The University of Central Arkansas hopes its stay at the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament is a longer one this season.
A year after losing its first two games of the tournament, UCA (29-25) is the Southland's No. 2 seed and will face No. 7 seed Northwestern (La.) State at noon today at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas.
The winner will play the winner of Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana-Lafayette at 4 p.m. Thursday, while the loser plays at 9 a.m.
UCA lost 14-4 to Houston Baptist in its Southland Tournament opener last season and was eliminated by Sam Houston State 4-2 to finish the season with a five-game losing streak.
"Last year, we got out of rhythm," UCA Coach Allen Gum said. "This year, it's two totally different teams."
Entering this season, UCA had one returning position player who was a starter -- senior first baseman Tyler Smith -- and 21 new players on the roster.
However, UCA came together with its new faces and won 19 games in the Southland, a school record since moving into the league in 2007. The Bears won eight of their 10 conference series, including a three-game sweep of eventual regular-season champion Sam Houston State.
Senior right-hander Cody Davenport (6-4, 2.19 ERA) has pitched a team-high 942/3 innings as the team's Friday night starter. Freshman left-hander Noah Cameron, the Bears' Saturday starter, is 6-1 with a 2.53 ERA and a team-high 87 strikeouts.
Junior center fielder Josh Ragan leads UCA offensively, batting .290 with 4 home runs and 31 RBI.
UCA finished the regular season taking two out of three at Lamar last weekend.
"You hope everything is clicking well," Gum said.
Northwestern State and UCA have not played each other this season. The Demons' resume features victories over the University of Arkansas and LSU. Right-hander Nathan Jones, a senior who is 7-3 with a 2.72 ERA, will be on the mound for the Demons today.
Gum said it's a good matchup for his team to start the tournament.
"They're the same team that went to a regional last year," Gum said. "They've got three top-of-the line starters. Some of them throw 93-95 mph. They're a veteran ballclub. I'd have loved to have been able to play them."
UCA last won the Southland Tournament title in 2013 as a No. 7 seed. Gum believes the Bears have a shot to win their first title in six years this week.
"It's about who's playing the best," Gum said.
Southland Tournament schedule
At Constellation Field, Sugar Land, Texas
All times Central
GAME 1 SE Louisiana vs. Stephen F. Austin, 9 a.m.
GAME 2 Central Arkansas vs. Northwestern (La.) State, noon
GAME 3 Sam Houston State vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 4 p.m.
GAME 4 Incarnate Word vs. McNeese State, 7 p.m.
GAME 5 Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m.
GAME 6 Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, noon
GAME 7 Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
GAME 8 Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Sports on 05/22/2019
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