Bearkats picked to defend Southland Title

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FRISCO – For the seventh time since 2013, the Sam Houston State Bearkats are the favorites to claim the Southland Conference baseball crown after league officials unveiled the league’s annual preseason poll on Thursday morning.

The poll, which is voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors and does not allow voting for your own team, saw the Kats receive 17 first-place votes and 276 total points. The Kats have been the preseason favorite each year since 2017, and have claimed the regular-season title in the league in six of the past eight seasons.

The Kats were tabbed as favorites despite losing 20 letter winners, including five starters from a year ago. Still, returners include senior catcher Gavin Johnson, junior Jack Rogers and all-America sophomore Colton Cowser all were named preseason all-SLC selections earlier this week. The team will enter Jay Sirianni’s first year as head coach boasting not only those three returners, but an overall retooled roster that will open up the 2020 season February 14 in Huntsville against Saint Mary’s.

Central Arkansas and McNeese, the two teams who battled it out in the championship game of last year’s SLC Tournament, were picked as the first two teams behind the Kats. Coach Allen Gum’s Bears boast arguably the top pitching staff in the league entering 2020, headlined by sophomore Noah Cameron and relievers Gavin Stone and Conner Williams. They received five first-place votes while McNeese received one first-place vote and was picked third, one year after qualifying for its first NCAA Regional since 2003.

Perennial contender Southeastern Louisiana was picked fourth, receiving three first-place votes despite bidding farewell to the largest senior class in the nation following the 2019 season.

Coach Bobby Barbier’s Northwestern State Demons were tabbed to finish fifth, just two years removed from an NCAA Regional of their own, while Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was picked sixth.

UIW, who will be under the direction of new head coach Ryan Shotzberger - the Cardinals’ third head coach in four seasons - was picked seventh after a breakout campaign in 2019 that saw it contending for the league title until the final weekend of the season.

Nicholls was projected to take the final spot in this year’s SLC Tournament, while New Orleans, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and Houston Baptist round out the final five.

The 2020 Southland Conference Tournament will change locations in 2020 and will take place at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, the home of Corpus Christi Hooks, the AA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The SLC Tournament was last held at Whataburger Field in 2009 and 2010 with the Kats claiming the 2009 tournament crown in that location.

2020 Southland Conference Baseball Preseason Poll

1. Sam Houston State (17) 276
2. Central Arkansas (5) 247
3. McNeese (1) 244
4. Southeastern Louisiana (3) 243
5. Northwestern State 193
6. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 146
7. UIW 144
8. Nicholls 108
9. New Orleans 101
10. Abilene Christian 98
11. Stephen F. Austin 92
12. Lamar 87
13. Houston Baptist 49