After dropping the first two games of its weekend series against Prairie View, the Southern baseball team made a welcome discovery Saturday afternoon at Lee Hines Field.
With Southern pitchers struggling to find the plate, freshman right-hander Justin Freeman proved he was capable of holding his own in the Jaguars’ rotation with a solid Game 3 start.
Making his first start, Freeman gave the Jaguars six strong innings as they salvaged a doubleheader split with a 9-5 win.
Prairie View captured the series with a 9-2 win in Game 1. The Panthers’ Jordan Stewart tossed a complete game, scattering nine hits and allowing two runs.
Pitching, defense and timely hitting had spent most of the weekend in the visitors’ dugout, but that changed when Freeman (1-0) took the mound in Game 3.
“I was just a little nervous warming up, but then you get in the moment,” Freeman said. “Once I stepped on the mound, I just locked in, and everything went away.”
The teams traded runs in the early going. Tyler Kirksey led off the SU first with a bunt single, stole second and third and scored on Theo Smith’s sacrifice fly.
Prairie View (4-6, 2-1) tied it in the second on Joseph Mack’s RBI groundout, but Southern (1-5, 1-2) came back in the sixth to take a 5-1 lead.
Singles by Marcus Tomlin and Smith helped the Jaguars load the bases with one out. PVAM coach Waskyla Cullivan then lifted starter Charles Philpott for Jordan Johnson. D.J. Wallace sent Johnson’s first pitch down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double, and later scored on a wild pitch.
“I made a move into my bullpen, and it backfired,” said Cullivan, a Ville Platte native. “The game was really about the bullpen’s struggles. I told the kids, ‘Hey, I made a mistake there,’ but we’re a positive program. We showed that we’ll fight to the end.”
Prairie View tied the score with four runs in the seventh. Cody Den Beste scored on a grounder to second by Anthony Fernandez, who reached base when Gavin Webster dropped a double play relay at first.
Connor Wrye then launched a two-out, three-run homer over the left-field wall to tie the score at 5.
Southern pushed across four more runs in the eighth for a lead that Prairie View was unable to recover from. The Jaguars forced in three of the runs on a pair of walks and a hit batter with the bases loaded. SU scored its fourth run of the inning on a sacrifice fly.
“We came back and scored runs, and we did it based on their pitchers not throwing strikes,” Southern coach Roger Cador said. “When you’re not playing well you have to find ways to win, and we’re not playing well. We’re not a very good ballclub right now.”
Rafael Diaz came on to get an inning-ending double play in the eighth. He retired PVAM in order in the ninth to close out the win for Southern — and starter Freeman.
“(Freeman) came in and pitched very strongly,” Cador said. “He was confident and composed. It was all about (pitch) location. He has a chance to do some really good things.”
In Game 1, PVAM’s Jordan Stewart gave up single runs in the second and third innings but was never rattled. He threw 117 pitches, 80 for strikes, in nine full innings.
Stewart (2-1) struck out six, hit two batters and walked one. He allowed nine hits, but most were scattered after the second inning. Meanwhile, the Panthers turned two double plays and played error-free.
Southern bunched together four hits in the second but scored just once. The inning deflated when D.J. Wallace hit into a double play with no outs and Nkosi Djehuti-Mes on first.
Southern starter J’Markus George (0-2) pitched to the minimum six batters through two innings before finding trouble in the third.
The Panthers scored four times, taking advantage of two singles, three walks and two passed balls.
Southern visits Southeastern Louisiana at 6 p.m. Wednesday.