WACO, TEXAS (Nov. 9, 2020) – The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) baseball team hopes to continue its success from last season into the 2021 term. The Saints were able to play 25 games through March 2020 when the season was canceled due to COVID-19. At that time, the NAIA Baseball Coaches' Top 25 Poll had the Saints receiving eight votes, and that is how they will begin this season, as well.
The Saints also enter their best Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) Baseball Preseason Poll ranking at No. 2 behind frontrunner LSU-Shreveport. In 2020, they were No. 3; in 2019, No. 5; in 2018, No. 6; and in 2016 and 2017, No. 5.
Head Coach Bryan Aughney, now in his fourth season, said, "The narrative is a little different heading into 2021 – as everyone returns most of their team, both in the conference and nationally. But I like our squad – I think we learned a lot about ourselves in the short 2020 season. The challenge in 2021 is can we continue to improve and continue to raise the expectations. We have a tough schedule lined up again for 2021 and we are excited about the challenge."
The men were off to a great start in 2020 with a 15-10 overall record and 5-1 in the conference. The team had the best ERA in the conference at 3.42; second in opponent batting average at .242 and in batters struck out at 212; and third in chances at 811, putouts/game at 22.76 and innings pitched/game at 7.59.
The team has also displayed success in the classroom with its third NAIA Scholar Team award and its first American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Team Academic Excellence Award.
Aughney explained, "We have a mature team with a lot of college baseball experience. The expectations have been set, the work put in; now it's about getting on the field and performing."
This year's squad will be led by 2019 First-Team All-Conference outfielder/relief pitcher Jose Diaz (SR/Pinar del Rio, Cuba) and pitcher Logan Garza (JR/Round Rock, Texas). Diaz is the Saints' all-time leader in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, home runs, total bases and stolen bases. In 2020, he had a career-best batting average at .405 and was OLLU's Big Blue Top Saint Male Athlete of the Year. Garza has the most, strikeouts in a season with 101 and has a no-hitter. He had a .063 ERA in 2020.
Due to the shortened 2020 season, seniors were granted another year of eligibility. Along with Diaz, returning seniors include Xavier Solis (SR/Victoria, Texas), Robert Lopez (SR/San Antonio, Texas), Joey Baker (SR/Victoria, Texas) and Matt Mihalov (SR/Conroe, Texas), who is pursuing a master's degree.
"We are hopeful the 2021 season goes on without a hitch," Aughney said. "Through all of this, we have continued to control what we can control. Our players have handled the loss of the 2020 season, the starting and stopping of this fall, and everything in between – and all of us are ready to get back to competition."
LSUS was at the top of the RRAC standings and ranked sixth nationally on March 12. The Pilots had won seven of the previous nine RRAC tournament titles and didn't get a shot to defend their 2019 championship.
With many players returning this year throughout the conference, the order of teams looks much the same as where the RRAC left off. Following LSUS and OLLU are Texas A&M-Texarkana, LSU-Alexandria and Jarvis Christian College in the top five. Six teams will qualify for the RRAC tournament. LSUS received all 10 first-place votes.
Voting was conducted by the head coaches in the conference. The results of the poll are shown below with points calculated through a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 format. First-place votes are shown in parentheses.
Texas A&M University-Texarkana
Jarvis Christian College
University of Houston-Victoria
University of the Southwest
The Saints will play their first games of the 2021 season toward the end of January. Once completed, the schedule will be published on the Saints website.
Most home games will be live-streamed through the Saints Network at https://www.youtube.com/user/OLLUSaints