AUSTIN, Texas — As baseball fortune would have it, the man who launched Southern into the NCAA tournament, O’Neill Burgos, had the bat and the Jaguars’ fate in his hands Saturday with his team down to its last thread of hope.
As he did in the SWAC tournament final, when he belted a three-run home run to beat Jackson State, Burgos turned on a pitch and smashed hit hard toward left field. But instead of a homer or an extra-base line drive it was the last, loud out of the Jaguars’ season, as Fairfield eliminated Southern 6-2 in the NCAA Austin regional at Disch-Falk Field.
The Jaguars lost to host Texas, the No. 2 national seed, 11-0 in Friday’s regional opener.
Southern’s season ends at 20-30. The Stags, who won their first NCAA tournament game in program history, improved to 38-4 and will play Sunday in another elimination game against the loser of Saturday night’s Texas-Arizona State contest.
“Tough ending,” Southern interim coach Chris Crenshaw said. “We didn’t become the national champion, but we leave out as the SWAC champion this year. I’m proud of all the work they were able to do in a short amount of time.”
The game was set for 1 p.m., but the first pitch was delayed more than three hours because of lightning in the area. When it finally started at 4:15 p.m., the Jaguars jumped out quickly in the first inning. Shortstop Judah Wilbur singled, went to second when catcher Taj Porter was hit by a pitch and scored on an RBI single to right by right fielder Tremaine Spears.
But Fairfield bounced back to take a 2-1 lead in the second on a two-run single by catcher Matt Venuto. The Stags, who gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth Friday to lose a 7-6 heartbreaker to Arizona State, would not trail again.
Still, Southern had its chances, though clutch hits proved elusive.
The Jaguars left the bases loaded in the first inning. Porter reached third and Spears went to second on a single by designated hitter Jahli Hendricks with two outs, but third baseman Zavier Moore grounded out to third to end the threat.
In the third, Spears reached on a two-out single and Hendricks got aboard on an error. They got to second and third, but Moore flew out to left for the third out.
In all, the Jaguars left 10 runners on, seven in scoring position. They finally got one more run in the ninth when center fielder Isaiah Adams led off by getting to second on a throwing error by shortstop Justin Guerrera. He went to third on a grounder by second baseman Jovante Dorris and scored on a grounder to second by Wilbur.
“That’s baseball,” Crenshaw said of the runners left on base. “That’s part of it. We had a couple of chances to blow the game wide open, though I thought we did a good job of managing the game through the middle innings.”
Southern starter John Guienze (1-6) went 3-2/3 innings and took the loss, while Fairfield starter Jake Noviello improved to 9-0.
“No one expected us to be where we are now,” Guienze said. “In 2018 we were 9-32, at the bottom of the list. But we all bonded and had a connection together. It’s tough that we lost in a regional, but to make it this far I don’t think you can say anything more than that.”
The Jaguars were one of the NCAA tournament’s Cinderella stories coming into the regional round. Southern earned an automatic bid by shocking Jackson State 7-6 in the SWAC tournament final on May 23 in Madison, Alabama. It was a stunning upset as the Tigers had gone 24-0 in the SWAC regular season and 3-0 in the tournament. Southern had to battle back out of the loser’s bracket, playing six games in five days.
Now that the season is over, Southern athletic director Roman Banks will have to decide whether Crenshaw will get the job full time. Crenshaw, who was Southern’s recruiting coordinator and pitching coach, took over Dec. 3 when former coach Kerrick Jackson resigned to take a job with Major League Baseball.
Asked about his desire to keep the job permanently, Crenshaw said: “I’d like to come back, but I don’t want to talk about that. I have a group of seniors here who have put in the work for five years, so I’m thinking of all of them.
“But yes, I’d like to be back.”
Crenshaw played two seasons at Southern under long-time coach Roger Cador in 2006-07.
This was Southern’s 10th NCAA tournament appearance. The Jaguars are now 3-20 all-time in NCAA play.