Feb. 20, 2008
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Lumberjack baseball team is set to kick off the 2008 campaign this weekend, traveling to Edinburg, Texas, for the season-opening Al Ogletree Classic hosted by UT-Pan American.
SFA will face a trio of common opponents, including a pair - Texas State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi - from the Southland Conference. The `Jacks will open up the season with an 11:00 a.m. game on Friday against the Bobcats, the same squad that ended SFA's season last year with a 7-0 win in the semifinals of the SLC Tournament.
Donnie Watson's group will get more than 24 hours off after that before taking on the host Broncs of UT-Pan American in a game scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. The `Jacks will square off with TAMUCC in the final game of the tournament on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
SFA will hit the ground running this season, with eight games in the first 10 days on the calendar. The NCAA moved back the start date to the 2008 season to Feb. 22 after SFA opened up 2007 nearly three weeks earlier on Feb. 3.
Watson will count on an experienced core of players this season, including returning one of the most seasoned starting pitching staffs in the SLC. Junior Erich Lehmann has picked up the most wins of any SLC pitcher in the last two seasons with 17, while Lance Luetge, Jared Schrom and Kevin Thomas all bring back starting experience on the bump.
SFA will get its first look also at a new lineup, one that will lack the 3-4-5 combination of Steven Hill, Chris Smith and Jared Pitts from last year; however, Watson has a multitude of options in those slots that includes senior transfer Matt Whatley and junior college transfer Jeffrey Kello, both with plenty of power from the left and right sides of the plate, respectively. Senior infielder Noel Trevino showed enough power last season to be named one of the top three power threats in the SLC by College Baseball Insider earlier in the week, and outfielder Kevin Crabtree looks to be ready to take on more responsibility in the middle of the lineup.
Texas State proved to be a thorn in SFA's side last year, winning three of the four match-ups. The `Jacks have only knocked off the Bobcats twice in seven tries since bringing baseball back in 2006. Coach Ty Barrington returns 16 letterwinners off of a squad that fell 3-1 to Sam Houston in last year's SLC Tournament championship game and is one of the favorites to compete for the SLC title in 2008.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi got a new look in the off-season hiring Scott Malone as head coach, and he will have a pair of preseason all-conference selections in Bryan Gerondale and Chris Widner to work with this season. The Islanders finished up just under .500 last year, going 27-29 with a 12-18 record in the SLC and was picked to finish sixth in the SLC in the preseason polls. SFA traveled to Corpus Christi last season, picking up a pair of wins in the process that included Lance Luetge's coming just one out from picking up SFA's first-ever no-hitter.
Four of SFA's 31 wins last year came against UT-Pan American, including a 13-11 win in the Al Ogletree Classic last season. The `Jacks have won five of the seven meetings between the teams since 2006 and will host the Broncs later in the year as well, with UTPA traveling to Nacogdoches April 29th for SFA's only scheduled double-header of the season.
After returning home SFA will have a short turnaround as it will host Houston Baptist on Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to Waco, Texas, for a weekend stint at the QTI Baylor Classic.