Unless the situation necessitates it, Southern baseball coach Roger Cador rarely gives his hitters signs while they bat. He wants his players to approach the game in their own way.
So when a player sees an opportunity to bunt for a hit — like when Robinson Mateo walked to the plate in the first inning of the Jaguars' 6-5 victory over Prairie View A&M on Friday night at Lee-Hines Field — Cador won’t hold him back.
As it turned out, Mateo’s bunt single resulted in a throwing error, allowing Javeayan Williams to score from first base to tie the score.
“I saw that (Prairie View) had a slow third baseman — kind of a big guy,” Mateo said. “So I had more time to bunt and go around the line. That was my game for today."
With the score tied at 4 in the bottom of the seventh, a one-out drag bunt created chaos for Prairie View — and it was all Mateo’s doing again.
Prairie View catcher Tyler Gordon’s throw to first base was errant, and the Jaguars' speedy infielder raced to second base, which Cador considered a “gamble.” Cody Den Beste, Prairie View’s right fielder, then misfired on a throw to his cutoff man, and the ball rolled into the left-field corner.
By the time Mateo reached third base, the Panthers had hardly any shot of catching him at the plate. The unconventional scoring play gave the Jaguars a lead they would not relinquish.
After a 1-7 start, Southern (4-9, 2-4 SWAC) has victories in back-to-back games and has won three of its past five.
“I’m never surprised in the game of baseball,” said Cador, who's in his 32nd season with the Jaguars. “It was exactly what we needed, because we had begun to lose our confidence as hitters because we were taking third strikes without swinging.”
Although there were five errors in the game, Mateo’s trip around the bases was an oddity in a back-and-forth matchup that was mostly well-played.
Southern answered Den Beste’s solo home run in the first with two runs in the bottom half, including Mateo’s bunt single that eventually scored Williams. Later in the inning, John Pope gave Southern the lead with an RBI single down the left-field line.
Prairie View (4-18, 1-3) regained the lead in the third, which would be Jaguars starter Tyler Robinson’s final inning. Corbin Jamison sent Robinson’s 2-2 offering over the left-field wall for the Panthers’ second solo home run of the game. Nathan Carter, who followed with a double, later scored on Steven Williams’ sacrifice fly.
The Jaguars had another answer in the fourth. Bobby Johnson drove in Pope on a chopper that bounced past the glove of Prairie View shortstop Andrew Garcia, a play ruled an RBI single. After that, Panthers pitcher Edgar Sanchez walked consecutive Jaguars hitters to give Southern a 4-3 advantage. Despite pitching with traffic on the base paths, Jaguars reliever Josh Sparks held Prairie View scoreless through his first three innings of relief with command over his offspeed pitches.
But a throwing error on Jamison’s leadoff single in the seventh cost Sparks. After Cador lifted him for closer Troy Lewis, Carter bunted Jamison to third base, and Den Beste provided a game-tying sacrifice fly.
After Mateo’s wild drag bunt in the seventh, the spotlight turned back onto Lewis. The senior righty struck out the side in the eighth and received an insurance run on Malik Blaise’s RBI double in the bottom half.
Blaise’s double proved to be valuable: Lewis surrendered a run in the ninth on a wild pitch, but the Jaguars held on.