Designated hitter Johnny Johnson hit a three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning, lifting Southern to an 11-7 opening-day victory Wednesday in the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans.
The Jaguars, the top seed from the Western Division, will play two-time defending champion Texas Southern, the West No. 3 seed, at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“Johnny didn't have good at-bats his previous three times up, so it was good to seem him come through because he's capable of (hitting home runs),” Southern coach Kerrick Jackson said. “It was a back-and-forth game. Coming in as the No. 1 seed and with all the awards we got and the expectation that we are supposed to win the tournament, we just had to settle down as a team.
“Now, we get Texas Southern, which is a good team that plays the right way.”
Southern led 8-4 before Arkansas-Pine Bluff scored on a bloop single in the eighth by Larry Sims then added two runs in the eighth on a double-play grounder, cutting the margin to 8-7.
The Jaguars trailed 4-2 in the fourth when they scored three runs on three hits with the aid of two hit batsmen. The bases were loaded when Tyler LaPorte, who led the SWAC in RBIs this season, lined a single to right field, scoring from third base Malik Blaise, who led off the inning with a sharp single to left.
Center fielder Javeyan Williams, who struck out in his first two at-bats, then singled to center. That scored Coby Taylor from third, tying the score, 4-4. Ashanti Wheatley was hit by a pitch from Lions starter Race Tittle, scoring Zaiver Moore for a 5-4 lead.
That chased Tittle. However, Blaise also led off the fifth with a hit — a home run to left field against left-handed reliever Peyton Burks. Three batters later, Zavier Moore hit a two-run double to left for an 8-4 margin, and that resulted in Burks being relieved by Tim Reynolds. For the second consecutive inning, Southern scored three runs.
Through the top of the fourth, it appeared Southern's errors and Arkansas-Pine Bluff's adept baserunning would make it difficult for the Jaguars. Jackson credited starting pitcher Eli Finney with minimizing the damage.
“We had two dropped fly balls in the outfield, and it could have gotten a lot worse,” he said.
A double steal by UAPB's Ricardo Sanchez and Ryan Mallison in the second inning put runners on second and third with one out. Sanchez scored on Jarficur Parker's grounder to second, behind the runner, and Mallison scored on Tywan Mackey's single past first base for a 2-1 lead.
The Jaguars tied the score in the bottom of the second on Hampton Hudson's RBI double down the third-base line. However, the Lions' big fourth inning occurred after a two-out error by shortstop Blaise on Parker's grounder. That opened the door for two runs and the 4-2 lead.