Southwest Athletic Conference Preview

Prairie View A&M sits as the favorite once again


Feb. 20, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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Prairie View A&M has completely turned the tables on the SWAC, going from a paltry three wins in all of 2003 to back-to-back SWAC titles and NCAA appearances. The good news is that PVAMU's success should give hope to any downtrodden program that is looking to reverse its fortunes. The bad news for the rest of the conference is that it doesn't appear as if the Panthers are going away anytime soon. So even though the race to the title is wide open once again, the road still travels through PV for now.

 

Favorite: Jackson State, Prairie View A&M

Contenders: Southern, Alcorn State

Darkhorse: Mississippi Valley State

 

Eastern Division

 

Alabama A&M (10-29, 4-17)

 

The Good News:

OF LaDale Hayes (.302), the No. 6 prospect in the Clark Griffith League last summer, led the nation with eight triples in 2007 and remains one of the most exciting players in the country. He'll team with OF Alton Ellison (.321, injury-shortened '07) to make for a formidable top of the order.

 

The Bad News:

Alabama A&M hit a SWAC-worst .254 and had a poor .933 fielding percentage last season. LHP Kevin Collins (2-4, 3.35, 5 CGs) is the only returning pitcher with a sub-5.00 ERA on the entire roster.

 

Schedule Note:

The Bulldogs should be able to nearly match their win total in the season's first month of play as they'll take on eight non-Division I teams in non-conference play. But on the down side, they'll also play Alcorn State and Jackson State in back-to-back weekends to kick off SWAC play. Not easy.

 

Alabama State (12-25, 7-14)

 

The Good News:

For a team with just 12 wins, the team average of .286 wasn't bad. Senior SS Will Johnson (.351, 14 SB) will be a leader. As will Senior RHP Zeb Hilburn (4-3, 6.38), who threw five complete games last season.

 

The Bad News:

The last winning season for Alabama State was way back in 2000. League-worst 8.48 team ERA must be rectified. All-SWAC performers Josh Froneberger and Selmon Pearson (.397) will have to be replaced.

 

Schedule Note:

The Hornets will play an odd SWAC slate that has them playing back-to-back road trips to start SWAC play (at MVSU and at Alcorn) and to end SWAC play (at Alabama A&M and at J-State).

 

Alcorn State (25-20, 15-9)

 

The Good News:

Seven starters return from the SWAC's best defense (.961). 3B Brandon Pearce (.351) and 1B Jeff Jones (.287) will man the corners. On the mound, ASU welcomes back two weekend starters, All-SWAC candidate Darryl Jordan (5-4, 6.08) and Francisco Garcia (5-3, 5.03).

 

The Bad News:

Departed OF Marcus Davis, an 18th round pick in last June's draft, and Shawn Taylor paced the offense all year. Joseph Gonzalez, the former staff ace, was the only pitcher with more than five wins (8-3).

 

Schedule Note:

Apparently ASU can't get enough of playing their conference mates. It looks like ASU is planning on playing Texas Southern, Grambling and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a handful of non-conference games as well this season.

 

Jackson State (33-23, 17-7)

 

The Good News:

J-State won the SWAC East and has C Cortez Cole, a Freshman All-American after hitting .322 with 14SBs, back to handle the mound corps. INF LaDerek Camper (.325, 18 SB) will be relied upon. Nicholas Stewart (8-6, 6.70) and David De La Calle (5-3, 5.51) should return as a great one-two punch.

 

The Bad News:

SWAC Newcomer of the Year, CF James Sims, was a 27th round draftee of the Rockies. JSU needs to make amends for the poor SWAC tourney showing, losing the last two games by a combined 20 runs. The opponents average of .312 was too high for a division champion pitching staff.

 

Schedule Note:

The Tigers have scheduled a lot of winnable games for the non-conference. Opening at Georgia State won't be easy, but will be winnable. As will home weekends against UTPA and North Carolina A&T.

 

Mississippi Valley State (19-36, 14-10)

 

The Good News:

With the injury bug hitting in 2007, a lot of experience returns for the Devils. Sean Bard (.376-9-52) is one of the better power bats in the SWAC. Scott Reid (2-9, 6.26) is an all-conference candidate on the mound.

 

The Bad News:

MVSU got off to a horrible 3-13 start before hitting its stride last season. An astounding 142 errors cost the Delta Devils many-a-game as well. Devil batters struck out a league-high 387 times in 2007.

 

Schedule Note:

Coach Doug Shanks will have his team travel by train from Itta Bena to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame on April 29 and 30. Now THAT's an old school way to travel for a road game. But very cool.

 



 
 

Western Division:

 

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (14-30, 10-14)

 

The Good News:

The Lions warmed to the chore, going 8-7 from early April to the end of the regular season last year. After finishing in last place three of the past four years, a 3rd place finish in the SWAC West was big news. RHP Justin Moring (6-6, 5.00, 3 CG) is a pre-season All SWAC pick and hopes to continue the success.

 

The Bad News:

The .269 offense was 9th in the conference as was the lack of power (just 10 home runs). Moring was heavily leaned upon last year, so the rest of the staff needs to shore up the 8.10 ERA.

 

Schedule Note:

Though they're better equipped to play them, the Lions get thrown into the fire with games against the likes of Southeast Missouri, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the non-conference slate.

 

Grambling State (18-29, 9-15)

 

The Good News:

From six wins in 2006 to 18 last year shows that new coach Barret Ray's philosophy is working already. All-SWAC SS Justin Kelly (.305, 33 SB) should have OF Richard Amaro (.333) and C Darsayle Pearson (.307) around to help out.

 

The Bad News:

The mound corps will miss Brandon Waters, the only starter with a sub 6.00 ERA, and save specialist Jonovan Robinson. Mario Jefferson (4-5, 6.28), the expected Friday ace, is the lone effective arm returning. It's been since 2000 the last time GSU contended in the SWAC West.

 

Schedule Note:

The Tigers keep it local with non-conference series against Northwestern State and Centenary this season. They'll also take on Southern Arkansas, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech as well.

 

Prairie View A&M (34-25, 17-7)

 

The Good News:

The Panthers have now gone to the Big Dance two straight years. Wrandel Taylor (9-6, 4.11, 89 K) may be one of the best SWAC pitchers of all time before he's done. The track spike attack of OF Myrio Richard (.311, 23 SB) and 3B Wilford White (.345, 25SBs) will still give opposing catchers the heeby-jeebies.

 

The Bad News:

Players like Calvin Lester, Michael Richard, Matthew Chase and Joshua Terrell were huge keys to the last two NCAA tournament teams. Like most SWAC squads, the .947 fielding percentage was pretty poor.

 

Schedule Note:

PV will have the advantage of playing their last six SWAC games at home against division rivals Texas Southern and Southern. Love the tests at TCU and Rice in the mid-week as well.

 

Southern (26-18, 15-9)

 

The Good News:

The Jags had the best pitching staff in the SWAC (5.30ERA) and return sophomore battery mates Jarrett Maloy (4-1, 2.68) and C Michael Thomas (.243-5-23). Hulking 1B Calvin Anderson (.362-6-32) is worthy of All-SWAC and has OFs Brad McDavid (.369) and Torey Brown (.286) back to feast on SWAC pitching again. Also watch CF Juan Mujica, who was the No. 3 prospect in the Clark Griffith League last summer.

 

The Bad News:

It's been since 2005 that the Jags have won the SWAC and gone to the Big Dance. Weekend starters Roydrick Merritt and Antonio Garth need to be replaced. Steady infield gloves like La-Monte Gause and Brandon Revis will be missed as well.

 

Schedule Note:

On the second weekend of the season, SU will play at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California against Bethune-Cookman, UCLA and USC as part of the RBI program (Return Baseball to Inner Cities). It will be a round-robin format for the weekend and a great experience for all four teams involved.

 

Texas Southern (13-28, 9-15)

 

The Good News:

The offense is set with OF Kyle Smith (.360), the top returning bat, and also OF Deshaun Dilworth (.279) and INF Adam Sellers (.336) leading the charge for a team that hit .282 in 2007.

 

The Bad News:

The Tigers are stuck in a down-cycle with their wins dwindling from 22 in 2005, to 19 to last year's 13. Job No. 1 on coach Candy Robinson's to-do list? Repair the arms staff and improve the 8.16 team ERA.

 

Schedule Note:

TSU will only play 13 games outside the state of Texas this coming season.

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