Apparently John Pope was meant to be a hero for the Southern baseball team in its 13-9 victory over Prairie View on Sunday.
He wasn’t in the lineup to start the finale of a three-game series at Lee-Hines Field, but circumstances conspired to put him center stage, and he responded.
First, coach Roger Cador removed slumping Anthony Valdes, inserting Pope into the lineup in the fifth inning. Pope delivered an RBI single in his first at-bat and doubled leading off the seventh after Southern had fallen behind (9-8) for the first time in the series.
Cador wanted to send in Marcus Hodge to pinch-run for Pope but, when Cador peered into the dugout from the third-base coach’s box, he couldn’t find Hodge.
“It was like my vision got blinded,” Cador said.
So Pope stayed in the game and was thrown out at third base when the ensuing hitter, Franky Montesino, tried to sacrifice.
“So after Pope gets thrown out, Hodge appears,” Cador said. “I said, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Right here, Coach. I was here.’ ”
The inning ended with Southern leaving the bases loaded, but Pope wasn’t done — and neither were the Jaguars.
Jose de la Torre led off the eighth with a walk, and Dondrayas Harris — who was 4-for-4 with a walk — singled him to third. Harris stole second and second baseman Brashad Jones cut the throw when he saw de la Torre break for home. The throw had de la Torre beat, but catcher Thi Mai dropped the ball, allowing the tying run to score.
Pope followed with a long two-run homer to left that put Southern ahead for good and completed a series sweep.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Cador said.
In half a game, Pope was a triple short of hitting for the cycle — and he fell one at-bat short of the minimum four necessary for a shot at the cycle.
Pope studied from the on-deck circle while reliever Charles Philpott (1-6) struck out Ashanti Wheatley, starting him with fastballs, then finishing him off with a changeup.
“I was looking for fastballs away,” Pope said, “and he left one hanging, middle-in.”
The Jaguars, 11-21 overall, improved to 6-11 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West going into a nonconference home game against Loyola on Tuesday. Prairie View fell to 9-22 and 4-13.
Pope’s second homer of the season gave the Jaguars the lead and, three walks and two errors later, Bryan Melendez had a four-run cushion to take into the ninth. Melendez, like Pope, was an improbable hero: He relieved starter Troy Lewis with one out in the seventh and forced in three runs with two walks and a hit batsmen, giving the Panthers the lead. Southern had squandered 5-0 and 8-5 advantages.
After the inning, the left-hander went to the bullpen with de la Torre and fellow catcher Eian Mitchell to work on his location.
“I was throwing my curveball too down the middle, and it would cut and break toward the batter,” Melendez said. “I tried to throw it more to the left so it would cut and break down the middle.”
It worked: Melendez zipped through a 1-2-3 eighth and worked around a one-out walk in the ninth to get the win.
“When he came in, there were people on base and there was a little more pressure,” Cador said. “The last two innings, he had no one on (to start the inning), so he pitched very well.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.