There were two things you could count on when it came to the SHSU baseball program under Mark Johnson and David Pierce. For one, they were going to play a very competitive non-conference schedule. Second, they were probably going to make the regionals and make some noise once they got there.
Under new head coach Matt Deggs, it remains to be seen if the latter holds true, but it’s so far so good when it comes to the former.
The Bearkats 2015 schedule, which was released September 12, features the usual suspects in the midweek, a couple of weekend series against marquee opponents, and a tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas featuring a very competitive field.
The scheduling strategy within the program shows a great deal of awareness when it comes to what the Bearkats will need to do to remain a fixture in the postseason.
The Southland Conference has always basically been a one-bid league, but in the recent past, they’ve found a way to get two teams in. SHSU and Texas State both made the field in 2009. In 2012, UT-Arlington and SHSU were both involved. In 2013, Central Arkansas joined SHSU in the postseason party, and in 2014, Southeastern Louisiana and the Bearkats both made it in.
Unfortunately, getting that second team in as an at-large bid is going to be tough moving forward thanks to changes in the conference. You could almost always count on Texas State being an RPI-positive (or at least RPI-neutral) series. Now, of course, they’re in the Sun Belt Conference. Reinforcements looked to be coming in the form of Oral Roberts, a regional baseball powerhouse, but they’ve now returned to the friendly confines of the Summit League after two disappointing years in the Southland.
In the last couple of years, the SLC has also lost UT-San Antonio (to Conference USA) and UT-Arlington (to the Sun Belt Conference). While those program aren’t nearly as good for the RPI as Texas State and nearly as consistently competitive as Oral Roberts, they are certainly of better quality than the programs that have taken their places.
In 2013, the conference welcomed Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, Houston Baptist, and New Orleans. ACU, UIW, and UNO all finished 269 or worse in RPI in 2014. HBU finished at 201. The reality of the situation is that unless these teams turn things around quickly, all four are going to be RPI killers for everyone else in the conference for the foreseeable future. Without a handful of teams to help balance that out, it’s going to be tough sledding for any SLC team to stay in range of an at-large.
The one real remedy is to challenge yourself in the non-conference, and that’s precisely what the Bearkats have done for 2015.
Without further ado, let’s break down the components of the 2015 schedule.
2/17 at Texas State, 2/24 vs. Prairie View A&M, 3/3 vs. McNeese State, 3/4 at Baylor, 3/10 vs. Houston, 3/17 vs. Baylor, 3/24 at Rice, 3/25 vs.Rice, 3/31 at Texas A&M, 4/7 vs. Northwestern State, 4/14 at Texas, 4/28 at Houston, 5/12 vs. Texas A&M
Now that’s quite the slate of midweek games. Not only did they end up with games against nearly all of the brand name programs in the state, they got home and home series with all of them except Texas. That’s good for the RPI, but it also should be good for attendance at Don Sanders Stadium. The students at SHSU have a reputation for only showing up when a big name is in town and many of these games fit that bill.
The only real stinker in the group is Prairie View, but that’s a series that has been going on for a long time, so it’s tough to blame the program for continuing to play them. It’s also nice to see McNeese and Northwestern State on the schedule. With the SLC expanding, conference play is no longer round-robin, so putting the teams they miss in league play into the non-conference schedule keeps them from having to schedule a team like Texas Southern, who they’ve had to schedule to fill in gaps in the past.
The combination of a rebuilding team and a tough midweek schedule could lead to some lumps, but the Bearkats have always played their in-state rivals tough, even in years that they have been undermanned.
OOC Weekend Series
2/13-2/15 vs. Wichita State, 2/27-3/1 at Louisiana-Monroe, 4/24-4/26 at Oklahoma
Three solid series here.
The Oklahoma series is the one that jumps out, obviously. Despite a tough first season under Pete Hughes in 2014, the Sooners have been a model of consistency in the Big 12 for more than a decade now. Sunny Golloway is a bit of a divisive figure in college baseball, but you can’t argue with his results. From ’05-’13, OU went to the regionals every year but one, advanced to the super regionals on four occasions, and advanced to the College World Series in 2010.
I’m betting on a bounce-back season from the Sooners in 2015, and even if that doesn’t happen, their residual RPI points from Big 12 competition should be a boon to the Bearkats.
The Wichita State series could be a sneaky-good series as well. Quietly, the Missouri Valley Conference is always competitive and it appears that the Shockers’ turnaround under head coach Todd Butler has begun in earnest. After a bit of a transition season last year with a mix of his players and holdovers from the Gene Stephenson regime, things are looking up in Wichita. Recently, College Baseball Newspaper ranked their 2014 recruiting class second in the nation. So if nothing else, you know they will be stocked with young talent.
Even the worst series of the group, against Louisiana-Monroe, isn’t that bad. The Warhawks were in the regionals as recently as 2012 and the conference RPI of the Sun Belt Conference won’t put SHSU at risk of having their RPI torpedoed just by playing ULM.
2/20-2/22 vs. Missouri, Purdue (2), and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi at Kleberg Bank College Classic, Corpus Christi, Texas
This tournament doesn’t quite have the field of the Houston College Classic, in which SHSU played in 2014, but it should still be a good test for the Bearkats.
Missouri has struggled to get acclimated to SEC play, but they’re still obviously a very competitive club. Plus, head coach Tim Jamieson appears to be doing a good job getting talent to Columbia. College Baseball Newspaper has their 2014 class ranked 31. The bad news is that is only good for ninth in the SEC, but it does mean that they do have some high-level talent. Purdue is an intriguing opponent as well. They are just a couple of years removed from winning the Big Ten and hosting a regional, but the last two seasons have been rough in West Lafayette. Head coach Doug Schreiber has done a good job with that program in general, so it’s not tough to imagine them being much improved in 2015.
We are still about five months away from opening day, but there is already a lot to be excited about in Huntsville. The SHSU program is well-stocked with talent, Matt Deggs was a roundly-applauded hire as a head coach, and now, there is an OOC schedule worth getting excited about.