Baseball season is here, as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff throw their first pitches of 2019 today.
UALR will open at 3 p.m. against Creighton University at Gary Hogan Field in Little Rock. Arkansas State will travel to Nacogdoches, Texas, to meet Stephen F. Austin at 6:30 p.m. at Jaycees Field.
UCA will host Bradley University at 3 p.m. at Bear Stadium. UAPB will begin at noon against fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference member Alabama State at Maestri Field in New Orleans, La.
Tough road awaits
The Trojans will not have time to ease into the 2019 season.
In the season's first week, UALR will host Creighton -- which was picked to finish in second in the Big East Conference in a preseason poll -- and then travel to Oklahoma State, which UALR Coach Chris Curry considers a "break-out team built for a deep postseason run," for a two-game series Feb. 19-20.
UALR also will travel to Ole Miss (March 5), Mississippi State (March 19), Oral Roberts (March 26) and Arkansas (April 2).
"I think it's going to be a fun season, a challenging season," UALR Coach Chris Curry said. "Our schedule is going to be very tough -- five Power 5s and I think nine regional teams on it.
"It's got potential to be a schedule that if we play well can be rewarding or if we don't play well it can be pretty tough."
Curry, however, said he is comforted by the schedule's toughness because of his deep and experienced roster.
The Trojans will return six starting position players and will be fronted by a starting rotation with the durability and talent to keep his bullpen fresh.
Junior left-hander Chandler Fidel will anchor UALR's rotation. Fidel, who led UALR with 961/3 innings with a 4.02 ERA in 15 starts (6-4), will open the season against Creighton.
Redshirt junior Jose Torres -- a right-handed transfer from Trinidad (Colo.) State Junior College -- will start at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Senior righty Pablo Ortiz will round out the rotation as the club's Sunday (1 p.m.) starter. Ortiz made nine appearances in 2018 and permitted an opposing batting average of .176.
Fidel and Ortiz have been relied on previously as Sun Belt starters and Torres has impressed since transferring into town before this season, Curry said.
Curry is comfortable with this staff.
"Very," Curry said. "Number one, they're strike throwers. ... They feature three or four pitches for a strike, so we're able to mix and match depending on who we're facing. They hold the running game pretty well. They're able to provide some depth in the innings and not burn through a bullpen."
MacDonald leads way
The expectation for Arkansas State this season is not high. The expectation for Kyle MacDonald, however, is.
In a Sun Belt coaches preseason poll, the Red Wolves were selected to finish fifth out of six Sun Belt West Division teams. UALR was selected to finish third.
MacDonald, who batted a team-best .346 in 2018, was chosen as the league's Preseason Player of the Year, the conference announced in January.
MacDonald, a senior first baseman from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, also led all Red Wolves with 50 runs, 66 hits, 15 home runs, 50 RBI, 127 total bases, 39 walks, an on-base percentage of .464 and a Sun Belt-best slugging percentage of .665.
ASU's opening weekend series will continue at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Red Wolves will begin the 2019 as they healthiest they have been in the "last 3-4 years," Coach Tommy Raffo said Thursday.
"We're probably the most healthy we've been ... and that's a good thing," Raffo said.
Redshirt senior infielder Alex Howard and redshirt senior catcher Justin Felix, two offensive producers from 2017 who were medically redshirted in 2018, will each return in 2019.
Howard batted .277 in 191 at-bats and 53 total games in 2017. Felix contributed a .257 average.
Junior right-hander Zach Jackson will start today. Junior lefty Chandler Coates will follow at 3 p.m. Saturday. Senior righty Nate Alberius will close the series at 1 p.m. Sunday.
"They throw a lot of strikes," Raffo said of his weekend rotation. "That's a big deal for us."
21 newcomers for Bears
The Bears will feature 21 new players, including eight pitchers and 13 positions players.
"It's a new team and [there are] some big shoes to fill," UCA Coach Allen Gum said in a news release. "But we like our group, there's no doubt about that. Good kids, good character kids. ... But like I said, seven out of eight [position players] have never been on a Division I baseball field, so that will be a new experience for them."
One of UCA's few veterans, senior Cody Davenport, will start today. A righty from Fayetteville, Davenport started 13 games in 2018 and pitched three complete games.
Davenport shouldered 94.2 innings in 2018, the second-most among all Bears, and had 69 strikeouts and a 4.37 ERA in 17 total appearances.
Junior lefty Ty Callahan, a transfer from Connors State Community College in Warner, Okla., will start Saturday. Veteran righty Mark Moyer, a junior from Russellville who a 4.76 ERA in 2018 in 21 appearances (16 in relief), will start Sunday.
Other than senior first baseman Tyler Smith, an All-Southland First-Team preseason selection who batted .285 and started all 57 games at first in 2018, UCA will fill out of the remainder of its defense with newbies.
The Bears' projected lineup includes junior catcher Nathan Sagdahl, junior third baseman Beau Orlando, junior shortstop Joshmar Doran, junior second baseman Cole Fiori, junior right fielder Josh Ragan and freshman center fielder Kolby Johnson.
New Orleans start
UAPB landed four players on the preseason all-conference first and second teams and was selected to finish third in the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Western Division.
Sophomore shortstop Jarficur Parker and senior outfielder Sergio Esparza were named to the All-SWAC First Team. Redshirt senior catcher Richardo Sanchez and senior second baseman Ryan Mallison were selected to the second team.
The Golden Lions' season will open in New Orleans for the second consecutive year.
In 2018, UAPB went 2-1 against Alcorn State, Grambling State and Alabama State in the Andre Dawson Classic, a season-opening tournament to honor one of two historically black college and university alumni inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
UAPB will face Alcorn State at 11 a.m. Saturday and Florida A&M at 2 p.m. Sunday. Each game will be at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans.
Sports on 02/15/2019
Print Headline: Season heats up for UALR, ASU, UCA, UAPB