Southern just completed its best stretch in Southwestern Athletic Conference play, and now it’s in the midst of an elongated stretch against nonconference opposition for this late in the season.
The Jaguars, who hadn’t won any of their first five SWAC series, swept three games from Prairie View last weekend at Lee-Hines Field. That put them two games and a tiebreaker up on the Panthers for the final Western Division berth in the conference tournament.
After the series, the players talked about momentum and perhaps a turning point, but coach Roger Cador was more cautious about what the sweep might mean.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s a young team.”
And two days later, Southern (11-22) lost to an NAIA opponent, falling 7-6 to Loyola. Now the Jaguars go on the road to play South Alabama (28-10) in a three-game series that begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Mobile, Ala.
Cador said he’s concerned that a weekend against a team ranked No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball could hurt Southern’s fragile confidence before it closes out SWAC play at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern the following two weekends.
But Cador did take some solace in the mid-week loss in which Southern fell behind 7-0 but got the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth.
“If there’s any consolation and I don’t think there’s much when you lose, they didn’t quit,” Cador said. “They fought and had a chance to win. You’ve got to applaud the effort in coming back.”
That fight was encouraging to Cador because it showed up in a second straight game from a team that hasn’t often shown that attribute. The Jaguars have lost a half-dozen games by relinquishing late-inning leads, and in the finale against Prairie View on Sunday, Southern saw the Panthers battle back from 5-0 and 8-5 deficits to take a 9-8 lead in the seventh.
But the Jaguars rallied with five runs in the eighth to complete the sweep.
“We’ve had a history of not coming back,” reliever Bryan Melendez said, “so that comeback win was huge.”
This weekend won’t affect Southern’s chances of reaching the SWAC tournament, but it could affect the team’s mindset going into the final six conference games.
Southern could clinch a tournament berth if Prairie View gets swept at home by Arkansas-Pine Bluff this weekend.
“We’ve shown that guys aren’t just giving up because they see that we’re down a few runs,” infielder John Pope said. “It motivates us more to win and show everyone that we deserve to go to the tournament.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.