Left fielder Dillon Cooper capped an outstanding Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament performance, and Alabama State capped its dominant run by beating Texas Southern for the championship Sunday at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
Cooper, selected the tournament MVP, went 4-for-5, including a three-run homer, in his team’s 7-5 victory. Alabama State followed a 24-0 regular season by going 4-0 in the tournament.
For a team with nine first-team all-conference players, Cooper said the Hornets scoring their first SWAC baseball tournament title and berth in the NCAA tournament wasn’t about him.
“Two years ago, we lost (9-8) to Jackson State, and that really hurt,” said Cooper, who went 10-for-14 with three homers, five doubles, 14 RBIs and nine runs in the tournament. “We really wanted to win this championship. If you go 24-0 and then don’t win the tournament, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Cooper made sure that didn’t happen by getting the Hornets (38-15) off to a good start. His home run in the bottom of the third staked the Hornets to a 3-0 lead.
Starter Angel Alicea, part of a deep pitching staff, allowed just one hit until Texas Southern catcher Blake Hicks hit a two-run homer with one out in the sixth, making the score 5-2.
Alicea’s dominant pitching never let Texas Southern (24-25) get to its preferred running game. The Tigers, who lead the nation in stolen bases, didn’t even have an attempt, and their hit-and-run game was nonexistent.
“(Alicea) was quick to the plate, and (leadoff hitter Kamren) Dukes and (No. 2 hitter Ryan) Lazo, we never did get them on base, and of course (Richard) Alamo,” Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson said. “Those are the three guys we run with, but the opportunity never presented itself.”
The Tigers did have their chances: Alicea walked six, but he proved toughest when in trouble. Texas Southern loaded the bases in the second and left two on in the fourth. For the game, the Tigers stranded 14.
“We had plenty of opportunities,” Robertson said.
Texas Southern did come back, scoring a run in the seventh and eighth against All-SWAC pitcher Tyler Howe and two in the ninth against Joseph Camacho, the conference Pitcher of the Year. But it proved to be a mountain too tall to climb.
Seeds and matchups for the NCAA tournament will be announced May 30.
“I don’t care where we go,” said Alabama State coach Mervyl Melendez, in his fifth year. “I don’t like our team’s chances — I love our chances. This team mentally has got it, more than any team I’ve coached. Their mindset is that they refuse to lose. They want to excel. And I’d put our pitching staff against anybody’s weekend starters, which is what it’s all about in a tournament.”
If Cooper, who battled injuries the past two seasons, remains hot, that could make ASU a dangerous matchup for anyone.
“Dillon was unreal,” Melendez said. “I know that I’ve never seen a performance like that in a tournament. He gave us what we needed. He gave us a lift.”