LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The UALR baseball team released its 2007 schedule on Monday, a slate which will see the Trojans play 14 of their first 15 games at home before opening Sun Belt Conference play on March 9. Entering his second season at UALR, head coach Jim Lawler’s squad will open the year on Feb. 9 when it hosts Central Arkansas at 3 p.m. The Trojans will stay in Little Rock through March 6, welcoming Northern Iowa, Iowa, Missouri State and Creighton to Gary Hogan Field before the start of league play.
“I feel good about our schedule. It’s challenging, but our first four weekend series are at home,” said Lawler. “We open up with UCA and then play three quality teams in Northern Iowa, Iowa and Creighton. The games are all at home, so that is really going to help us get off to a good start before we get into Sun Belt play. We know conference play is going to be tough, but I really think the home non-conference schedule will get us prepared.”
Coming off a 24-30 campaign in 2006, the Trojans welcome back six starting position players this season led by senior outfielder Ryan Gotcher. As a junior in 2006, Gotcher led the Trojans in batting average (.360), hits (76), doubles (21), stolen bases (25), total bases (118), on-base percentage (.452), and slugging percentage (.559).
In addition to Gotcher, the Trojans return starters Brett Lawler, Matt King, Brian Smiley, Brian Asbill and Tyler Mason. The group made a combined 225 starts last year, and makes up four of the team’s five starting spots in the infield.
Pitching will be the biggest question mark for UALR, as Lawler brought in 13 new pitchers to improve upon a squad which ranked near the bottom of the league last season with a 6.43 earned run average. Senior reliever Dustin Turner, who led the Trojans with a 3.83 ERA and help opposing hitters to a team-best .254 batting average, is the only hurler back from last year’s squad.
“Offensively, we have a good core back and have managed to add to the offense,” said Lawler. “I think the key for us, with 13 new pitchers, is for them to get into the game and do what they are capable of doing. We also have six new left-handed pitchers this year, which will give us some good balance and should really help us out.”
The Sun Belt’s addition of Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic brings the league to 11 teams and means the Trojans will play 30 conference games this year, beginning March 9-11 against the Warhawks in Monroe, La. The Sun Belt ranked seventh in the country last season in conference RPI rankings, ahead of the Missouri Valley (12), Big East (14) and Big Ten (16), and sent two teams to the NCAA baseball championships (Troy and South Alabama).
UALR will close out the regular season with a three-game homestand against Arkansas State May 17-19. After falling just a few percentage points shy of last year’s Sun Belt Tournament, the Trojans will look to advance to this season’s conference championships May 23-26 in Mobile, Ala.
“I always have high expectations. In college baseball, the difference between the number one and number 10 team is so close. It really comes down to who wins the one-run ballgames as to will be successful,” said Lawler. “Last year we lost a lot of one-run games. I want to make the tournament. If we can come back and win those games this year we can have a good year.”