When senior Kirby Campbell came to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the first thing he wanted to do when he arrived on campus was bring a SWAC championship to Pine Bluff and to the university.
Campbell and the Golden Lions made a step in the right direction in accomplishing that goal last weekend by winning two of three from Texas Southern — locking up the No. 1 seed and the Western Division championship.
“Winning the West, that was a huge step,” Campbell said. “Doing it against TSU, the team that knocked us out of the tournament last year, that is something you can never take away from this group.
“It was just incredible. I’m just so proud of my guys, so proud of my coaches.”
Now, UAPB (22-26) will turn its attention to the SWAC Tournament, which will be hosted by the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
The venue is a replacement site after the league decided to move the tournament from LaGrave Field in Fort Worth, Texas, as a result of safety concerns.
UAPB head coach Carlos James said he hasn’t played at the academy before.
“The good thing is, we started our season down in New Orleans,” James said. “At least we will stay at the same hotel that we stayed at when we played Tulane.
“So we do have some familiarity with the place.”
UAPB will play defending SWAC champion Jackson State next Wednesday in the first round but James said he was still unsure of the time.
“We only can control what we can control,” James said. “Right now, the thing we control is how we prepare.
“We are trying to get back into the swing of things and practice with a purpose.”
UAPB took Monday off for finals and spent Tuesday volunteering in the concession stand at Dickey Stephens Park in North Little Rock for the benefit baseball game between Mayflower and Vilonia.
“We put a great fall together and put together a pretty good spring as well,” Campbell said. “We are trying to keep our eyes on the prize.
“That’s the one thing I try to reiterate to my guys, ‘Yes we had a pretty good year and we won the West, but all that is for naught, if we don’t come out and win the SWAC championship.
“… By keeping everything in perspective that helps us keep our focus and continue to work hard.”
After nearly a month of struggling at the plate, Campbell has brought his batting average up to .305 — the second best on the team. He has five doubles and 12 RBIs on the year to go along with his on-base percentage of .411.
“This is the best time of the year,” Campbell said. “When school is out and you are still playing ball, that’s when you know you’ve had a pretty good season.”
Campbell said one thing that has helped the Lions keep their focus is the comradery between the players.
“We’ve really come together as a group, as a team, as a family,” Campbell said. “One thing that is keeping us focused, is knowing that we want to keep on playing together.”
Proof of this bond, has been the support some of the team has received during a slump.
“Over the last few weeks, everybody has been rallying behind each other,” sophomore Rashawn Tillman said. “My brothers keep telling me, ‘keep batting, keep fighting.
“‘We need you in it, we aren’t going to win this thing unless everybody is going.’”
Tillman said once they showed their support, he took it upon himself to make sure he came out with the right focus.
“To make sure I help my teammates,” Tillman said. “The last thing I wanted to do is let my guys down.”
In Sunday’s 10-4 loss to Texas Southern, Tillman stole home in the seventh inning.
“I just took off full-speed and slid in before the pitch got there,” Tillman said.
He said he never would have thought he could steal home in a Division I baseball game.
“I knew I better be safe or I’m going to get yelled at,” Tillman said.
Tillman has five stolen bases this year to go along with his 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
The SWAC Tournament is double elimination and is scheduled to begin on May 14 and will wrap up with the championship game on May 18.