in SFA colors with a .338 average to go along with a team-high 139 assists while in the field.

One of the 'Jacks' three four-year seniors, Ramos took home Southland Conference All-Tournament Team honors by posting a batting average of .500 (9-for-18) in SFA's five postseason games in 2016. That five-game stretch served as the capstone for a season in which he started all 57 games he played in and finished with a .966 fielding percentage in second base.

Offensively, Ramos hit .283 with 21 extra-base hits and was one of five 'Jacks who racked up 30 or more RBI.

Defensive consistency reigns for SFA at the hot corner, too, with the return of junior Eric DeJesus. The sure-handed fielder out of Diboll, Texas, received 21 promotions to the starting lineup through the 49 games he took part in as a sophomore in 2016, and he hopes to take on an expanded role to start his days as an upperclassman.

Challenging DeJesus for playing time at his corner infield position are junior Andrew Cole and freshman Josh Campbell. Cole sported a Bossier Parish Community College for the first half of his collegiate career and brings another strong offensive option to SFA's infield. A true freshman, Campbell has shown the ability play most infield positions after choosing the baseball diamond rather than the basketball court following his time as a prep.

One of the biggest questions the 'Jacks' coaching staff had heading into 2017 was who would take over at first base. Seniors Garrett McMullen and Kyle Thornell (who also logged a number of innings at third base) split time at the position, but when they saw their careers come to an end at the conclusion of 2016 SFA had lost 107 of its 350 RBI and 19 of its 38 home runs.

Replicating the offensive numbers of McMullen and Thornell will be a difficult task for anyone to accomplish, but willing to give it a go are Alex Hrinevich, Stephen Stuart and newcomer Josh Evans.

Both Hrinevich and Stuart are in their final seasons in SFA colors, but neither saw action in more than 25 games in 2016. In his second - and final - start of the season, Stuart went 1-for-4 at the plate and drove in the only run in SFA's 1-0 win over Sam Houston State in the 'Jacks' penultimate game of the season.

That hit capped a strong two-game stretch for Stuart in which he went 3-for-7 at the plate and drove in four of his seven runs. Stuart hit .296 in 25 games, which proved to be better than Hrinevich's .172 average through 24 games.

Hrinevich made three starts as a junior and collected five hits in his 29 plate appearances, but the power numbers of Evans through his junior college career could be the trump card in the battle for playing time at first base.

In his final season at Northern Oklahoma College, Evans established a new NJCAA single-season record by driving in 113 runs. The Ponca City, Okla., product bashed 27 home runs, put forth an eye-popping slash line of .446/.512/.897 and was, unsurprisingly, named an NJCAA First Team All-American at the conclusion of 2016.

Stationed in the 'Jacks' corner outfield slots are a pair of individuals who received more than their fair share of Southland Conference accolades in 2016. Seniors Conner Fikes and Zac Michener represent two of SFA's best options at the plate in addition to being two of the most experienced players on the 'Jacks' roster.

Making his case as one of the top players in the 13-team league as a junior, Fikes hit safely in 45 of the 55 games he took part in through 2016. Before all was said and done, the Rowlett, Texas, native produced a 12-game hitting streak and saw his batting average settle at .362 - the third-highest in the Southland Conference. That helped him lock down a spot on the All-Southland Conference First Team at the conclusion of his third collegiate campaign.

Fikes wrapped up his junior season with a team-high 77 hits and drove in 41 runs - the third-highest average among SFA's ranks. In the Southland Conference Tournament, he hit .333 and drove in six runs to claim a spot on the Southland Conference All-Tournament Team.

All Michener did in his debut season at SFA in 2016 was become the first Lumberjack since Bryson Myles in 2011 to lay claim to the title of Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year. Once he checked in at left field in the 'Jacks' season opener at UT Arlington, it was a spot he would rarely vacate as he started 56 of the 57 games he played in.

Defensively, few in the Southland Conference displayed the arm strength of Michener. The junior racked up nine outfield assists and with a bat in his hands the Kennedale, Texas, product was just as dangerous. An eventual All-Southland Conference Third Team selection, Michener racked up 66 hits including 13 doubles and five home runs to finish with a batting average of .322.

Rights to patrol center field have been up for grabs following the departure of four-year starter Matthew Dickey, but senior Gavin Gregory and junior newcomer Stevie Thompson represent the two best options to take over the void left by the 'Jacks' speedster.

A player in 27 of the 'Jacks' 60 games one season ago, Gregory's lone appearance in the starting lineup in his inaugural SFA campaign came in an eventual 5-4 extra-inning triumph over No. 7-ranked Oklahoma State on the third day of the 2016 season.

Before donning an SFA jersey in 2017, Thompson starred for two seasons at Cowley College - an NJCAA institution in Arkansas City, Kan. - where he was a stalwart center fielder for the Tigers. At the plate, the native of Midwest City, Okla., hit .330 through his junior college career and showed off some deceptive speed while keeping watch in the deepest part of the outfield.

Calling pitches is a job that will fall squarely on the shoulders of senior Clark Kahawaii in 2017. While splitting time with Tyler Boxwell behind the dish last season, the product of Plano, Texas, hit .240 and cut down 10 would-be base stealers on. In all, Kahawaii saw time in 26 games throughout 2016.

Other options at backstop include junior Will Foreman and Jarrod Huber who each saw intermittent time at the position in 2016. Retaining his status as a junior in 2017, Foreman checked into nine games for the 'Jacks last season and has been making good progress throughout the fall and spring.

Huber worked his way into 14 games as a freshman in 2016 and made a pair of starts.