Jacks in position for conference title

Drue Aman

Drue Aman

The Jacks left for Cedar City, Utah, less than two hours after completing a season sweep of a Big-Ten opponent in Brookings on April 20. Considering its sweep of the Minnesota Golden Gophers as another landmark victory, SDSU confidently embarked on its final long road trip to face Southern Utah and hopefully win another series.

It was not a series sweep.

SDSU (23-13, 8-4) split the four-game series with the Thunderbirds (12-27, 5-7) but won two of the final three after a disappointing opening-game loss, 5-11, on April 22.

“We did not play well on Thursday,” said Jacks head coach Ritchie Price. “You look at the box score, they knocked our starter around the field and we didn’t look good offensively. I don’t know what it was.”

But the Jacks responded, outscoring Southern Utah by 17 runs the final three games and playing errorless defense in salvaging a series split. Meanwhile, conference foes Oral Roberts and Centenary – who are tied for first in the Summit League standings – either swept or won two out of three in their weekend match-ups and lead SDSU by two games.

That close upper-third of the standings sets up a marquee series of games at Erv Huether Field for SDSU, with Centenary and 12-time defending conference champion Oral Roberts each traveling to Brookings on consecutive weekends beginning April 30. At this juncture, SDSU plays 10 of their last 14 regular-season games at home, a contrast from playing 34 of their first 36 on the road or at a neutral site.

“We told ourselves we need to take care of business at home,” said Price. “We have a chance to achieve our goal of winning the conference. … All you can ask for is survive on the road and then take advantage of your home series.”

Statistically, the Jacks have numerous individuals leading or in the top five in the conference statistics. Shortstop Eric Cain is second in the Summit League in home runs and first in runs batted in. Third baseman Jesse Sawyer is second in walks. Center fielder Billy Stitz leads in hits and doubles. Closer Trever Vermeulen leads in saves and has a stalwart 1.02 earned run average.

As a team, SDSU leads the league in hitting at .339. No other team is above .308. SDSU has also scored 344 runs – 67 more than second-place Oral Roberts.

In other words, SDSU has the talent to win the conference championship. But that doesn’t mean the team does not have a few things to work on.

“I think the two big things (are): we’ve got to continue to play good defense and we’ve got Proxy-Connection: keep-aliveCache-Control: max-age=0

get consistently good starting pitching,” Price said. “All four games of the series, every starting pitcher and second pitcher needs to pitch well to get the ball to Trever Vermeulen at the end of the game.

“There’s no doubt this team has the type of talent it takes to win a conference championship.”