There’s no more looking down the road toward the postseason for the Southern baseball team. The tournament starts now, said coach Kerrick Jackson.
The Jaguars need one victory in their final Southwest Athletic Conference series this weekend at Prairie View to clinch the Western Division title and the divisional No. 1 seed for the conference tournament May 15-19 in New Orleans.
Winning the league tournament is the ticket for the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, which begins May 31. Jackson wants his team to access the tournament mindset beginning at 3 p.m. Friday.
“The next five regular-season games I want a championship mindset, a championship focus and championship discipline,” said Jackson, whose team has two midweek road games next week. “That’s so we don’t wait until the tournament to say, ‘We’re going to do it.’ No, start the tournament now, get your mind right now for what is to come.
“We’re going to play our games like they are tournament games so when we do get there we get jacked up on adrenaline and get nervous in the moment. No, we’ve been playing baseball like this the whole time.”
Jackson is coaching that way, tweaking the lineup and the pitching rotation. Eli Finney, who has been the midweek starter, will start Friday while Sunday starter John Guienze moves up to Saturday. Jackson said Sunday's starter would be determined later and that he might use the same strategy he did in Tuesday’s 6-5 victory against Nicholls — a new pitcher every inning to spread the work around.
Jackson also made a significant move in the batting order Tuesday, sliding Javeyan Williams from No. 9 in the batting order, where he’s been all season, to the No. 2 hole behind the team’s leading hitter, Tyler LaPorte. Williams raised his average to .372 with two hits Tuesday while LaPorte is batting .391 and is the SWAC’s leading hitter.
That move was at least partly precipitated by the absence of catcher/first baseman Hunter David, who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. He is day to day, but Jackson said he won’t play unless he is 100 percent.
Jackson is still confident in his offensive attack and the Jaguars still lead the SWAC in fielding, points he’s been trying to impress to his pitchers in encouraging them to concentrate on throwing strikes. Southern pitchers issued 21 walks and hit three batters in two losses at Grambling.
Tuesday’s results were encouraging as nine pitchers combined to strike out eight and walk four.
“The challenge is for our pitchers to come out and throw strikes,” Jackson said. “They should recognize we play really good defense, and we’re going to score runs.
“Some had a little adversity. This is one of those games we wanted to challenge some guys and see what they’re about as we move into post season. All of those guys we’re going to potentially call on them. They need to be in an adverse situation.”
Prairie View (16-30, 8-12) is not to be taken lightly. The Panthers broke Southern’s five-game SWAC win streak March 29 in a Friday night victory at Southern.
“We can’t underestimate them, obviously,” Jackson said. “We also have to understand it’s not about our opponent. We’ve got as chance to clinch, going from worst to first. That’s got to be important to our guys and create that extra excitement going into the tournament.”