UAPB a force in SWAC play

At the beginning of the season, Arkansas-Pine Bluff lost 10 straight nonconference games — all 10 on the road — including losses to Oklahoma, Tulane and Auburn.

While it wasn’t the most ideal start to the season, head coach Carlos James believes it was the strength of the nonconference schedule that prepared the Golden Lions for the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“It is two-fold,” James said. “One, we go out there and have a healthy respect with who we played.

“But still do everything we can to win the game. The second part, be realistic.”

James said it is “only a loss, if we don’t learn from it.”

“Our guys learned a lot and we learned a lot about each other,” James said. “We don’t count them as losses to our mental states. Because we learned from them and are slowly getting better.”

After the long road trip to start the season, UAPB won four of its first five conference games to jump out in first place in the conference.

“Our nonconference schedule has prepared for us in the conference,” James said. “That was the original intent. … We scheduled them to get better.

“We know what is out there and it has helped us greatly.”

UAPB swept Jarvis Christian (Texas) in a doubleheader on Tuesday for its first nonconference wins of the season.

UAPB (14-22, 12-5 SWAC) is currently in first place in the SWAC’s West Division after taking two of three games from Southern last weekend. The Golden Lions will host Grambling State (11-24, 8-10) this weekend for a three-game series beginning with a single game on Friday.

“They are always tough,” James said. “They swing the bats well and we expect a fight.”

Grambling took two of three from Prairie View A&M this past weekend in Texas. UAPB swept Grambling earlier this season, but James expects a tougher challenge this time around.

“We know what is at stake,” James said. “That is what our guys are focused on. We are going to attack them with all we got.”

James doest not believe there is any pressure with trying to remain in first place and win the West.

“Our guys have worked hard for this moment,” James said. “It is just a goal.

“… We expect to win now. We are trying to change the culture of our program.

“We expect to win, and if we don’t we are disappointed.”

Isias Alcantar, last year’s conference player of the year, has found his groove the past few games including hitting two home runs against Southern last weekend.

“I think it is finally starting to click for him,” James said. “The guys around him have begun to help him out.

“… I think emergence of the guys around him gives him a little bit more confidence. Now (the other teams) can’t just focus on Alcantar.

“Here lately, every time he has been up, he has come through.”

Alcantar is currently batting .328 with five doubles, four home runs and 32 RBIs. He has an on-base percentage of .415 with 13 walks on the year.

“Hopefully this is just the beginning of him swinging well,” James said.