Lions wrap up preps for SWAC tourney opener

When Arkansas-Pine Bluff swept Southern University — the defending SWAC Western Division Champion — in a three-game series in March, it was a step in the right direction for the Golden Lions.

“One thing about trying to win a championship, it has to start with the champion,” UAPB head coach Carlos James said. “It started at Southern with a three-game sweep and it kick-started the regular season.”

The theme of trying to take down last year’s champion will continue Thursday when UAPB will face Jackson State — the defending SWAC champion — in the first round of the SWAC baseball tournament.

“There is no better thing than to start the tournament the same way,” James said. “We hope that it all pays off.”

Today’s game, which begins at 3 p.m., will be held at the MLB Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. UAPB (22-26) has been in the city, practicing at Tulane University’s Greer Field, since Monday.

“They were nice enough to allow us to come over and practice after they do,” James said. “When we played here earlier this year, we formed a pretty good relationship.

“So it works out well.”

James expects Jackson State (27-23), the No. 4 seed from the East, will start Desmond Russell for today’s game.

“He is their do-everything player,” James said. “He also pitches for them and Jackson State is a solid defensive ballclub.

“… They have a lot of tournament experience as well.”

Russell has an ERA of 3.44 in 14 appearances this season. He has thrown seven complete games, and has allowed 35 runs (33 earned) on 80 hits with 72 strikeouts and 25 walks.

Russell also has a batting average of .277 with seven doubles and 18 RBIs. He has an on-base percentage of .370 with 11 strikeouts and 18 walks.

Mikey Ramirez — who is coming off a complete-game effort against Texas Southern — is scheduled to start on the mound for UAPB.

Ramirez has a team-low ERA of 2.98 in 12 starts this season with a record of 6-4. He has allowed 39 runs (27 earned) on 93 hits. Opponents have a batting average of .290 against him with 35 strikeouts and seven walks.

James said he is not concerned with trying to limit Ramirez to a certain pitch limit.

“At this point of the year, we are just trying to win the game,” James said. “… We are going to try to win the game that day and let tomorrow take care of itself.”

Right now, the focus for UAPB is to keep everything routine.

“I don’t think we are anxious or nervous,” James said. “We are in a good place right now.”

James said the tournament experience from last year has been beneficial.

“It just been more routine for us,” James said. “Being familiar with what goes on in a tournament setting.

“This year, it has just been more business like. Normal like.”

Two named All-SWAC

Despite the fact that UAPB won the Western Division, the Lions had just two players named to the All-SWAC team. Closer Kevin Walsh was named to the first team and shortstop Isias Alcantar was named to the second team.

In 23 appearances, Walsh had an ERA of 1.29 with a record of 2-0. He allowed just six runs (three earned) on 16 hits. He had 18 strikeouts and 14 walks and opponents had a batting average of .219 and he had seven saves on the year.

Alcantar had a .331 batting average with seven doubles, six home runs and 42 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .426 with 17 walks and 57 hits.