From the immediate perspective, University of Central Arkansas baseball coach Allen Gum got a bit more than he wished for on opening weekend.
For the big picture, he got exactly what he wanted.
Creighton swept a three-game series from UCA at Bear Stadium, 4-3, 7-3, 5-1.
The Blue Jays have been a solid mid-major program for awhile and one of the top programs overall in the Midwest. They were one win away from a Super Regional last season and have been No. 1 in the country in fielding percentage the last 10 years.
“Playing a quality opponent the opening weekend will expose weaknesses and that’s what they did,” said Gum, who is beginning his second season as UCA coach. “We ran into an opponent in which every mistake we made, they made us pay for. They were a little bit better than we were. But just a little bit better.”
The little bit better categorization is important.
The Blue Jays are the template.
“Creighton is a team that we can be like,” Gum said. “They are not an SEC or Big 12 team that recruits players who have to turn down million-dollar pro contracts to play for them. They recruit hard-nosed players who are tough, disciplined, and do the right things. And they’re in an NCAA regional every year. That’s where we want to be.”
Gum wants the Bears to gain the SLC postseason tournament this season.
“We want to do things that have never been done before,” he said. “We’re going to play some teams that will get us ready for that.”
UCA hosts SIU-Edwardsville in a three-game series beginning Friday.
But lurking later on the nonconference schedule are games against Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Missouri and Mississippi State.
The Southland Conference is tough — year-in and year-out one of the best mid-major baseball leagues in Division I. Baseball is probably the conference’s signature sport on the national level. Its teams are extremely competitive and usually get in their licks and stings against SEC and Big 12 opposition. That was evidenced by how well Northwestern State played the University of Arkansas in a two-game series earlier this week.
Even after an 0-3 start, Gum says he saw much to feel good about.
“We started 6-0 last season and I have a better feeling about 0-3 than where we were at this time last year,” he said. “I feel better about our leadership, our attitude, the system we are in, and where our coaches and players are in that system right now.”
Baseball is the longest season in college sports. Starting 0-3 and feeling good about is one small step among many that have to be taken.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)