The Southern Jaguars came out swinging in their Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament opening-day game against No. 1 seed Alabama State, scoring three runs in the first inning.
Then the Hornets showed the Jaguars what real swinging is.
With left fielder Dillon Cooper leading the way with two home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs, Alabama State routed the Jaguars 27-9 in a game shortened to seven innings because of the mercy rule.
“We were playing a superior team tonight, and we didn’t pitch well,” said Jaguars coach Roger Cador, his team getting hit by a nine-run second inning and a four-run third that blew the game open. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Or didn’t have a chance after the first inning.
“It was a little awkward only because (ace pitcher Joseph) Camancho hadn’t been rattled like that in the beginning,” Hornets coach Mervyl Melendez said. “But it’s like a boxing match. When you get punched, you have to come back up and punch.”
Alabama State had won the SWAC’s East Division last season. However, the Jaguars beat them on the tournament’s second day on their way to the championship game.
Alabama State (35-15), the first team in SWAC history to go 24-0 during the regular season, sent 14 batters to the plate and got six hits in the first inning, including back-to-back two-run doubles by Cooper and catcher Chris Biocic in taking a 10-3 lead. The Horners had a nine-run sixth in their final at-bat.
The loss sends the Jaguars (12-31), the West Division’s No. 4 seed, against West No. 2 Grambling State (22-26) at noon Thursday in an elimination game. Alabama State will play at 6 p.m.
Against Alcorn State (16-34), the East’s No. 3 seed.
Cador, who had left starting left-hander J’Markus George in for the entire second-inning onslaught, replaced him in the third with right-hander Joseph Sanchez.
However, the Hornets, with nine first- and second-team all-conference players, picked up where they left off. They scored four runs on two hits. Cooper hit a towering one-out solo home run to left field. Then, shortstop Eriq White, the SWAC Freshman of the Year, hit a three-run homer to right field, obviously not pleased by getting the first out in the tumultuous second inning. That increased the lead to 14-3.
Hornets right-hander Joseph Camacho, the conference’s Pitcher of the Year, settled down after the first inning and shutout the Jaguars until giving up three runs in the fifth without a hit. After striking out the first batter of the inning, Camacho issued three walks and hit three batters before Melendez replaced him with right-hander Angel Alicea.
Alicea got the final out to restore order.
Cooper hit a three-run homer in the sixth that made it 18-6. Third baseman Ray Hernandez, apparently not happy about striking out leading off the nine-run sixth, hit a grand slam later in the inning.
Southern was 1-5 against Grambling State. The Jaguars won only the first meeting between the teams March 4.
Grambling State coach James Cooper acknowledged after his team’s loss to Alcorn State that the Tigers likely would face Southern in an elimination game.
“If we get good pitching, I think we’ll win,” Cooper said.