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Southern batter Tyler LaPorte watches the ball after hitting a double against Grambling on Saturday at Lee Hines Field.

The Southern-Grambling rivalry can get heated in any sport, but this weekend’s “Bayou Classic” baseball series is particularly big for both teams.

The Jaguars hold a slim lead in the Southwest Athletic Conference West Division over the surging Tigers, who will try to make up ground beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.

Southern (24-17, 14-3 SWAC) swept an earlier series at home but Grambling (21-19, 14-7) is only two games behind with two weekends to play and is riding a six-game winning streak.

Southern won all three games by slugging its way past the visiting Tigers in March, outscoring them 46-29. The Jaguars could be without their top hitter and are hoping its improved pitching staff can hold the scores down this time.

“We didn’t get quality outings from our starters and went to the bullpen early,” Southern coach Kerrick Jackson said. “Luckily our offense was able to help us out. Hopefully we’ll get better starts this weekend.”

Overall, Southern’s pitching has improved dramatically in the past month. The Jaguars staff has allowed six runs or fewer in each of the past nine games. Jerome Bohannon (2-1, 3.68), Justin Freeman (2-1, 6.55) and John Guinze (1-1, 7.99) are the scheduled starters.

“Our pitchers are much improved,” Southern third baseman Tyler LaPorte said. “I don’t think we’ll give up that many runs (29) this time.”

The offense hasn’t been as prolific for the Jaguars of late. Jackson State, which has won 14 straight games, surpassed Southern as the top hitting team in the conference with a .313 average to the Jaguars’ .310.

Southern catcher/first baseman Hunter David is still the league’s leading hitter (.400), but he might not play after reinjuring his right hamstring last weekend against Texas Southern. He’s missed the past three games.

“Hopefully he will be back, but it’s day to day,” Jackson said. “We’ll make sure he’s healthy for the tournament.”

Southern still has plenty of juice, led by LaPorte, who raised his average to .395 by going 6 for 13 against Texas Southern. He is second in the league with 48 RBIs despite being the leadoff hitter. LaPorte has stolen 20 bases, second only to teammate Javeyan Williams, who is 22 for 22. Williams is the Jaguars’ second leading hitter at .363.

Grambling is fourth in the league in hitting (.285 and fourth in ERA at 6.30). The Tigers are also led by their leadoff hitter, left fielder Isaiah Torres, who is batting .373 and leads the team with 35 RBIs. He has a .484 on-base percentage with 10 steals.

Designated hitter Drexler Macaay is Grambling’s top power hitter with seven homers and 31 RBIs with a .310 average.

Grambling’s expected starters this weekend are Bryan Delgado (5-2, 3.00), Jason Alvarez (3-2, 6.93), Ryan Huntington (5-1, 5.92). Ryan Evans (1-2, seven saves) leads the bullpen.