Jag Baseball Prepares for Tournament

After an up-and-down season that saw South Alabama end up with the six seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, the Jags know that the only way to reward retiring Coach Steve Kittrell one final NCAA bid is to win it all in Monroe, Louisiana. A new tournament format will make it a challenging task.

The new method for choosing the Sun Belt representative in the NCAA tournament is a fair system that divides the eight participants into two pools. The four teams in each pool play each other one time and the team with the best record from each advances into the final game to decide the champion. In the event that records in a pool are tied, the highest-seeded team is awarded the spot in the championship game. Each team is given a day off during the tournament, but unfortunately for the Jags, the three and six seeds are given Day One off, meaning that they would have to play four straight days if they advance to the championship game. Obviously this format will favor the teams that performed best in the regular season and make it harder for lower seeded teams to pull the upset.

USA will participate in Pool B. This pool includes two-seed FIU (20-9-1 SBC, 37-17-1 overall), three-seed ULL (18-12 SBC, 31-24 overall), six-seed USA (15-15 SBC, 29-26 overall) and seven-seed Arkansas State (13-16-1 SBC, 25-30-1 overall). Pool A consists of one-seed Troy (21-9 SBC, 40-16 overall), four-seed WKU (17-13 SBC, 32-22 overall), five-seed FAU (17-13 SBC, 32-22 overall) and eight-seed UALR (10-20 SBC, 20-32 overall).

The Jags will open up on Day 2 of the tournament on Thursday, May 26 at 11am against ULL, a team that beat USA two games to one in Lafayette this year. ULL is a team that features strong pitching (3.75 ERA - 3rd in SBC) and defense (.977 FP, 2nd) but average hitting (.279 BA, 6th) against USA's stronger offense (.299 BA, T-2nd) and less-effective pitching (5.25 ERA, 7th) and defense (.968 FP, 6th).

The next day USA will play FIU at 3pm. FIU narrowly lost the conference championship to Troy and swept USA in a three game series when they played in South Florida. The Golden Panthers pitching (3.53 ERA, 1st) and hitting (.314 BA, 1st) are excellent, but their Achilles Heel may be their defense (.961 FP, 10th).

The last scheduled game for USA will be on Saturday, May 28th at 3pm versus Arkansas State. The Jags swept the Red Wolves in Mobile this season, keying the 7-3 stretch that USA closed the season. ASU actually pitches (4.37 ERA, 5th) a little better than South Alabama but the rely primarily on two starting pitchers (Andy Ferguson and Jacob Lee) so catching them in the third game is good fortune. On offense (.273 BA, 9th) and defense (.963 FP, 8th) the Jags have the edge.

To have a chance, USA will have to win at least two of these three games. The Jaguars ended the season playing well and certainly should be motivated for the legendary Steve Kittrell's final SBC tournament. The hope here is that they can surprise the conference and send Coach K on to the national tournament with another SBC crown added to his record total.

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