FORT WORTH, Texas — Before Southern’s opening game in the SWAC baseball tournament Thursday morning, the team met to dispel demons lingering from last year’s event.
“We came into that tournament the first seed with a 16-game winning streak and took (Mississippi Valley State) lightly and lost. We weren’t going to do that again,” said senior left-hander Jesse “Doc” Holiday, who started last year’s opener, as well as Thursday’s contest against Alabama A&M.
Even though A&M led by a run more than halfway through the game, the Jaguars didn’t allow another fourth-seeded team to knock them off. Behind Holiday’s four-hitter and fellow senior Kevin Williams’ four RBIs, Southern prevailed 7-1.
Southern’s next game in the tournament is scheduled for 9 p.m. Thursday against Alabama State (31-23), which won its first-round game Wednesday 16-0 over Prairie View. Southern right-hander Jose De Leon (4-3) is scheduled to oppose right-hander Joel Alvira (6-0).
Thursday morning, with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Southern had two runners on base and Williams at the plate. He hit a line drive to center field; A&M’s Brandyn Crutcher raced in and attempted a diving catch, but the ball rolled past him for a two-run triple.
“I was just trying to hit it up the middle for one run,” Williams said. “I got lucky when he couldn’t make the catch.”
The Jaguars (21-21) broke the game open with five runs in the sixth on freshman catcher Jose De La Torre’s three-run homer and Williams’ two-run single.
“I just took an offensive swing,” De La Torre said through an interpreter of his drive that landed atop a levee beyond the left-field fence at LaGrave Field.
Did he know it was gone?
“Si,” De La Torre said.
Roger Cador, who posted his 850th win as Southern’s coach, admitted to a sense of déjà vu early in the game but added: “You never want to think back. You always want to think forward. I thought this was a different situation; I felt we could score runs on this team. But if you look at it, only two players in our offense did something to get runs in. We hope in the next game we get more people contributing.”
Against the Bulldogs, Holiday (7-3) pitched his first complete game of the season. He walked just two while striking out eight. A&M’s only run came on a third-inning homer by Deon Hall.
“The guy got in front of a fastball,” Cador said. “As long as it’s a solo shot, that’s OK, and Doc doesn’t give up homers with runners on base.”
Said De La Torre: “He threw everything where he wanted. It was a normal day for him.”
The catcher increased his team-leading total to 28 RBIs and tied Gavin Webster for the team lead with his fifth homer.
Williams entered the game batting .370 but with just 13 RBI in 26 games. Still, Cador expressed confidence in Williams and Holiday.
“Kevin is in the lineup because he swings the bat good, not because he looks sexy,” he said.
The Jaguars’ most recent SWAC championship came in 2009. Fifth-year senior Daniel Garcia is the only remaining player from that team.
“This means everything to me,” Williams said. “I haven’t gotten a ring or won a championship. As a senior, I want to instill in my guys coming up to give it their all.”