With the winning run at second base and Southern down to its final out, Texas Southern sophomore Robert Pearson froze Caleb Hatcher for strike three and bounced off the mound pumping his fists.
That completed a doubleheader sweep of the Jaguars on Saturday at Lee-Hines Field in which TSU starting pitchers Pearson and Felix Gomez led the way.
In the first game, Gomez threw six shutout innings before leaving with one out in the seventh, settling for a no-decision as TSU took a wild 9-7 victory behind Marquis Curry’s eighth-inning grand slam.
In the second, Pearson outlasted Southern junior Jose De Leon for a 2-1 win.
“They really shut us down,” Southern coach Roger Cador said of Gomez and Pearson, who gave up only two runs between them. “The only runs we were really able to mount came when they went to the bullpen.”
Southern will look to avoid a three-game sweep when the teams complete their Southwestern Athletic Conference series at 1 p.m. Sunday.
TSU 9, SOUTHERN 7: Gomez gave up only five hits in keeping Southern off the board through six innings, but was lifted after surrendering a Sean Washington double with one out in the seventh.
That’s when things got interesting.
Southern (6-7, 2-3 in SWAC) scored six runs in the at-bat off a trio of TSU relievers and went to the eighth needing six outs to escape with the win. The key hits were a two-run homer by Jose De La Torre and a two-run triple by Hatcher.
But the Tigers (10-7, 2-0) answered with five runs in their next at-bat, the final four on Curry’s grand slam.
“We’ve been waiting for that kid to arrive all year,” TSU coach Michael Robertson said of Curry. “Hopefully, that will get him going.”
Southern got one of the runs back in its half of the eighth, but Michael Starkey got the Jaguars out in order in the ninth to secure a save. Carlos Rossel, the last TSU reliever of the seventh, was credited with the win.
TSU 2, SOUTHERN 1: De Leon gave Cador just the kind of performance Southern needed to brush aside the tough early loss and leave its home ballpark with a split.
Problem was, Pearson was even better.
The TSU right-hander allowed only four hits and held Southern scoreless the last eight innings. He had eight strikeouts and only two walks.
“On Day 1, we were hoping to win Game 1 and then just see what we can do against De Leon,” Robertson said, “because he’s probably one of the best pitchers in the conference.”
De Leon gave up a run on three hits in the first, but struck out the final two batters of the inning to avoid further damage. He gave up only two hits the rest of the way.
But after leaving a pair stranded in the eighth, De Leon did not return for the ninth.
He had thrown 117 pitches.
“You want to win these games early,” Cador said. “But what I’ve got to make (De Leon) and my team understand is that having everyone healthy and strong late is the key. I want to win these games early, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of overextending my pitcher.”
Curry quickly struck for a triple against Southern reliever John Thigpen and, with runners at the corners and none out, scored on Chris Deleon’s squeeze bunt.
Southern got two on in the ninth before Pearson struck out Hatcher to end the game.