The 2016-17 academic year signals the start of the ninth season for the Johnny Cardenas era of Stephen F. Austin baseball. In his 12th season overall in Nacogdoches, Cardenas has directly overseen three of the program's five seasons of 30 or more wins and stands as the program's all-time winningest coach with a mark of 215-236.
Following finishes of 20-25 in 2014 and 17-34 in 2015, Cardenas and his staff led the Lumberjacks to a 13-win improvement through the course of a memorable 2016 campaign that saw the squad post a 30-30 overall mark. During SFA's first 30-win season since 2011, the 'Jacks cobbled together a Southland Conference record of 14-16 to lock up the eighth and final seed in the Southland Conference Tournament.
In the postseason mix for the first time since 2013, the 'Jacks dropped their first game in the SLC Tournament before catching fire and reeling off three straight victories to stave off elimination. Along the way, SFA ended the seasons of Lamar and Central Arkansas before falling to 2016 SLC regular season champion and eventual SLC Tournament champion Sam Houston State.
Cardenas achieved his latest coaching milestone in 2016, too, when he captured career win number 200 in a 17-3 home triumph over Texas Southern on April 4. A grand total of six of Cardenas' student-athletes were on the receiving end of All-Southland Conference honors in 2016, led by a program-record three All-SLC First Team selections in Conner Fikes (outfield), Garrett McMullen (outfield) and Kyle Thornell (third base).
Zac Michener (outfield) was recognized as the SLC's Newcomer of the Year and was also placed on the All-SLC Third Team while Nick Ramos (second base) and Tyler Kendrick (shortstop) were given All-SLC Honorable Mention Recognition. Freshman relief pitcher Tyler Starks latched onto the title of Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American - just the second SFA player ever to gain that award - and Thornell was selected as an ABCA/Rawlings NCAA DI South Central All-Region Second Team member.
The 2013 season was highlighted by shortstop Hunter Dozier, who was taken eighth overall in the MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals. In advancing to the professional ranks, Dozier became the first 'Jack to be selected in the first round and the highest selection of any Southland Conference player. Dozier also garnered Southland Conference Player and Hitter of the Year, as well as being named to six different All-America teams. As head coach, Dozier was Cardenas' fifth player in as many years, to be chosen in the MLB Draft. Dozier left Nacogdoches as the school's all-time leader in hits and doubles.
In addition to the All-America honors, Dozier became the first SFA player in program history to be named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award. He was also a national finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (nation's top shortstop), and a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Award (top player)
The 2012 season saw the 'Jacks finish sixth in the SLC regular-season and reach the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks finished 26-33 on the season and 16-17 in league play. The season was highlighted by Dozier's record-breaking offensive output, becoming the first shortstop in program history to garner first-team all-conference honors.
In 2011 Cardenas lead the Lumberjacks to their best season in the history of the program, winning a school-record 37 games, including a 20-13 mark in Southland Conference play. The season was highlighted by outfielder Bryson Myles, who was selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians after being named the SLC Player, Hitter and Newcomer of the Year, in addition to being named to six different All-America teams. Myles became the first player in league history to sweep player, hitter and newcomer of the year.
In his second season at the helm, Cardenas led the team to a 34-win campaign, including a 20-12 record in Southland Conference play. The quick turnaround was enough to earn Cardenas the honor of Southland Conference Coach of the Year in 2010, the first time a SFA coach has ever earned a postseason honor.
He was hired in August 2005 and served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator before being named head coach in July of 2008. He led the 'Jacks to the program's second appearance in the SLC Conference Tournament, going 23-32 overall and producing three all-conference players: Erich Lehmann, Sean Meyers and Richard Folmer.
He has also served as a head coach in the Texas Collegiate League in both 2006 and 2007, earning TCL Coach of the Year honors in 2007 after leading the Wichita Falls Roughnecks to the Rogers Hornsby Division title. That season he not only tutored the league's player of the year, but also the league's overall batting champion.
Before entering the collegiate ranks, Cardenas spent five seasons as a head coach in the high school ranks in both Texas and Oklahoma. He landed his first head coaching stint at Colbert High School in Colbert, Okla., where he guided his teams to district championships in each of his three seasons. Twice in that stint he led Colbert to the Class 2A semi-finals in 1999 and 2001. Overall, eight of his players would go on to play at the collegiate level.
Cardenas earned his share of accolades while in Oklahoma, garnering the 2002 SEOBCA Eastern Region Coach of the Year award as well as the 2003 Bryan County Coach of the Year honor.
The Amarillo, Texas, native returned to the Lone Star State in 2003 to take the reins of the Greenville High School program in Greenville, Texas, before eventually making his way to Nacogdoches. While in Greenville, another six players moved on to the college ranks under his watch, including SFA infielder Gabriel Garcia-Serrano.
Cardenas was an All-Jayhawk Conference performer for Seward County Community College in 1989 before moving to TCU where he was an All-Southwest Conference selection. While in Fort Worth, he earned team MVP and GTE Academic All-American honors in 1993 for the Horned Frogs. On top of that, in 1993 he was also named the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame Player of the Year.
Cardenas also enjoyed a career in professional baseball after being picked up by the Seattle Mariners out of TCU. He was then sent to Class A Bellingham where he played on a team that featured future major league stars Raul Ibanez and Jason Varitek, among others.
His professional career continued for six years at a number of stops throughout the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners' organizations before breaking into the major leagues with the Texas Rangers in 1997. During his time in the pros, Cardenas led the Oklahoma City 89ers to the AAA American Association title and the Duluth Superior Dukes to the independent Northern League Championship. He would also represent Duluth in the all-star game in 1997.
The 'Jacks have had 17 players taken in the professional baseball draft since 2006, which is the second most of any school in the Southland Conference in that time span. Cardenas had seven go on to play professionally, including a pair of draftees in 2011, Bryson Myles and Chase Weir, as well as Hunter Dozier (8th overall) taken in last year's draft.
Cardenas resides in Nacogdoches with his wife, Natalie. He has three children, two sons, Easton, Cruz, and a daughter, Zoe.