The UCA Bears baseball team kicks off its 2015 season with a weekend series against the Grambling State University Tigers, the University of Louisiana — Monroe Warhawks and the Indiana State University Sycamores on Feb. 13 in Monroe, Louisiana.
The offseason has been long and tough as Coach Allen Gum prepared his boys for the new season.
Gum has focused on getting the team in shape and in the right frame of mind to get through the season and ready to leap into the postseason as the team has done for the past few years.
Junior right-handed pitcher Connor Gilmore said the most crucial thing for this season is to start with the end in mind.
“If you keep that attitude, what you are gunning for is right around the corner,” he said.
The Bears haven’t played GSU since 2013, which the Bears won 10-1 in an exhibition game midway through the season.
This bodes well for the Bears, as they hope to come out strong in the season’s first game, though senior right-handed pitcher Chris Caudle preaches that the Bears not getting ahead of themselves.
“To get everyone to do the best they can this season, we will need to focus on one game at a time,” he said.
ISU will be the next opponent for the Bears in the series.
The Bears and the Sycamores haven’t played since 2011.
The Bears lost that series, dropping the last game after splitting the weekend even with Indiana State.
ULM and the Bears haven’t gone head-to-head since 2011 in an exhibition game, when the Bears clinched an 11-3 win.
With the start of any new season, there are many factors to prepare for and to get tight before stepping out onto the field for game one.
Caudle said Gum has the team ready for its first weekend of games.
“We are doing a lot of work to make sure that everyone is in shape to play,” Caudle said. “We scrimmage regularly and do drills to keep everyone up to par.”
Gilmore said the toughest part of offseason was enduring the first fall with new weight trainer Coach Rob Steiner.
“He has made a big impact on the junior college transfers and the new freshman that came to have them experience that Division I is pretty intense,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the results would come from what the team puts into the offseason.
“Coach Gum and Coach [Nick] Harlan both keep reminding us that we are a family and as a family [to]keep our faith,” Gilmore said. “Coach got us together and reminded us about the championship game last year and the year before at our first team workout this year at 6 a.m.”
After losing seniors, teams often find themselves searching for people to fill the shoes left behind, but Caudle feels confident that the Bears’ larger 2015 roster is full of players ready to play at top level.
“We are going to have some real depth at each position,” Caudle said. “We’ve got some underclassmen and transfers that are helping to fill the positions that the seniors left behind after last season.”
One of the big roles to fill was left by former UCA outfielder Doug Votolato, who the Texas Rangers drafted in the First Year Player Draft in June 2014.
The Bears are ranked eighth in the Coaches Poll and sixth in the Sports Information Directors Poll for the Southland Conference this season.
Despite this low ranking, there is no reason to fret as a Bear’s fan.
Last preseason, the Bears were ranked about the same as this season and finished as the runner up.
This season, the Bears plan to prove the polls wrong once again.
UCA fans will soon get a glimpse at what could be in store for Gum’s Bears, who are more than ready to get back on the field and get the job done.
“We look forward to getting back out on the field and play the game that we love to play,” Caudle said.
Following the three games at Monroe, Louisiana, the Bears head home for a four-game homestand, beginning at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 against the University of Arkansas — Little Rock Trojans.
Last season, the Bears won the first meeting 5-4 in 11 innings April 2 at Bear Stadium.
The Trojans got the best of UCA on April 23 in Little Rock, winning 7-6.
The Bears’ toughest test of the season will occur against the University of Mississippi Rebels on Feb. 25 in Oxford, Mississippi.
Last season, the Rebels finished in the final eight teams in the NCAA College World Series.
Conference play for the Bears begins March 6 against the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Last season, the Lumberjacks finished with a 20-35 overall record and an 11-19 record in the SLC.
One of the more important regular season matchups for the Bears is a three-game series against the Sam Houston State University Bearkats, starting March 27 at home.
The Bearkats are the reigning SLC regular season champions, finishing with a 22-8 record in the SLC and a 43-19 overall record.
The Bears will face reigning SLC Tournament champions, the Southeastern Louisiana University Lions, in Hammond, Louisiana, in a three-game series, starting May 8.
These two teams matched up in the SLC Tournament championship game May 24 at Bear Stadium, with the Lions winning 9-4.
For the upcoming season, the Bears look to maintain their hold on being the top team in drawing walks.
Last season, UCA lead the SLC in walks with 243.
On the other hand, the Bears look to cut down on strikeouts, finishing last in the conference last season with 406, which is 30 more than the Nicholls State University Colonels who finished second to last in the conference.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears boast one of the conference’s better fielding teams, tying the University of the Incarnate Word for third in the SLC with a .968 fielding percentage.