Southland Conference Preview

Andrew Fregia (Photo by Brian Blaock / Sam Houston State) 

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

Members: Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese State, New Orleans, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Sam Houston State, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

2017 Top 10 Prospects
1. Bryce Johnson, of, Sam Houston State
2. Mac Sceroler, rhp, Southeastern Louisiana
3. Reid Russell, of, Lamar
4. Carson Lance, rhp, Lamar
5. Cole Stapler, rhp, Nicholls State
6. Tyler Gray, rhp, Central Arkansas
7. Jimmy Johnson, rhp, Lamar
8. Kyle Knauth, 1b, Nicholls State
9. Webb Bobo, of, Southeastern Louisiana
10. Ty Tice, of, Central Arkansas

Team to Beat: Sam Houston State. The Bearkats have established themselves as the Southland Conference’s most consistent program, winning four of the last five regular-season titles. They had a one-year drop off in 2015, head coach Matt Deggs’ first season after taking the reins from David Pierce, but were right back on top last year, going 24-6 in league play. With the exception of closer Greg Belton, every key contributor from that team is back. Power was the one area the offense lagged behind last year, and the Bearkats will look to DH Blake Chisolm, a junior college transfer and physical presence at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, to reinforce a group led by sophomore third baseman Andrew Fregia (.274/.328/.516, 8 HR), the team’s top home run hitter last year as a freshman, and ultra-athletic outfielder Bryce Johnson (.345/.401/.418). None of Sam Houston’s weekend starters have overwhelming stuff, but all three—righthanders Heath Donica and Riley Gossett and lefthander Seth Ballew—can work the zone with multiple pitches.

Player of the Year: Reid Russell, of, Lamar. The reigning Southland hitter of the year—not to be confused with the conference’s player of the year award, which is separate—Russell showed plenty of all fields power last year en route to leading the conference in home runs with 18. He’ll anchor the Cardinals’ lineup as a senior in 2017.

Pitcher of the Year: Mac Sceroler, rhp, Southeastern Louisiana. Sceroler handled the move from closer to starter last year, leading the Southland with 10 wins. He chose to come back to Southeastern Louisiana after being taken in the 36th round of last year’s draft as an eligible sophomore, a huge boon for the Lions as he’s the only returning starter from what was the league’s top pitching staff a year ago. 

Freshman of the Year: Nick Mikolajchak, rhp, Sam Houston State. Innings may be tough to come by for Mikolajchak and lefthander Brad Demco, another exciting freshman Bearkats’ pitcher, but they have the tools to develop into impactful members of the staff. Mikolajchak’s fastball reaches the low 90s, and he mixes in a slider and changeup.

Notable Storylines: Southeastern Louisiana was the only team to break Sam Houston’s run of Southland dominance, winning the regular season title in 2015, followed by its earning an at-large NCAA berth after finishing second last year. The Lions have to move forward now without All-American Jameson Fisher, the 2016 Southland player of the year and fourth-round draft pick, but the good news is every other key offensive contributor is back. They do like their depth on the mound as well, though the fact remains Sceroler is their only proven returning starter. Junior righthander Kade Granier (5-1, 1.42, 7 SV) moves from closer to Saturday starter, and the Lions will look for sophomores Payton Robinson (1-0, 5.18) and Carlo Graffeo (3-0, 4.80) to take steps forward as they also move from relieving to starting . . . Lamar and Northwestern State tied for third place in the league last year, but both will have new head coaches at the helm in 2017. Northwestern State promoted assistant Bobby Barbier to the head job when Lane Burroughs left for Louisiana Tech, while Lamar followed its plan to hand the program over from retiring longtime head coach Jim Gilligan to former Louisiana State assistant coach Will Davis, who came over last spring and spent the year as an assistant under Gilligan after the he’d announced his impending retirement. Davis inherits a dangerous offensive group, led by Russell and four other seniors, and he’ll need it to do a lot of the heavy lifting in support an inexperienced pitching staff . . . McNeese State has had three straight 30-win seasons under coach Justin Hill, something the program hadn’t done since 1998-2000, when it was led by current Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco. To make it four, the Cowboys will need contributions from freshmen like catcher Brett Whelton and junior college transfers like power-hitting first baseman Mitchell Rogers and speedy outfielder Robbie Podorsky. Their deep bullpen should be able to shorten games, anchored by senior righthander Collin Kober (3-4, 2.76, 9 SV), the school’s all-time saves leader, but the rotation will need some less proven arms to step up after losing two of last year’s weekend starters.

Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 24-27 at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas.

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