One of the main goals for Arkansas-Pine Bluff this season is to win a conference championship. With a 7-1 record in the SWAC, UAPB is on the right on track in accomplishing that goal.
UAPB (7-17) will host Texas Southern (8-15, 5-2) for a three-game series beginning Saturday with a doubleheader starting at noon at the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex. The series will conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. Head coach Carlos James is not underestimating the importance of this weekend.
“We want to win,” James said. “I’m not downplaying it to our kids. If we keep playing well, we will put some distance between ourselves and everybody else.
“This is a huge series for our program.”
James, who is in his fourth season with UAPB, said “This is where we expected to be, when I arrived three and a half years ago.”
“Winning this series this weekend would solidify all the hard work we have put into this program,” James said. “It is a huge weekend.”
Texas Southern’s biggest strength is its pitching staff, which includes two-time SWAC Pitcher of the Week Devin Konarik.
Konarik pitched his first complete game of the season in his win against Prairie View A&M on March 21 to earn the honor. He scattered six hits, allowing just one run (earned) with seven strikeouts and one walk.
“They are much like we are,” James said. “Looking at their stats, they have three quality starters and quality guys from the bullpen.
“… They pitch it well, but I feel like we pitch it well, too. Whoever pitches the best, is going to win the series.”
In six starts this season for the Tigers, Michael Starkey has an ERA of 2.57 in 35 innings pitched. Ryan Rios, who also has six starts this year, has an ERA of 4.15 in 26 innings. Nobody from Texas Southern’s bullpen has an ERA higher than 2.16.
“Coach (Michael) Robertson always has a team that is very good defensively,” James said.
James said he hopes UAPB’s nonconference schedule will help the Golden Lions prepare for Saturday’s games.
“We hope games like the Texas Tech game has given us some confidence and adds some depth to our pitching staff,” James said. “They did a really good job against the No. 24 team in the country.
“Hopefully we gained some confidence going into the weekend.”
UAPB senior Mikey Ramirez has an ERA of 3.16 in six starts. He’s allowed 20 runs (13 earned) on 49 hits with 16 strikeouts and three walks. Jim Ploeger has an ERA of 3.20 in four starts. He’s allowed 13 runs (nine earned) on 23 hits with nine walks and 20 strikeouts.
UAPB has lost its last six games (all nonconference), including three shutouts.
“It has been really tough because we have faced some really good pitchers,” James said.
James said he did not expect for Texas Tech to use its weekend starters but he said he was pleased with how his guys responded.
Matt Withrow allowed just one hit in seven innings. In the second game, Dylan Dusek allowed just three hits in seven innings.
“Texas Tech threw their Saturday and Sunday guys in the doubleheader,” James said. “At the time, it doesn’t look good. But it is something we won’t see in our conference.”
Isias Alcantar leads UAPB at the plate with a batting average of .280 with 23 hits, two home runs and 13 RBIs. Jerimiah Figueroa has a batting average of .266 with 21 hits and six RBIs.
“They have swung the bat well in conference, it is out of conference where we are overmatched,” James said.