FRISCO, Texas – The 56th season of Southland Conference baseball gets underway this weekend with 41 games slated from Friday to Monday. First pitch is set for Friday at noon CT when No. 40 Sam Houston State faces Manhattan in the first game of the Rycass Classic, hosted by No. 37 Stetson in DeLand, Fla.The reigning regular-season champions, the Bearkats are once again the heavy favorite for the regular-season crown in 2019, earning 22 first-place votes and the top spot in the league preseason poll for the second-consecutive season. The 2019 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament will be held from May 22-25 at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas.Sam Houston State Bearkats – Preseason Ranking: 1 – 2018 Record: 39-20 (24-6 SLC)After getting knocked out of the Southland Conference tournament and missing out on a berth to the NCAA tournament for just the second time in the last seven seasons, the Bearkats enter 2019 looking to add to their nine regular-season titles and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. The team returns 21 letterwinners, including three Preseason All-Southland Conference picks in outfielders Hunter Hearn and Clayton Harp and pitcher Hayden Wesneski. The team’s nonconference slate is highlighted by a trio of Power Five opponents at the Frisco Classic March 1-3, when the Bearkats will square off with Mississippi State, Nebraska and Texas Tech.First Game: vs. Manhattan, Fri., Feb. 15, NoonSoutheastern Louisiana Lions – Preseason Ranking: 2 – 2018 Record: 37-22 (21-9 SLC)Southeastern is coming off a third-straight second-place finish in the regular season. The Lions are tied for the conference lead for preseason all-conference selections with three, including the return of senior second baseman Cody Grosse and senior pitchers Carlisle Koestler and Corey Gaconi, a two-time all-conference selection. Gaconi went 7-1 as a member of the Lions’ 2018 rotation and issued just 1.8 walks per nine innings.First Game: vs. Louisiana Tech, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.Northwestern State Demons – Preseason Ranking: 3 – 2018 Record: 38-24 (18-12 SLC)The defending tournament champions, the Demons won four-straight games at the Southland Conference tournament to claim the program’s first-ever tournament title and earn a No. 4 seed in the Corvallis Regional, hosted by eventual College World Series champion Oregon State. After shutting out San Diego State in the elimination game, the Demons lost a hard-fought battle with LSU to bring their season to a close. Senior pitcher Jerry Maddox, the 2018 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, is one of Northwestern State’s three preseason all-conference picks and headlines Northwestern State’s crop of returners.First Game: vs. No. 40 Houston, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.Central Arkansas Bears – Preseason Ranking: 4 – 2018 Record: 32-25 (17-13 SLC)The Bears are coming off back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 2013-14 and are coming off their seventh-straight Southland Conference tournament appearance under head coach Allen Gum. Central Arkansas was represented on the preseason all-league squads by senior first baseman Tyler Smith, a third-team all-conference and all-defensive honoree in 2018. The Bears, who were a dominant force at home in 2018 (22-13), open with a three-game slate against Bradley at Bear Stadium.First Game: vs. Bradley, Feb. 15, 3 p.m.McNeese Cowboys – Preseason Ranking: 5 – 2018 Record: 25-33 (15-15 SLC)The Cowboys enter 2019 ranked at No. 5 in the preseason poll after a sixth-place finish a year ago. McNeese landed two on the preseason all-conference second team in seniors Shane Selman and Aidan Anderson. A year after being one of the league’s most explosive hitters and earning Southland Conference Hitter of the Year honors in 2017, Selman clubbed the third-most home runs in the league (10). He will look to improve his positioning in the McNeese record book, where he currently sits 10th in at-bats, fourth in home runs, and sixth in total bases. In 2018, Anderson led the Cowboys in ERA (3.30), opposing batting average (.220), saves (6), appearances (28) and games finished (21).First Game: at UTSA, Feb. 15, 6 p.m.Houston Baptist Huskies – Preseason Ranking: 6 – 2018 Record: 29-30 (18-12 SLC)Jared Moon, the longest-tenured active coach in the league and the active leader in wins (363), has his Huskies ready to follow up a fourth-place finish in 2018. HBU countered an 11-18 non-conference mark with an 18-12 record in league play to earn the No. 4 seed at the conference tournament, where the Huskies knocked out regular-season champion Sam Houston State before falling in the second-to-last game of the tournament to New Orleans. HBU will face a tough stretch as they turn the calendar from February to March with a road contest against Texas A&M, a road series at Dallas Baptist and a home series against Sam Houston State over an eight-game stretch from Feb. 26-March 10.First Game: vs. Northeastern, Feb. 15, 2 p.m.New Orleans Privateers – Preseason Ranking: 7 – 2018 Record: 29-32 (14-16 SLC)The Privateers are fresh off a Cinderella run at the 2018 Southland Conference tournament, which saw them knock off regular-season champion Sam Houston State in the opening game as the eight seed and beat a pesky Houston Baptist team twice in three games to advance to the championship game, where they fell to Northwestern State. New Orleans begins the 2019 campaign with several preseason accolades after catcher Beau Bratton and outfielder Pearce Howard were named to the Preseason All-Southland Conference teams and pitchers John Barr and Reeves Martin appeared on the initial NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award Watch list.First Game: vs. Michigan State, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.Lamar Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 8 – 2018 Record: 19-36 (13-17 SLC)Despite sweeping rival McNeese to close out the season, the Cardinals narrowly missed out on a Southland Conference tournament berth under second-year coach Will Davis, but Lamar is determined to earn a trip to Sugar Land in 2019 as the eighth team in the predicted order of finish. The Cardinals have a lot of new faces as 15 members of the roster will make their Lamar debut this weekend. Among the 21 returners is junior Cole Coker, a first-team preseason all-conference utility man for the Cards and senior pitcher Ryan Erickson, a member of the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award Watch List. Also making its debut in 2019 will be the state-of-the-art turf installed at Vincent Beck Stadium over the offseason, which will be broken in with a three-game series against LIU Brooklyn.First Game: vs. LIU Brooklyn, Feb. 15, 6 p.m.Nicholls Colonels – Preseason Ranking: 9 – 2018 Record: 28-32 (14-16 SLC)The Colonels avoided missing out on the conference tournament a second-straight year as a sweep of Central Arkansas lunged them into a three-way tie for seventh, in which they edged out Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. After dropping the opener to Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls eliminated the Lions two games later to advance to the team’s first semifinal since 2011 before they dropped a 3-2 contest to eventual champion Northwestern State. Senior shortstop Ethan Valdez, who hit .400 in Sugar Land and earned all-tournament honors, is a First Team Preseason All-Southland selection. Nicholls’ 2019 slate includes a pair of matchups against preseason top-25 clubs: No. 1 LSU and No. 21 Southern Miss.First Game: vs. Southern Illinois, Feb. 15, 1 p.m.Incarnate Word Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 10 – 2018 Record: 29-26 (13-17 SLC)While a season-ending skid that included series losses to the regular-season and tournament champion squads eliminated them from conference tournament consideration, the Cardinals have plenty of talent to work with in 2019 to get over the hump and get to their first-ever Southland Conference tournament. UIW placed a trio of student-athletes on the preseason all-league teams, including a pair of first-team honorees. Junior Kyle Bergeron paced the team in runs (46), RBI (50), slugging percentage (.466), multi-hit games (22) and multi-RBI games (13). Senior Eddy Gonzalez looks to build on a conference-leading 82 hits in 2018 and enters the 2019 campaign with a 15-game hitting streak. Ryan Flores impressed in his first year of collegiate play, hitting .329 with 19 runs, 53 hits and 23 RBI. First Game: at Hofstra, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders – Preseason Ranking: 11 – 2018 Record: 30-26 (14-16 SLC)A six-game win streak wasn’t enough to get the Islanders to Sugar Land as they lost out on a three-way tiebreaker with Nicholls and New Orleans, but it did snap a four-season streak of losing seasons to give them some momentum going into 2019. In addition to that, last year’s tournament champion Northwestern State began the year as the 11th-ranked team in the preseason poll. A&M-Corpus Christi tied with four other institutions for the most players on the preseason all-conference teams with three, including 2018 Southland Conference batting champ Itchy Burts. The junior outfielder hit .401 on the year and led the team in on-base percentage (.468). Senior Enrique Sanchez Jr. and junior Drake Osborn occupied the preseason all-league second team. Sanchez recorded 58 hits and 29 RBI in his junior campaign and Osborn tallied 36 RBI at the plate while throwing out eight runners from behind the plate. First Game: vs. UT Arlington, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks – Preseason Ranking: 12 – 2018 Record: 17-36 (9-21 SLC)The Lumberjacks return 17 student-athletes from the 2018 campaign, including seven starting position players. SFA landed two on the Preseason All-Southland Conference teams as senior third baseman Jake Georgiades garnered first team laurels and senior shortstop Manny Vasquez was named to the second team. Georgiades, who began the year as the backup third-baseman, settled into the starting role and finished as the team leader in batting average (.333) and on-base percentage (.423). Vasquez posted a slugging percentage of .424 with 14 extra base hits and five home runs in 2018 as the go-to shortstop. SFA’s schedule includes matchups with Lone Star State powers Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor and Dallas Baptist.First Game: vs. Arkansas State, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.Abilene Christian Wildcats – Preseason Ranking: 13 – 2018 Record: 21-33 (5-25 SLC)The Wildcats look to turn a new leaf under first-year head coach Rick McCarty, who joins the program after three seasons as the Dallas Baptist pitching coach. His roster features a duo of preseason all-conference selections in seniors Dalon Farkas and Derek Scott. Farkas finished second only to Southland Conference Player of the Year David Fry and 10th in the nation with 22 doubles to go with a .296 batting average and a .502 slugging percentage. Scott, a two-way asset for ACU, knocked 16 doubles and three home runs, swiped 15 bags and struck out 15 batters in 28.1 innings pitched. The Wildcats; schedule is highlighted by a home-and-home with TCU, along with matchups with Texas A&M and Baylor.First Game: vs. Bryant, Feb. 15, 3 p.m.