The Southern baseball team had the Air Force Falcons right where it wanted them Monday, at least through five innings.
The Jaguars entered the game a surprising 3-0 and had come from behind four times in their weekend sweep of Florida A&M, Grambling and Alcorn State in the Andre Dawson Classic.
Southern was in position for another comeback, trailing 4-0, but there was no rallying this time. Air Force put up nine runs in the sixth inning to turn the game into a 13-0 substitution-fest rout at Alex Box Stadium.
But despite dropping to 3-1, the Jaguars have to feel good about winning three in their first weekend of play, already one-third of their total from last year’s 9-33 debacle. The program hasn't started 3-0 in at least 10 years.
Second-year coach Kerrick Jackson appears to be making some headway in getting the once-mighty Jaguars program back on track after six consecutive losing seasons.
“It’s a good feeling to come out and win,” said senior center fielder Javeyan Williams, batting .462. “The last three years we haven’t done that. To sweep the weekend was exciting. We worked hard for it.
“I see a lot of competition on this team. Today it didn’t show, but we’re more united as a group and believe in each other. We just have to build off of that.”
Jackson had a unique path to Southern in replacing program icon Roger Cador. He was an assistant at Nicholls State for two seasons and for five at Missouri. In the past three years, he worked as a scout for the Boras Corporation, run by super-agent Scott Boras, which represents many of Major League Baseball’s high-profile players.
One of Jackson’s first moves was to restock the roster. He’s brought in 14 new players, including first baseman Coby Taylor and catcher Hunter David, a Zachary product via Baton Rouge Community College who had two hits Monday. Taylor is batting .412 with two homers, including a walk-off blast that beat Grambling 6-5 on Saturday.
David has solidified the catcher position and is tied with Williams for the team high average. He also has four RBIs, one behind Taylor’s team-leading total.
The players say the biggest newcomer is confidence that was missing from last year’s team.
“We came out and played like we knew we were going to win," Taylor said. "We had a lot of confidence in winning every game. Our team works hard to get to that point.
“We came back from a 5-2 deficit (vs. Grambling) and battled hard. We talked to each other and said, ‘We can pull this off.’ It’s a different year. Different team. Different confidence. That last at-bat came from my team giving me the confidence to do something like that. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have come back.”
It hasn’t always been pretty. The Jaguars battled their way through some mistakes to beat Alcorn State 12-9 on Sunday, rallying from behind three times. Leadoff hitter Michael Wright keyed that game with three hits and three RBIs.
In Monday's game, Southern missed some early opportunites to score and then couldn't stop the Air Force onslaught.
“Hopefully we’re able to look back at this game and learn from some of the mistakes we made, not being able to make the adjustments when we need to make them,” Jackson said. “We had a pitcher that wasn’t throwing strikes and an umpire with a small strike zone, and we weren’t making adjustments.
“When we did have chances to score — bases loaded and less than two outs, second and third less than two outs — we didn’t get anything. It’s those type of things where you have to capitalize. Push one across, here push one across there, now it’s a 2-2 ballgame. In the seventh and eighth inning it’s a tighter game. That’s all you can ask for, to get to the championship level innings in a position to win.”
Air Force (2-2) raked six Southern pitchers for 13 hits. Falcons infielder Nic Ready drove in five runs with a triple and a pair of two-run doubles while Gabe Martinez and Colby Brown had two RBIs each. Nathan Price (1-0) got the victory with 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Southern's pitching hasn’t always been great, but it has been timely with five holdovers on the staff. Senior Connor Whalen saved the opener with an inning of scoreless ball. Junior reliever Wilhelm Allen pitched two scoreless innings to get the win against Grambling.
Jackson said the fact his team is showing resilience early in the season is an indication it's starting to turn the corner.
“No question, the one thing about this team is they have a competitive spirit about them and will never give up,” Jackson said. “Today, Air Force didn’t make any mistakes. Over the weekend we took advantage of other people’s mistakes and they didn’t take advantage of ours.
“Slowly, but surely, we’re still trying to change that culture and atmosphere. We have seniors on our team that have never won. It’s tough to teach a kid how to win if they don’t know how. We’re going through that process. This weekend was good for that. If we continue to move forward, we’ll find ourselves in good position when the year ends.”