Southland Conference: UNO Privateers Leap Forward in 2016
UNO outfielder Hezekiah Randolph (photo - UNO )
New Orleans - The baseball season has concluded for all members of the Southland Conference, as Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State exited the NCAA DI tournament in their respective regionals.
As previously reported, the Southland Conference's UNO Privateers were among the most improved teams in the circuit this season. I first took an interest in the squad after writing an article on the University's struggles following Hurricane Katrina, and again on the arrival of Blake Dean at the helm for the Privateers. The program's past and potential success combine to make the baseball team one of the most interesting to follow in NCAA DI.
The Privateers finished 31-26 on the season and 14-16 in the Southland. In the three prior seasons, UNO had a combined 32 wins. In 2016, they also earned their first invite to the conference tournament, where they played three tight games (including a win over Northwestern State) before being eliminated.
Highlights for the squad included starting off the season auspiciously with a three-game sweep of Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Invitational. The hosts beat Alcorn State, Grambling, and Louisiana Tech in succession. Another highlight came early in the season with a three-game sweep of Valparaiso (30-28) of the Horizon League.
Individually, outfielder Hezekiah Randolph started all 57 games, one of three Privateers to do so along with Dakota Dean and Aaron Palmer. Both Dean and Palmer arrived in New Orleans this season following stellar junior college careers at Northwest Florida State. Randolph tied with Dean in RBIs (45), and his 71 hits were second only to Palmer's 78.
Privateers' righthander Riley Hodge (photo - UNO)
On the hill, junior Riley Hodge was the team's workhorse, making 17 appearances including 15 starts. His 4.23 ERA was second on the team to leader Daniel Martinez (2.75), while Hodge led the team with 93.2 innings pitched.
Following the season-ending loss to McNeese State in 13 innings, head coach Dean said of his Privateers, "They know how to win now. They know the amount of work it takes and these seniors have laid the foundation for what we hope to do moving forward and that's win championships."