2021 SWAC Baseball Championship

Southern's Javonte Dorris steps on home plate to score on O'Neill Burgos' three-run home run in the ninth inning against Jackson State in the SWAC tournament championship game Sunday in Madison, Ala.

Southern University’s fall baseball practice season wasn’t about slugging hits and scoring runs as much as it was second-year coach Chris Crenshaw finding out who can play.

With four of his top players sidelined, the early returns are good. The team will regroup in January for the start of practice for the 2022 season.

“A lot of people got better from the beginning to the end,” said Crenshaw. “They made adjustments, they listened. I have a better understanding of who we were this fall. Now the guys go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas — then we’ll figure out who we’ll be in the spring.

“We should be a well-rounded team, pitch a little bit, play some defense and get timely hits to score runs. We’ve identified guys who can get on base. We’re not necessarily slugging it, but we have guys who find ways to get on base and have been doing it in scrimmages.”

Jovante Dorris captained the Gold team, which emerged victorious from the best-two-of-three fall World Series. He had nine hits and slugged a two-run home run in the deciding game. Hunter Tabb, a transfer from LSU-Eunice, had a pair of two-run doubles for the Gold.

Jahli Hendricks was “on base a lot” for the Columbia team and Southern Miss transfer Mike Latulas knocked in four runs in the three games.

Southern’s top four returning hitters — Taj Porter, O’Neil Burgos, Tremaine Spears and Zavier Moore — sat out the fall while recovering from injuries and/or surgery. Their absences allowed Crenshaw to get a look at newcomers, and he said Gustavo Nava and JJ Rollon were among others who excelled.

Crenshaw said the battle for shortstop between Isaiah Adams and Caleb Tart will continue into spring practice.

Pitching is where graduation hit hardest, but Southern has its two best relief pitchers back. Dimitri Frank earned a save in Game 2 and finished the three by getting the final three outs. Enrique Ozoa pitched 2⅔ innings in the final game and also saw action at third base. Senior Austin Haensel was the winning pitcher in the deciding game.

Ozoa had seven saves and a 1.27 earned run average last year while Frank was 4-1 with a 3.64 ERA as the Jaguars’ setup man.

“Christian Davis and Nick Luckett also pitched well,” Crenshaw said. “We had some pitchers step up, with good outings from sophomores. … I’m excited to see what we look like when we’re all together.”

Jerry Burkett, Dillen Miller and Anthony Fidanza are in the mix for pitching work. Position players Perry Kyles and Nyle Banks might also get some pitching work.

Crenshaw said the 2022 schedule isn’t complete, but the Jaguars will play twice at LSU. The SWAC schedule is also a bit different with the addition of Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman to the conference. Alcorn State is now in the West Division and the teams will play home-and-home, three-game series against division opponents without bye weeks during conference play.