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Walking tall: Cardinal baseball opens season with scorching start

Kevin Bermudez rounds the bses following a home run, Feb. 19, at Vincent-Beck Stadium.
Kevin Bermudez rounds the bases following a home run, Feb. 19, at Vincent-Beck Stadium.

The distinctive sounds of gloves popping, bats cracking and crowds cheering are back. Baseball season has officially begun — and the Lamar Cardinals rung in the new season with a scorching start.

LU opened their 2023 campaign with a three-game home series vs. the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies. Each contest was eventful, and it’s probably safe to say few seasons have begun in such dramatic fashion.

The opening game of the season was absolutely electric. Oakland jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first two innings, but the Cardinals battled back to tie things up in the third before adding a fourth run in the next inning. LU held a 4-3 lead until the top of the ninth when the Golden Grizzlies knotted the score to force extra innings.

Oakland drove home a run in the top of the 10th frame, but hope certainly wasn’t lost. In the bottom of the 10th, Kanin Dodge drew a walk to put a man on base for the Cards. It was followed by the highlight of the night as catcher Ryan Snell sent a walk-off home run over the fence to give Lamar the opening night win.

Interestingly, it seems history does, in fact, repeat itself. Last year’s opening contest played out nearly the exact same way — Snell delivered a walk-off homer to begin the Cardinals’ season.

Overall, the opening night’s action was an encouraging start for Lamar. Three batters recorded multiple hits on the night, while the team showed resilience by digging themselves out of a 3-0 hole.

As if the first game didn’t raise Cardinal fans’ blood pressure enough, game two of the series, Saturday, was an equally exciting affair. LU trailed through the first five innings before tying the score at 2-2 in the sixth. Landon Odom and Kole Tauzin pitched four scoreless frames out of the bullpen to keep the Cardinals in it heading into the bottom of the ninth.

With the game on the line, Ethan Ruiz drove a base hit into center field and Kirkland Banks sprinted around the base paths to score all the way from first — giving the Cards their second walk-off win in as many days.

Lamar busted out the brooms in game three to complete the series sweep, downing Oakland in a 5-4 victory at Vincent-Beck Stadium. Kevin Bermudez went 2-for-3 with two runs, an RBI and a walk, while Jack Schell notched a two-RBI triple.

Sure, it’s early in the season. But the results of the opening series speak for themselves, and are hopefully an indication of what’s to come. After all, Lamar was picked to finish third overall in the Southland Conference’s preseason polls. However, it might be worth asking — was that ranking too low?

There’s an argument to be made that the Cardinals can win the conference.

Having just moved back to the Southland following their maiden season in the Western Athletic Conference, Lamar is certainly battle-tested. The Cards finished last year’s campaign with a 37-21 overall record, good for a .638 winning percentage. They also went 20-10 over a tough conference slate, which translates to a .667 mark.

If Lamar had played in the Southland last year with those same results, they would have finished first in the conference standings. While it’s not a perfect way to predict future performance, it seems LU should be able to compete with McNeese and Southeastern Louisiana at the top of the league.

Besides, the Cardinals returned many key members of last seasons’ squad. Banks, Snell, Bermudez and Josh Blankenship are experienced players and the main cogs of the batting lineup. Tanner Wilson, who appeared in a limited role last season, may be a key name to watch as well in the outfield and at DH. While the pitching staff lost a couple of key seniors, there’s still some continuity from last year’s bullpen — and Lamar utilized the transfer portal to fill out the rest of the rotation with proven players.

An added bonus of being back in the Southland is the benefit of shorter road trips. The impacts of travel during a long season are often underestimated, and playing in a closer geographical conference will hopefully lead to less fatigue.

Under the leadership of head coach Will Davis, who recently signed a contract extension to remain with Lamar through 2025, the Cardinals will look to meet the high expectations set for them and compete for a Southland Conference championship.

Category: Sports