Even having to make a fourth consecutive weekend series road trip can’t get the Southern baseball team down, especially when they’re on a roll and sitting atop the division standings.
The Jaguars head to Houston for a three-game set against Texas Southern at Macgregor Park beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday. The teams play at 2 p.m. Friday and conclude the series at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Southern (9-12) leads the SWAC West Division with a 7-2 record, followed by Grambling (3-3) and Texas Southern (4-5). Jackson State (14-6, 9-0) leads the East Division.
“They’ve been upbeat the whole time,” Southern coach Chris Crenshaw said. “They’re happy to be playing baseball and not missing games. A lot of people forget we missed 40 something games last spring (because of the pandemic) and fall was cut short. Guys are starting to find out who they are.”
The Jaguars had many aspects come together in a sweep of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Lone Star Diamond Classic. Crenshaw said his team played good defense all weekend, pounded out 36 hits combined and got sterling relief efforts from Dimitri Frank and Enrique Ozoa, who saved the Friday and Sunday victories.
Frank threw 2⅓ innings and allowed one run to protect and 11-8 victory, while Ozoa pitched two scoreless innings as the Jaguars rallied for a 7-5 win Sunday. Khristian Paul, who got the victory Sunday, Jacob Snyder and Markaylon also pitched well.
“The relief pitching was really good,” Crenshaw said. “I’m hoping the starters will be better this weekend. (Frank and Ozoa) are getting better, both are strike-throwers who get it over the plate and make you beat them. They are competitors, tough kids. I feel comfortable with them at the end of ballgames.”
Outfielder Tremaine Spears swung the hottest stick with seven hits and nine RBIs in 11 at bats. Spears' bases-loaded triple tied Sunday’s game in the seventh inning and he knocked in four runs Saturday with a pair of doubles and had a home run in the first game.
Shortstop Judah Wilbur had five hits, including a bases-loaded triple in the opener, while center fielder Jaylen Armstrong had three hits and four RBIs in that game. O’Neil Burgos also had five hits in the series. Taj Porter hit his team-leading fifth homer.
“Burgos is in the three hole since we started and Spears is starting to get hot, getting comfortable with adjustments we’ve been asking him to make,” Crenshaw said. “Bubba (Thompson) is starting to find his way. Jaylon Armstrong has been playing solid in center field and batting at the bottom of the lineup to turn it over to the top of the lineup.”
Crenshaw said moving Thompson from third base to second base in a switch with Zavier Moore helped solidify the defense.
Texas Southern (5-16) is coming off a 10-8 victory against Jarvis Christian but has lost six of its past seven, including getting swept at Grambling.
Third baseman Nic Garza leads the Tigers with a .333 batting average and first baseman Oscar Ponce is hitting .277 with four homers and 10 RBIs. TSU’s top pitcher Kam Fields (1-3) has allowed only two earned runs in his past 13 innings.
“They’ve got a good tradition, really good,” Crenshaw said. “We’re going to have to come with it.”