Jackson State’s baseball season ended with an 11-1 loss to No. 1-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday at Moore Field.
The Tigers’ second consecutive loss in the NCAA Lafayette regional brought their season to an end with a 32-25 record. But their season will be remembered for much more.
JSU was fortunate to escape a fire that destroyed its team bus and much of its equipment May 5. Shortly thereafter, the Tigers were upset winners in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament, claiming an automatic NCAA bid for a second consecutive season.
On Friday they got their first NCAA tourney win and first victory against a No. 1 team when they beat the host Cajuns 1-0.
“I’m proud of this team and how they competed,” J-State coach Omar Johnson said. “We had to deal with some adversity, and our guys responded, but Louisiana-Lafayette is the real deal. They’re a really good team.”
Tigers shortstop Gary Thomas said his cell phone and social media accounts “blew up” after the Friday night stunner.
“It was crazy,” he said. “All my family back home (in Meridian, Miss.) was watching online. My high school coach called and told me congratulations. It felt good to hear from him. I think we proved we’re no pushover.”
Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Dick’s Sporting Goods and others donated equipment to help JSU finish the season. After a 3-1 loss to State on Saturday, Johnson was asked about the donations from the in-state opponent that had just beaten the Tigers.
He pointed out that the Tigers couldn’t use much of it because their primary color is blue and the Bulldogs’ is maroon. Some media reports suggested Johnson was unappreciative of State’s generosity.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone that has helped us out,” Johnson said Sunday. “So many people came together to help us get our student-athletes back to the point where things seemed normal.
“It was a tough time, but I think it was unbelievable the amount of resolve our team showed.”
Another grand slam
UL-Lafayette second baseman Jace Conrad’s grand slam in the second inning of the first game was his third of the season. His others came against Texas Southern and against Western Kentucky. The only other Cajuns grand slam was hit by Greg Davis against South Alabama.
In case anyone is wondering, the NCAA record for grand slams in a season is six by Kyle Braun of Alabama in 1984.
RBI milestone, too
Conrad came up with the bases loaded again in the seventh. This time, instead of a grand slam, he ripped a two-run single to right field. That gave him 61 RBIs for the year and made him the second Cajun to reach 60 this year. Seth Harrison got his 61st Saturday.
The last time UL-Lafayette had two 60-RBI hitters in a season was in 2005 (Dallas Morris 68, Josh Landry 62).
The UL-Lafayette-Jackson State game was delayed for more than three hours because of lightning and rain with the Cajuns leading 8-1 in the bottom of the fifth.
A light rain was falling when a lightning strike caused the stoppage at 2:38 p.m. NCAA rules require a 30-minute delay any time lightning strikes within eight miles of the ballpark.
A series of lightning strikes kept pushing the resumption time back until the rain got heavier. The rain alternated between light and heavy and intermittent lightning also contributed to the delay.
Ultimately the game resumed at 5:50 p.m. The delay lasted 65 minutes longer than Friday’s game in which Jackson State beat UL-Lafayette 1-0.
Charpentier gets call
Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux turned to freshman right-hander Chris Charpentier to start the elimination game against Jackson State on Sunday afternoon.
Charpentier, who’s from Berwick, had given UL-Lafayette a clutch performance in the Sun Belt Conference title game a week earlier. He entered the game against UT-Arlington in relief of Greg Milhorn with one out in the second and lasted five innings. He allowed four hits and two runs as the Cajuns rallied to beat the Mavericks 6-5.
Sunday’s start was Charpentier’s first of the season. He was 1-0 with a 6.08 earned run average in seven relief appearances covering 13.1 innings.
Charpentier pitched four-plus innings as the Cajuns built a seven-run lead. Unfortunately for him and his team, the three-hour-plus weather delay prevented him from returning to the mound when the game resumed.
When the game resumed, Matt Hicks took over for Charpentier.
Leading the way
A leadoff hitter is supposed to get on base frequently and UL-Lafayette’s Ryan Leonards did just that Saturday and through the first game Sunday. He reached base nine times in those two games.
In a 9-2 victory against San Diego State on Saturday, Leonards had a walk, a single, a double and a hit batsman. On Sunday afternoon, he had three walks, a single and a double.
Les East, Dan McDonald and Bobby Ardoin contributed to this report.