Photo by SFA Athletics

Lumberjacks find themselves at a crossroads after humbling sweep

May 1, 2017
623

It's almost amusing how little we actually know about sports. We study statistics and analytics while presuming to understand how past results predict future trends. Just when we think we've figured it all out, the unpredictability of fortune telling again emerges.

Our only appraisal of athletes and teams is the plurality of their history. A ".270 hitter" in baseball may never hit .270 again. At the end of the day, the story that stats and probabilities tell may be little more than one of pure fiction.

As Shakespeare once famously wrote, "the play's the thing." And in a humbling weekend series against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, Stephen F. Austin baseball (and a pitching staff largely responsible for team's remarkable 2017 turnaround) returned to mortality.

The Lions entered a Friday doubleheader as the second-worst hitting team in the Southland Conference. Remarkable pitching and defense has carried SELA through a tough non-conference schedule and even though they boast a top 50 RPI and tournament-caliber team, aluminum swinging has had little to do with it. Well, until now.

Through seven innings of the weekend series, fans of SFA and Southeastern saw a lot of what they probably expected. Patrick Ledet and Mac Sceroler battled in an epic pitchers' dual that saw a single run plated between both teams. That was the series we were promised by statistics. That was the series that favored the Lumberjacks.

That's not the series we got.

"All the things we talked about doing this week, we didn't do on the mound," head coach Johnny Cardenas would say later.

After Ledet returned to the dugout, Southeastern rocked SFA's bullpen to the tune of six runs in the 9th inning. The Lumberjacks failed to score and the Lions, despite surrendering seven hits, escaped with the shutout and a 7-0 victory. Through the entire weekend picture, the Lions and their .237 hitting average hit nearly .300 and took advantage of a combined 21 walks to claim easily their best offensive weekend of the season in the three-game sweep.

And SFA, fresh off shutting down top-level offenses over the past few weeks like Sam Houston State and even TCU, had few answers from the mound.

Where to from here? -

The Lumberjacks fell hard from a tie for second place in the Southland Conference to sole possession of fifth. The good news for SFA is that only two games separate them from the Bearkats (who remain in second) and only three games in the loss column from McNeese State who leads the whole thing.

Nicholls, who climbed back to .500 in the league (10-10) with a Sunday victory over Lamar, will host SFA in what is essentially a must-win series for the Lumberjacks in the conference race. A comeback on McNeese is already unlikely, but aiming for the second seed in the SLC tournament is a realistic goal.

From there, the Lumberjacks stay on the road at Lamar for three games before returning home for a massive final series, full of seeding implications, with the Huskies of Houston Baptist.

 - Cleanup thoughts

- SFA's catcher, Jared Huber, who was forced into the full time role with the career-ending injury to Clark Kahawaii early in the season, has been extraordinary defensively all season. What's even more remarkable, though, has been his growth as an offensive player. On a weekend where the Lumberjacks' prolific lineup was largely held in check by SELA pitching, Huber continued his offensive ascension with another five hits. "As good as he is defensively behind the plate, anything we can get from him on offense is an extra," Cardenas remarked after Sunday's game. Huber's "extra" has swelled his average over .100 points since Kahawaii's injury and he now sits quite pretty at .293 overall.

- SFA pitching, as good as they've been at times, has been allowing walks at a somewhat alarming rate all season. The Jacks' 87 walks allowed ranks 5th most in the league but, for the most part, timely outs have limited the damage. In all three games this past weekend, though, those walks were the crushing blows. McNeese, the SLC's front-runner, has 100 walks (2nd) and they seem to be doing alright - but SFA isn't good enough yet to consistently survive the self-inflicted damage. Of all the reasons for Cardenas to be upset after Sunday's finale, that was what stood out the most in his post-game comments.

- Momentum is such a big part of baseball. Every player and team has ups and downs during a season and the good ones separate themselves by finding ways to limit the damage and return to form quickly. This was a tough weekend for the 'Jacks - a "butt-whoopin'," as Cardenas put it. Does this mark a turning point where they once again fall into mediocrity, or is there enough confidence to overcome a difficult stretch and return to the version of this team we've seen over most of the last month? What, exactly, is the character of this team? That's something you can only find out when things go awry.

What we see in the coming weeks, what kind of team emerges after this unfortunate misstep, will largely determine the answer to all the above questions.

Lumberjacks find themselves at a crossroads after humbling sweep

BigJack85
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Painful. Hopefully we recoup.
Willis Jack
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No need to panic team has been playing well for a while, just about every team goes through a bad week. They'll be fine.
BigJack85
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Pretty rough patch for these Lumberjacks. They need a one win against Lamar and a couple against HBU to finish above 500. Looks like a dogfight for the SLC tournament.
SFAXE93
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1-8 since the TCU win sitting in 8th place

PurpleOut
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I think it's fair to panic now. 2nd to 8th in just a few weeks and in jeopardy of not making the tournament. Desperately need at least 2 of 3 against HBU.
edstile
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PurpleOut said:

I think it's fair to panic now. 2nd to 8th in just a few weeks and in jeopardy of not making the tournament. Desperately need at least 2 of 3 against HBU.
What the heck has happened to the pitching staff?? And BTW, HBU just made Prison Tech look ordinary. We're in trouble.
PurpleOut
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We've given up 7 or more runs in 7 of the last 9 games.
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