BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Chris Crenshaw was urged to show emotion in his postgame interview Friday at Regions Field. Of course, he couldn’t.
“I spent all of it in the dugout,” the coach said after his Southern University team edged Florida A&M 8-7 in its second game at the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. “I ain't got none right now.”
Neither should the Jaguars faithful who rode to the depths of despair before their team rallied from seven runs down for an unlikely victory in the second round.
Southern will play FAMU again at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Rattlers hammered Prairie View 17-1 in an elimination game to stay alive.
For the second time in as many games, Southern yielded a sizable lead before storming back.
“We got caught up in those situations two days in a row,” first baseman O’Neill Burgos said. “Tomorrow's gonna be a whole different story, a whole new day. Hopefully we'll come out on top from the get-go.”
Friday, the Rattlers should have sucked the life out of the Jaguars when left fielder Jared Weber launched a 3-1 pitch over the left-field wall for a grand slam and a 7-0 FAMU lead in the top of the fifth.
“I told them they’ve got to pick me up,” Crenshaw said of his squad. “I left my pitcher (starter Anthony Fidanza) out there one pitch longer than I should have.”
But Southern would not say die.
“It's just toughness,” said Burgos, who scored and drove in two runs on one hit in the contest. “We believe in ourselves, and we know ain't nobody else is gonna do it but us. The game is not over until it's over. We've got a shot until the last out.
“I promise you, we don't mean to come from behind like that,” Burgos said. “I wish we could put up 10 in the first inning and then 10 again in the second inning. But that's just baseball. We're going to stick to our plan and we're going to stick together, and let's see how it goes.”
Southern took a huge chunk out of the FAMU lead by scoring five runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Jaguars completed the comeback in the bottom of the seventh.
Jovante Dorris sliced an RBI double down the right-field line to cut the deficit to one. Tremaine Spears then smacked a two-run double down the third-base line to give Southern the lead for good.
“We were just grinding it out,” Spears said. “For five innings, we were getting no-hit.”
Reliever Jerry Burkett II held the Rattlers at bay, striking out two and yielding no runs in 3⅔ innings.
“It was big,” Crenshaw said. “He’s got the ability. He’s just got to go out there and do it. The last couple of times he’s been building his confidence and it showed today.”
The Jaguars still had one big play left in them as closer Enrique Ozoa made a diving grab of a squeeze bunt and backhanded the ball to catcher Taj Porter for the second out at the plate.
“I knew something like that was going to be in play,” Crenshaw said. “Enrique is a former infielder. He came here and was an infielder/pitcher, and at the end he decided to be a pitcher. I put him in the game knowing he could handle the ball in certain situations.”
Said Burgos of the Jaguars pitching staff: “Every single arm, they've got to be ready to come in and help us out. It was collective teamwork.”
Shortstop Justin Wiley followed that with a double-clutch throw to first to close out the victory. The Jaguars, who endured multiple postponements before winning their opener Thursday, have earned a break until Saturday when they will play a team that will have played twice on Friday after having fallen into the losers bracket.