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Alcorn looking to defend SWAC title in baseball

lorman — Last season was historic for the Alcorn State baseball team.

The Braves took home their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, which led to the team’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

This season the Braves and third-year head coach Barret Rey are looking for progression instead of regression for their rising program.

“We want to win,” he said. “That’s what our goal is each time we take the field. First we want to win the Eastern Division, then win the conference championship and then the biggest goal is to go to the Super Regionals. If we can accomplish that, it would be far beyond our dreams.”

Alcorn lost four starters off last season’s championship team, but Rey said he feels that the returning players are talented enough to lead the Braves to a good season.

“I think we’ll be able to swing the bats,” Rey said. “I think the strength of the team is swinging the bats, but I didn’t lose any starting pitching this year. So our pitching will have greater depth. I really think we have all the pieces in place to have a good season.”

Rey said all four departing players played key roles in the Braves’ success last season, but Cole Vicars and Kilby Perdomo will be especially hard to replace.

“Perdomo was tournament MVP and led the team in home runs the last two years,” Rey said. “But we are going to replace him with Rodney Warren, who’s been around the block a couple of times.”

Warren, an infielder and middle-of-the-order hitter in the Braves’ lineup, missed time last season with an injury. Pitchers Mundo Sanchez and Cedric Pomerlee will also return from injuries this season.

Rey said two Braves players have already garnered preseason recognition this season. First-baseman Eduardo Gonzalez has been named preseason SWAC player of the year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Baseball America, and senior pitcher Steve Easter was been named preseason pitcher of the year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

“It’s pretty exciting to see how consistent these guys have been to the program,” Rey said. “They have been dedicated to the program. It’s good to be able to run Easter out the first game of the series every weekend and have Gonzalez in the middle of the lineup. I can just sit back sometimes and let them play and not have to coach much.”

Gonzalez, a senior, said his expectations for the team are the same as Rey’s.

“We are very excited and are looking forward to another great season,” he said. “We want to get to the Regionals again. It was a great experience last year.”

Easter said as seniors he and Gonzalez will have to step up to replace the four players lost off last year’s team and provide leadership for the team’s younger talent.

“We lost some key seniors but gained it back with younger kids,” Easter said.

Rey said Alcorn’s tough non-conference schedule last season helped set the tone for its success in conference play, and the team will face a similar path this season.

“Last year was the true definition of a season being a marathon and not a sprint,” Rey said. “We were really able to pace ourselves and put ourselves in a good position to do what we were supposed to do in the conference. I think (the non-conference schedule) allowed us to get better and continue to get better and not ever have a break and let us get lackadaisical.”

Rey said last season the Braves had the nation’s 14th toughest non-conference schedule, and this season they have the 10th.

Alcorn will face four SEC teams this season: Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn and Georgia. The Braves will also play Southern Mississippi and Oklahoma State in three-game series.

Rey said the weather has put his team a little behind in preparation, but he expects the Braves to be ready to go when the season starts Feb. 17.

“Last week the rain was a setback, but I really believe on Feb. 17 we will be ready to get going against Air Force,” Rey said.

Alcorn will face Air Force and LSU in Baton Rouge that weekend.