2 wins away: Western Division championship at stake for Lions


Arkansas-Pine Bluff head coach Carlos James has not been able to sleep this whole week.

“We are on the cusp of doing that something we have set out to do from the start,” James said. “It is a great feeling.”

UAPB (20-25, 14-6 SWAC) is a series win away from clinching the SWAC Western Division championship for the first time in school history.

“It’s huge,” UAPB senior pitcher Kyle Schwartz said. “It has never been done before.

“It just goes to show you the work the coaches have put in.”

The Golden Lions will face Texas Southern (22-25, 12-7) in a three-game series beginning with today’s doubleheader at noon in Houston. If the Lions win two of the three games, they will clinch the division.

“That has been one of our goals this year,” James said. “It was a vision of mine when I took the job here – to bring a championship to UAPB baseball.”

James knows it won’t be an easy task.

“(TSU) is a scrappy team,” James said. “They are a team that never really goes away.

“… They pitch it pretty well. I think they have one the top pitching staffs in the conference.”

Texas Southern’s Darius McClelland leads the entire SWAC with an ERA of 1.84. In 13 appearances, McClelland has a record of 2-4 and has allowed 13 runs (10 earned) on 36 hits in 49 innings. He has 40 strikeouts and 22 walks. Opponents have a batting average of .214 against him.

Three other TSU pitchers are in the top 10 in ERA including Michael Starkey (2.57), Ryan Rios (2.94), and Devin Kanorik (3.38).

“I don’t think there is much pressure,” UAPB shortstop Isias Alcantar said. “We just got to play our game and I think everything will go our way.

“I think we just need to worry about ourselves and not really worry about them.”

Alcantar leads the Lions with a .325 batting average with four home runs, five doubles and 36 RBIs. He has an on base percentage of .426 with 16 walks and 12 strikeouts.

“I think we are heading in the right direction,” Alcantar said. “Our pitching is look good as well as our hitting and defense.

“Everything is coming together at the right time.”

UAPB has won 10 of its last 13 games including a 6-5 walk-off win over Arkansas-Little Rock and a 5-0 win over Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Pittsburgh on April 27.

“Some days we would have pitching but wouldn’t have hitting, and other days we would have hitting but not pitching,” Schwartz said. “But now it is all starting to click.

“We are starting to do what we knew what we could do from the start.”

Schwartz has an ERA of 5.05 in 13 appearances. He has allowed 53 runs (41 earned) on 80 hits with 40 strikeouts and 21 walks.

“We expect to win every series,” Schwartz said. “It doesn’t matter if it is the end of the season or the beginning.

“We are just going to go in there and compete. Hopefully come out with the wins.”

UAPB is 9-13 on the road, but James said playing away from Pine Bluff is not a concern.

“Actually being on the road is good for us,” James said. “We probably have a better road record than playing at home or at a neutral site.

“They are more focused on the road because you don’t have all the distractions of home. … Everything is pretty structured with us on the road.”

UAPB hosted TSU for a three-game series on March 29 and lost two out of the three games.

“I mean (this weekend) is important,” UAPB junior Andre Davis said. “But we aren’t stressing about it or anything because we know we have put in the work.

“There is really no pressure on us; we just have to go play our game.”