Senior Jackson Hood returns to the lineup after missing all of 2012 with injury.
Feb. 14, 2013
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were just one win away from its second consecutive Southland Conference Tournament championship game a year ago, and this year with four preseason all-conference selections on board, another successful season seems to be in line for the `Jacks.
This is the fifth in a five-part series previewing the Lumberjacks, position-by-position, leading up to the 2013 opener at South Alabama on February 15 in Mobile.
Returners: Ricardo Sanchez, Jackson Hood, Rene' Moreda
Newcomers: Matthew Dickey, Gevon Jackson, Mackenzie Handel, Brandon Smith, Rick Cruz
With the return of Jackson Hood to go along with a pair of returners from a year, and three promising newcomers, the SFA outfield has all of the makings to make a big jump in production from last season.
Primarily due to injuries to Hood and Chris Hernandez, last season the `Jacks had to patch together an outfield that typically consisted of a pair of players who spent the majority of their playing careers on the infield in Rene' Moreda and Zach Benson. But this year SFA seems to have solved that issue and has a number of seasoned options to turn to.
"Our outfield situation last year was far from ideal," head coach Johnny Cardenas said. "But it's going to be much better this season. Zach (Benson) and Rene' (Moreda) both filled in well in positions they had to get used to, while Ricky (Sanchez) was a very pleasant surprise. Still, with the guys we have this year and Jackson (Hood) coming back, I think our production from those spots will just increase."
Hood missed all of his would-be senior season last year with injury, but two seasons ago provided a huge lift in the middle of SFA's lineup during its 37-win campaign in 2011. He won the starting job in right field that year early on and made 55 starts in that spot, hitting .301 with four homers and 27 RBI.
"Getting Jackson back is huge for us, not only from what he can provide on the field and at the plate, but with the leadership he provides," Cardenas said. "He's a gritty player who is not afraid to get dirt on his jersey, and just does what it takes to win. I know he's hungry to get back at it after missing last year."
With Benson moving back to the infield, that leaves just Moreda and Sanchez as outfield returners who saw time last season. Moreda, who can also play in the infield if necessary, started 50 games in the outfield last season, primarily hitting at the top of the SFA lineup. A scrappy player himself too, Moreda just missed being a .300 hitter with a .291 average while scoring 15 times and driving in 18. Meanwhile Sanchez provided 10 doubles and 15 RBI in addition to one of the stronger outfield arms in the league from right field as a sophomore transfer from Wharton Co. CC.
"The numbers may not be flashy, but our outfielders did a solid job last year," Cardenas said. "Getting a year under their belt for both of those guys could pay big dividends for us this season"
Each of those guys will be pushed by a slew of newcomers, led by transfers Mackenzie Handel and Gevon Jackson, in addition to freshman Matthew Dickey. A powerful left-handed bat, Handel hit .329 with four homers and 38 RBI last season for Chandler-Gilbert Community College and is projected as a middle-of-the-order bat for the `Jacks going into this year.
In addition to Handel, Jackson was a pleasant surprise for SFA in the fall, putting together a strong enough fall camp to position himself for serious playing time going into the season. Add in Dickey and Brandon Smith, a pair of speedy outfielders from the high school ranks, and not only is this year's outfield defense in good hands, but also years to come.
2013 Season Preview Schedule:
Feb. 5 - Catchers
Feb. 7 - Starting Pitching
Feb. 8 - Bullpen
Feb. 12 - Infielders
Feb. 14 - Outfielders