New Orleans Baseball opens 2017 season with MLB Urban Youth Invitational

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Privateers host Southern, Illinois-Chicago and Prairie View A&M during opening weekend

NEW ORLEANS – The University of New Orleans baseball team officially begins its hunt for a second-consecutive Southland Conference tournament bid this weekend, as the 2017 season begins on Friday, Feb. 17 when the Privateers host Southern at 6 p.m. in the MLB Urban Youth Invitational.

The season-opening weekend continues on Saturday, Feb. 18 against the University of Illinois-Chicago and Sunday, Feb. 19 against Prairie View A&M with first pitch for both slated for 1 p.m.

The Privateers look to keep their record in season openers over .500, currently holding a 24-23 record in the first game of the season. When the season opener takes place on New Orleans’ home field, UNO boasts a 19-13 record.

“The team is ready for this season,” head coach Blake Dean said. “Our offense is looking good and our pitchers have been working hard on minimalizing their errors. We really want to come out strong on our home field and get some wins this weekend.”

In 2016, the Privateers recorded one of the best turnaround seasons in the country and earned a spot in the Southland Conference tournament for the first time since joining the league. UNO returns nine key contributors from last year, highlighted by 2017 Preseason All-Southland Conference first-team recipients Aaron Palmer, Hezekiah Randolph and Dakota Dean. On the mound, the royal blue & white return their entire weekend rotation in Shawn Semple, Riley Hodge and Bryan Warzek.

Statistically, New Orleans had one of its best seasons in the batter’s box in recent memory, set eight-year highs in batting average (.300), total hits (600), doubles (77), on base percentage (.368). Defensively, the Privateers posted their highest fielding percentage (.996), saves (15) and strikeouts (400) while holding opponents to the lowest batting average in the eight-year span (.286).

Southern will be UNO’s season-opening opponent for the fourth-time in program history, with New Orleans holding a 2-1 advantage. The Jaguars feature Southwestern Conference Preseason Player of the Year Dondrayas Harris, who boasted a .346 batting average and a .522 slugging percentage.

As a team, Southern finished 2016 with a .259 batting average with 379 hits in 1461 at bats, 69 doubles, 13 triples and 17 home runs. On the mound, the Jags posted a 7.92 ERA with 421 runs allowed, 326 earned, off 485 hits in 370.2 innings and striking out 279 strikeouts.

Saturday’s matchup features a UIC team which is predicted to finish second in the Horizon League after going 25-30 last season, 15-12 in conference play, with two Flames earning first-team All-Horizon League and one landing on the league’s All-Freshman team.

Illinois-Chicago finished 2016 with a .270 batting average with 504 hits in 1864 at bats, 95 doubles, 16 triples, 27 home runs and 267 RBI. On the mound, the Flames’ pitching staff posted a 4.82 ERA with 297 runs allowed, 259 earned, off 470 hits in 483.1 innings while striking out 399 batters.

The final opponent of the weekend marks the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Prairie View went 10-32 last season, but only lost two key contributors from last season. Cody Den Beste represents the Panthers’ lone representation on the preseason All-SWAC teams, earning a second-team nod.

As a team, PVAM posted a .254 batting average with 338 in 1332 at bats, 57 doubles, 10 triples, 28 home runs and 188 RBI while scoring 217 runs. On the mound, the Panthers posted an 8.89 ERA with 425 runs, 337 earned, off 470 hits in 341.1 innings while striking out 230 batters.

Following the weekend games, the Privateers return to action on Tuesday, Feb. 21 when they host nationally-ranked LSU in a televised game presented by the Allstate Sugar Bowl. First pitch for the game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. For ticket information for the upcoming campaign and future Privateer Athletics events, contact the UNO Athletics Ticket Office at (504) 280-GAME (4263) and season tickets can be purchased over the Internet by clicking HERE.

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