Southern is getting pretty good at surviving elimination games.
First it was sweep or go home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the regular-season finale. But when that proved to not be the case — only after the Jaguars mourned the end of their season after a Sunday loss — Southern faced a de facto SWAC tournament play-in game against Texas Southern thanks to the league office ruling the teams could make up a previously rained out game.
On Thursday, it was Alabama A&M’s turn to attempt to send the Jaguars home for the summer, but once again, Southern didn’t go down so easily.
Southern survived to see another day when it defeated the Bulldogs 6-2 in the second round of the SWAC tournament, which means the Jaguars now face another elimination game in the quarterfinals.
Southern plays the loser of Texas Southern and Jackson State with first pitch set for 3 p.m. Thursday.
“That’s tournament baseball,” assistant coach Dan Canevari said. “One of the things that happened to us playing all these do-or-die games is that it made us more experienced for this type of situation. Hopefully we can feed off this experience and continue to move forward.”
As Southern’s midweek starter, freshman Jacob Snyder doesn’t have much experience being on the mound with real stakes on the line. But there was no telling how green Snyder was Thursday, allowing only two runs on six hits in seven innings.
Snyder consistently worked himself out of tight jams with minimal damage, staying composed and relaxed in a high-pressure situation.
Most importantly for Southern, he extended his outing so the Jaguars wouldn't have to use up their limited bullpen at the end of the game.
“I was on a short leash today, so my main goal was to throw strikes and get early outs,” Snyder said. “My main focus was to get the ball off to the juniors and seniors for tomorrow and the next day. They gave me an opportunity, and I took advantage of it.”
Canevari didn’t hold back praise for Snyder after the game, either, repeatedly saying Snyder was “outstanding.”
Canevari announced Saturday starter Harold Myles would get the nod Friday.
Offensively, the Jaguars had a much better day offensively than Wednesday, although after having 20 of its final 22 batters retired in order in the opening round, there wasn’t much place to go but up.
First baseman John Pope led Southern with three RBIs on two hits, including a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Pope shot a ground ball into right field for a two-run single.
“It’s good that we’ve been going through (elimination games) because other teams haven’t had to fight as hard for a win like we have,” Pope said. “That’s what’s keeping us motivated. That and not having coach (Roger) Cador here, we have his jersey in our dugout and we look at it every day and try to play for him.”
Canevari continues to handle head coaching duties for Cador who remains in Baton Rouge battling pneumonia. Canevari said Cador feels better, but there was no update on if he returns before the end of the season.
Even if Southern wins the tournament this weekend, the Jaguars are ineligible for the NCAA regional tournament because of APR sanctions.
Prairie View A&M 8, Grambling 6
The top seed in the Western Division wasn't enough to give Grambling more than the minimum number of games.
The Tigers were eliminated from the tournament on Thursday after losing 8-6 to Prairie View A&M. Grambling also lost to Alcorn State on Wednesday night in 11 innings.
"I think guys were trying to do too much," Grambling coach James Cooper said. "We weren't necessarily trying to swing for the fences, but we were swinging for the pull side and not trying to go up the middle or not trying to go the other way. ... We had some guys taking borderline pitches with two strikes, and you can't do that. You've got to fight them off."
Texas Southern 8, Jackson State 6 (10 innings)
With a single swing of the bat, Christian Sanchez undid four innings of work Jackson State put together to mount a comeback against Texas Southern.
Sanchez launched a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to send TSU into the semifinals, while JSU will have to fight its way out of the loser's bracket against Southern at 9 a.m. Friday.
Jackson State only forced extra innings after scoring five unanswered runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to tie the game at 6, but it wasn't enough.
Jackson State had an opportunity to take the lead with the bases loaded in the 10th but TSU's OJ Oloruntimilehin made the defensive play of the game when he threw out the runner at the plate from shallow left field.
Jackson State and Southern opened the tournament against each other in a game the Tigers took 4-2.