Don’t tell the Southern baseball team how much of a long shot it is as it heads west to play Texas in the NCAA regional first round Friday.
The whole season has been a long shot, and an NCAA tournament berth is lagniappe.
The Jaguars (20-28) reacted with a cheer late in the NCAA selection show broadcast when the committee matched Southern against the No. 2 national seed Longhorns (42-15). The teams play Friday at Disch-Falk Field.
No. 3 Fairfield (37-3) plays No. 2 Arizona State (32-20) in the other regional pairing in Austin.
All-session tickets will be available for purchase beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday at TexasSports.com/tickets. If available, single-session tickets will go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday.
“If we can make it through this season, we can make it through anything with COVID and all that stuff,” first-year coach Chris Crenshaw said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity, weather, injuries, road games . . . It all came together at the end.
“For me, I wanted to get something new; for the group, I really didn’t care where we went. I knew Starkville was going to be a long shot because they didn’t do well in the SEC tournament. Texas didn’t do well in Big 12 tournament, but they were a higher seed. I knew we would end up against a higher seed.”
Southern won its automatic bid with a thrilling 7-6 victory in the SWAC tournament finals against a Jackson State team that went 34-9, won all 24 regular-season conference games and three in the tournament. But the Tigers stayed home after Southern’s O’Neill Burgos hit a game-winning three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning.
The Jaguars will represent the SWAC for the second consecutive NCAA tournament. Last year’s event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Infielder Zavier Moore is one of six Jaguar position players on the 2019 team that lost in the regional to Mississippi State. He said that experience and the recent SWAC tournament win will provide a boost.
“It’s awesome; it’s always great to win a championship,” Moore said. “We had no clue where we were headed. We know Texas is a good ballclub; we’re all excited to be closer where all our family and friends can make it.
“It’s (conference tournament) going to help a lot. There are a lot of unpredictable things that happen in regionals. One thing you can’t practice or prepare for is how crazy the crowd is going to be. A lot of these guys haven’t thought about that yet. We’ve faced a lot of adversity and learned how to overcome it. We’re going to face some more. It’s good we’ve already been through it.”
Southern has a history of playing well in first-round tournament games. The Jaguars were 6-6 with Mississippi State in the eighth inning before falling 11-6 and then being eliminated by Miami. The last time Southern was placed in Austin was 1988, when the regional fields were six teams under the old format.
It was the fourth season under Hall of Fame coach Roger Cador, who attended Monday’s watch party. Southern eventually lost that game 7-3 and then was eliminated by Penn.
“At the time Texas was the No. 1 program in the country in ranking and attendance,” Cador said. “The night we played them it was a 9,000-seat sellout crowd. The game went into the eighth inning with us leading.”
The Jaguars rallied from a midseason slump that saw it lose seven consecutive games during which they scored seven runs combined and were shut out three times. But Southern won four of their last six regular season games and went 5-1 in the tournament, losing only to Prairie View, 2-1.
The Jaguars’ pitching got a boost from John Guienze’s opening game two-hit shutout, the first shutout and compete game by a Southern pitcher. Burgos, Moore, Isaiah Adams, Colton Frank and pitcher Enrique Ozoa made the all-tournament team.
“During the low point we had some injuries, and we had played a lot of games on the road,” said Crenshaw, who likely will have the interim tag removed from his title. “It was good to come home and play some games at home, get our feet under us to get ready for the tournament.
“I’m just happy to be playing baseball, and (the players are) the same way. They could be getting ready for summer baseball or summer school, but they’re getting ready to play games.”