HAMMOND, La. – The Southeastern Louisiana University baseball program begins full-squad practices Friday in preparation for its upcoming 2022 season.

An action-packed first weekend includes a 10 a.m. intrasquad scrimmage Friday at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field, followed by the annual First Pitch Banquet at 7 p.m. in the War Memorial Student Union. Banquet tickets are $100 and may be purchased at the door.

The annual Alumni Game is Saturday at 11 a.m. with the 2022 Lions squaring off against a team of former Lions. Admission is free. One final intrasquad scrimmage is slated for 2 p.m. Sunday.

Southeastern finished 32-24 last season, going 22-17 in the largest slate of conference games in program history. Entering head coach Matt Riser’s ninth season at the helm, Southeastern returns 22 letter winners off last year’s squad.

“We got off to a fantastic start last year, especially in conference play, before struggling down the home stretch,” Riser said. “Trying to put a finger on why, you realize how many young players were contributing. It was the first time they were going through a full 60-game season, with a COVID year before that, whether he was a true freshman in 2020 that only got 15 games under his belt or a high school senior that didn’t see much more than that. These guys are back with a lot of experience and the target is now on our back.”

Back in 2022 are four players that picked up All-Conference honors and one All-Tournament performer.

“These guys have shown they can perform at a high level and obviously expect to do that again, taking it a step further,” Riser said. “It’s exciting to see, especially when you look at the offensive side of things. Looking at our senior class, some of those guys have been in our program now for five years. The value they’ve brought to the program in that time makes you feel really good going into the spring.”

Despite a large contingent of returning players, Riser still has some uncertainties when it comes to roles and positions being locked down.

“Our biggest battle will probably be at third base,” Riser said. “We have a few transfers that have come in along with a few returning players. It may come down to a case of playing the hot hand. We have enough guys that have the versatility to play multiple positions and enough offensive depth, that there could be multiple guys there throughout the season.”

Heading into last season, Southeastern’s strength was the power arms fronting the rotation. By the end of the season, the story was the success of freshman right-handers Will Kinzeler and Brennan Stuprich.

An injury early last season granted an opportunity for Stuprich to grow into the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year, but just like last season, the tables have turned.

“With Stuprich being out the first half of the season as well as transfer Jay Long, who was predicted to be in the weekend rotation, there will be a battle for spots in the starting rotation,” Riser said. “Will Kinzeler is back after a nice freshman year and he’s so much more physical. Grant Upton is also back after that injury cost him nearly all of last season. Having those two guys back gives us a great foundation, built on experience and success, but obviously, there’s a third position to be won on the weekend.”

Weekends aside, the Lions’ biggest impact over the last decade has been made in midweek and non-conference competition.

“There are more roles to be won during the midweek, which is just as tough, if not tougher than the weekend with UL Lafayette, Tulane, Southern Miss, South Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU,” Riser said. “It’s a grind and that’s where we’ve been able to make our money, giving us enough quality wins to put our RPI where it needs to be for an at-large opportunity at the end of the season following a competitive conference schedule.”

Joining the fold are 20 newcomers fighting for playing time and significant roles. Melding everyone together as a full unit will take time, although Riser knows what it will ultimately take for a successful 2022 campaign.

“No one can be greater than the program,” Riser said. “No one can be greater than the team. We have some really good players and they’re going to have some high accolades or the opportunity to play for years after college, but this is the one team we get. This is the one year we get. This is the chance to leave their mark and legacy but they have to understand, we have a lot of depth and some very talented players in this program. Just do what’s asked of you, do a good job contributing every chance you get and be grateful for every opportunity.”

A rugged non-conference schedule awaits SLU in 2022, with nearly one-third of the overall competition and more than half of its road slate against teams that advanced to the NCAA postseason this past year. The Lions will face three opponents ranked in the preseason Top 5, No. 2-ranked Arkansas, No. 4-ranked LSU and No. 5-ranked Ole Miss.

SLU will host 28 home games at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field, comprising more than half of its regular-season schedule. The Southland Conference’s annual attendance leader welcomes postseason participants Louisiana Tech (March 2), Ole Miss (March 15), South Alabama (Apr. 19) and Southern Miss (Apr. 26) to Hammond.

The 2022 Southland slate features a new format during both the regular season and the conference tournament. Each Southland member will face a designated rival in a pair of home-and-home series, opening and closing the conference docket against the same opponent.

A new and improved version of the Southland tournament means the regular season will wrap up a week earlier than in the past and all eight teams qualifying. The No. 1 and No. 2-seeded teams will host bracket play at their home ballparks the weekend of May 19-22.

Bracket winners advance to a best 2-of-3 championship series, May 26-28, hosted by the highest remaining seed in the tournament.

“There are going to be roles and sometimes it’s hitting in the three-hole, driving guys in, and sometimes that role is coming off the bench,” Riser said. “Sometimes it’s being a left-handed matchup as the designated hitter and sometimes it’s being the setup guy that gets us to the closer. Just doing a good job of accepting whatever role they’re in will be a huge part of this. It is all about the team aspect, doing it together with energy, attitude and mental toughness. If we can do all that, I promised these guys a championship in the spring.”

TICKET & PARKING INFORMATION
Baseball season tickets and parking passes are currently on sale and may be purchased by contacting the Southeastern Athletics Ticket Office at (985) 549-5466. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Fridays.

Season ticket prices are $130 for general admission and $175 for reserved grandstand seating. A $250 family pass grants a family of four (two adults and two youth) general admission seating for every regular-season game. Parking passes cost $125 for general parking or $185 for a reserved spot.

CLEAR BAG POLICY
Southeastern Athletics enforces a clear bag policy for all ticketed events. The policy mirrors safety precautions required for entrance to professional and collegiate sporting venues throughout the country. For more information on the clear bag policy, visit www.LionSports.net/Clear.

DIAMOND CLUB / S CLUB
Fans interested in becoming active supporters of the baseball program are encouraged to join the Diamond Club. Lion baseball alums are encouraged to join the exclusive S Club, which is restricted to Southeastern athletic letter winners.
 
All membership fees and donations to both the Diamond Club and S Club (baseball) are available for the exclusive use of the Southeastern baseball program. Membership information is available by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at laa@southeastern.edu or (985) 549-5091 or visiting www.LionUp.com.
  
SOCIAL MEDIA
For more information on Lions Baseball, follow @LionUpBaseball or @MattRiser17 on Twitter, @LionUpBaseball on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.

{Courtesy: Southeastern Louisiana athletics}