This past weekend, 64 teams competed in NCAA Regionals around the country.
But Nicholls State University baseball coach Seth Thibodeaux couldn’t bring himself to watch much of it, instead, spending the weekend on the road recruiting.
The 2019 season didn’t go as planned for Nicholls. The Colonels were inexperienced to start, then ravished by injuries. By the time the final pitch was thrown, the team finished 27-28 and outside of the Southland Conference Tournament for the third time in three years.
“It’s going to sit sour on my stomach until I’m 107 years old,” Thibodeaux said with a laugh when asked about the Colonels’ season.
But now, it’s time to fight back.
Nicholls was inexperienced to start 2019, but inexperience turns to experience over time, and the Colonels with have a wealth of returnees across the diamond and on the mound in 2020.
That has Thibodeaux hopeful that the future is bright for the ‘Dirty Red’.
“We just never could get anything going this year,” Thibodeaux said. “I hate to say this, because I know it’s a big old excuse, but injuries really tore us apart. We were inexperienced to start the year, then never could keep guys healthy. We had games where we had just one or two bench players active to pinch hit. I found myself looking at pitchers during batting practice trying to find who the best looking hitter in the cage was in case we needed him. … It was just one of those years.”
That it was.
Nicholls started a half-dozen players at second base in 2019 because of injuries and struggles to find the right fit in the middle infield.
The Colonels also continually mixed and matched parts around the rest of the diamond, as well.
Thibodeaux said he believes that lack of continuity hurt the Colonels’ defense.
Nicholls had a .967 fielding percentage as a team — 10th place in the Southland Conference among 13 teams.
The moving parts also affected the Colonels’ lineup.
Nicholls hit .255 as a team (9th in the Southland) and scored just 281 runs (9th in the Southland).
Those struggles to consistently plate runners squandered a brilliant performace from Colonels pitchers — a group which led the Southland in ERA in 2019.
Thibodeaux said Nicholls needs to be more prolific offensively going forward to have a chance to chase the 35-40-win season they covet.
“We knew going in that we had a lot of guys we had to replace off 2018’s club,” Thibodeaux said. “But even with that said, that’s an area we have to look to be better at. We have to improve and find ways to get on and get in more often.”
The good news is that the continuity the team lacked in 2019 will be present in 2020.
The Colonels return their cleanup hitter on down to the No. 9 hole in their lineup from the final game of the season — six returnees who provide depth and some pop.
Nicholls also will bring back standout outfielder Xane Washington who hit .277 as a true freshman in 2018, but missed the entire season in 2019 with an injury.
Having those pieces back will be huge for the Colonels.
Nicholls also will return Trever Kilcrease, Shane Mejia and Nick Heckman on the mound — three of the team’s top five pitchers in innings pitched. Mejia and Heckman were freshmen in 2019.
“We have a lot of guys here this summer and our focus is on getting our bodies right and getting ready,” Thibodeaux said. “We know we have a talented group coming back. We want to maximize those talents and have a big year.”
Thibodeaux has lofty goals.
The coach made a bold prediction this past weekend. He thinks that this time next year, the Colonels will experience a strong reversal of fortunes.
He said he’s not content with just making the Southland Conference Tournament, then limping home. Now, the Colonels want more.
“Exactly one year from today, you will be with us covering our club in a Regional,” Thibodeaux said. “Mark it down.” •