The real deal is here for coach Chris Crenshaw and the Southern baseball team to make a third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship run.
Crenshaw is in a better position to oversee that after getting the job in December 2020 and leading a 2021 team that peaked at the perfect time. The Jaguars defeated Jackson State, which was unbeaten in regular-season league games, in the SWAC tournament championship game.
They will look to build on that achievement with 11 remaining players and several new additions when practice starts on Friday.
“We’re still working out the foundations,” said Crenshaw, a former pitcher with Southern. “I have an idea of what the line-up will look like during the first game. We have about three weeks left. Some that performed in the spring may not be performing well now. Some who performed in the fall may not do so in the spring. We’ll see how the scrimmages go, how they handle real-world situations in the future.”
Crenshaw had four key players missing fall practice, which opened the door for some younger players and newcomers to get noticed, especially on the pitching staff. The Jaguars lost most of their personnel.
“We lost five senior pitchers who threw well at the right time,” Crenshaw said. “We have young guys who are new and freshmen from last year, keep their development going and keep them positive. We need pitching to win another championship. Last year we threw everyone into the tournament.
“I’m going to try to develop guys like I did last year, one by one. One inning, one game and maybe two the next, gives them some confidence. Keep using the basics we’ve been working on, and repeating it over and over.”
Joseph Battaglia (5-4, 5.86 ERA) is back and Crenshaw has him and Christian Davis (five starts) listed as the best pitchers. The Jaguars are fortunate to have two of the best relievers in the competition with closer Enrique Orza (seven saves, 1.27 ERA), who made 14 appearances, and setup-man Dmitri Frank (4-1, 3.64), who struckout 50 and only 11 walks in 42 innings.
The third starting place is up in the air. Jerry Burkett showed flashes last year and Caleb Washing, Dillen Miller and Anthony Fidanza took turns during fall training. Austin Haensel was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the fall World Series.
The daily lineup includes first baseman O’Neill Burgos, second baseman Jovante Dorris and Zavier Moore battling with Hunter Tabb in third place. Justin Wiley and Caleb Tart battle for the shortstop spot.
Burgos, Moore, outfielder Tremaine Spears and catcher Taj Porter were out injured but will almost certainly claim starting spots.
Dorris had a great fall World Series with nine hits, including the deciding two-run homer. Tabb, a transfer from LSU-Eunice, had a pair of two-run doubles, and Southern Miss transfer outfielder Mike Latulas drove in four runs.
Isaiah Adams is the likely center fielder with Spears on one of the corners. Latulas and JJ Rollon compete for the other spot. Crenshaw said newcomer Nathaniel Lai could bring some power.
The conference schedule is ramped up to 30 games, with Alcorn State joining the West Division.
“I expect everyone in the league to be a little bit better,” Crenshaw said. “Guys who should have been gone are coming back, and we’ve got some pretty good coaches.
“We are going to quickly learn who we are. Some games we have to pitch and perform, and some games we have to swing. We have to make sure we play defensively. I will be playing in different lineups early to see how they perform. It will probably take the first third of the season to find a lineup before we start the conference.”