The Southern softball team is in unfamiliar territory.
After going through three coaches in the past two seasons, closing out a period in which the program went 25-109 since 2012, the Jaguars enter the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Western Division following one of the best seasons in recent memory.
Southern faces off with the East’s third-seeded Mississippi Valley State (13-31) at 3 p.m. in Decatur, Alabama, on Wednesday.
“We’ve had a lot of momentum, a lot of things building in our program, and this is another opportunity to take another step,” Southern coach John Garris said. “What’s next for our program is this tournament, and it’s an opportunity to continue to move things forward and continue to take things in a more positive direction.”
In his first season at Southern (15-12), Garris has built off the momentum that started from last spring when then-coach Tayl’r Hollis took control of the team midseason with the charge of turning around an abysmal 0-23 start to the year.
Under Hollis, the Jaguars steadily improved enough to qualify for the tournament where they won one of three games. Hollis soon left for a job on the staff at McNeese State.
This season, under Garris, Southern finished three games behind Texas Southern in the West after finishing the regular season winning 10 of its last 12 outings.
“This is the year,” junior shortstop Alicia Barajas said. “We have the coaching, the players and we have the unity.
“It feels so good for it to change. People always tell me, ‘From your freshman year, you guys have came such a long way in such little time.’ It’s really refreshing.”
Barajas, who leads the Jaguars with a .368 batting average on 32 hits, said she’s especially looking forward to meeting Mississippi Valley in the tournament considering the history the two programs developed over the past few seasons.
The Devilettes have won the last four meetings since 2013 — most recently a 7-2 victory in March — and on its way to a runner-up finish in the conference tournament last season, Mississippi Valley also handed Southern its first loss of tournament.
This season, the Devilettes enter the postseason having lost eight of their last 14 games.
“You know that all those different coach-speak, cliché-type things that apply that are going to factor in,” Garris said. “(Mississippi Valley) has been there before. They’re familiar with this type of situation, so regardless of how their season has gone, they will know how to handle this situation.”
Several Southern players were awarded All Southwestern Athletic Conference first and second team honors on Tuesday as the league heads into its conference tournament this week.
Southern coach John Garris was named Co-Coach of the Year in his first season at the helm of the Jaguars along with Texas Southern coach Worley Barker.
Freshman catcher Kiara Suttles and sophomore pitcher Kayleigh Thomas earned first team honors while junior shortstop Alicia Barajas was named to the second team with Prairie View A&M’s Jazmine Hicks.
Texas Southern shortstop Thomasina Garza and Jackson State University third baseman Canessa Swanson were named Co-Players of the Year. Garza also claimed the Hitter of the Year title.