Southern baseball team ready to open SWAC tournament against Jackson State _lowres

Advocate file photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Jose de la Torre has hit 10 of Southern's 19 home runs this season.

The Southern Jaguars hope to remain on a roll when they enter the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament Wednesday at Wesley Barrow Stadium.

The double-elimination tournament ends Sunday with the championship game.

Southern (17-22, 13-8 SWAC) ended the season by winning its final four games and is the West Division’s No. 2 seed. It will take on East No. 3 Jackson State (30-22, 15-9), which has won the past two SWAC tourney titles.

“They’re a scrappy team,” Cador said. “They’re aggressive. They play good defense, have speed and they swing the bats well.”

Jackson State is led by Gary Thomas, who finished sixth in conference games in hitting at .398, and Melvin Rodriguez, who was eighth at .394 against SWAC opponents.

The Tigers went 2-0 vs the Jaguars this season, winning 11-5 on March 24 at Jackson and 12-9 on April 7 at Baton Rouge. Designated hitter Jesus Santana went 5-of-8 with six RBIs in the two games.

Nonetheless, Cador said his team can win the first game and move into the winner’s bracket — and that the Jaguars have a real chance to win the tournament. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the West champion, is not participating because of academic and NCAA compliance issues, leaving the tournament wide open.

But the SWAC tournament is always like that, Cador said.

“We have to play within ourselves (and) not swing for the fences all the time — and with two strikes, take the ball the other way, fight off that tough two-strike pitch. Not over-swinging,” he said.

The bullpen will need to be stout in this game and the tournament. Southern is 16-2 when it has a lead after the sixth inning and 4-1 in one-run games.

The starting pitching, led by Santos Salvidar, Cador said, is sound. Salvidar is 4-6, but has a 2.54 ERA and set a school season record with 104 strikeouts. Tyler Robinson, a freshman, led the SWAC in conference games with a 2.31 ERA — but he is academically ineligible after falling below the required 12 semester hours.

For the Jaguars, swinging for the fences may be a temptation to great to resist. Barrow’s dimensions are relatively close, Cador said, and the Jaguars were fifth in the league with 19 home runs, led by catcher Jose de la Torre (10) and right fielder D.J. Wallace (seven). Wallace, a senior, leads the team in hitting at .357.

“We have hit a number of homers and we hit doubles and triples, too,” Cador said. “If you hit it to right (field), (the wind) can get it out of there.

“But for us, it will be important to get two-out hits.”

Cador has led Southern to 14 tournament tiles in his 31 years, but the most recent was in 2009. If the Jaguars win the tournament, however, they will not advance to the NCAA tournament.

Southern is banned because its Academic Progress Report is not up to NCAA standards.

“You’re playing for a championship, but you can’t go and represent the conference,” Cador said. “It definitely takes away from (participating). “It’s a lot of hard work and motivation and just telling them good stories about other things in life — situations in life, persons in life where people had to do things in spite of. Many of them could have been their parents or grandparents.”