We’re finished with the first day of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament at Lee-Hines Field, and we’ve had one stunner in four games.
Tip of the cap goes to Mississippi Valley State. Shake of the head goes to Southern — the host team, the team that came in with a 16-game winning streak, the presumptive tournament favorite.
The Jaguars lost, 6-4. Oops.
They face Grambling in an elimination game at 9 a.m. Thursday, and to survive for at least one more day, here’s what they’ll need:
—Jose De Leon must dominate, and in all likelihood, he must go deep. The sophomore right-hander has overpowering stuff when he’s on, and he has developed a slider and circle changeup to go with a very effective fastball. De Leon already holds the Southern single-season record for strikeouts (95), but he’ll have to keep his pitch count down. The Jaguars need five wins in four days, and to get there, they’ll need a relatively well-rested bullpen. De Leon’s assignment is tough: Grambling has the SWAC’s best offense.
—The offense has to wake up. As Roger Cador said after Wednesday’s debacle, the Jaguars didn’t have many great at-bats against a suspect Mississippi Valley team. They had only a few line drives, and the Devils caught them all for outs. Worse yet, Southern often failed to lengthen their at-bats, bailing out pitchers with weak swings on 2-0 and 2-1 counts. The Jaguars have a good offense. But they need a better, more focused approach at the plate.
—Southern must find a way to rebound. Don’t let a team beat you twice. This, to some degree, is a football axiom that rarely applies to baseball — especially college baseball. But in this case, it applies. The Jaguars took a 4-0 lead on Valley and thought they had it in the bag. Then, everything — their lead, their 16-game winning streak, their spot in the winner’s bracket — went up in smoke. Now, Southern has a quick turnaround, a 9 a.m. game against Grambling. If the Jaguars are still dwelling on that Valley loss — or if they’re overwhelmed by the thought of winning five times in four days — they’re doomed.
We shall see.
A reset of where we are in the tournament:
Alcorn State 6, Grambling 2
Mississippi Valley State 6, Southern 4
Prairie View 14, Alabama State 4
Jackson State 7, Texas Southern 0
Southern (31-15) vs. Grambling (22-25), 9 a.m.
Alabama State (20-35) vs. Texas Southern (23-27), noon
Alcorn State (18-35) vs. Mississippi Valley State (15-38), 3 p.m.
Prairie View (25-22) vs. Jackson State (34-15), 6 p.m.