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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GUIENZE FAMILY -- Hanson Memorial pitcher John Guienze Jr.

Southern University’s improving pitching staff took a step backward last weekend at Grambling, but the Jaguars are still in good position going into the final week of Southwestern Athletic Conference play.

Southern (25-19, 15-5 SWAC) can clinch the No. 1 seed from the West Division for the SWAC tournament with one victory in a three-game series at Prairie View this weekend. Grambling finished conference play by taking two of three from Southern and is 16-8.

Southern wins the tiebreaker with Grambling by virtue of beating the Tigers in four of six head-to-head meetings. If Southern were to lose all three at Prairie View, the Jaguars would have to make up a canceled game at Arkansas-Pine Bluff for a chance to force a tie at 16-8.

The Jaguars’ two losses to Grambling were unsettling for a team that had seen its overall ERA drop significantly during the past month. Grambling took a 12-0 run-rule victory in the opener and then out-slugged the Jaguars 21-16 on Saturday.

Eight Southern pitchers combined to walk 21 batters, hit three and allowed 31 hits in the two games. On Sunday, starter John Guienze put a stop to the tumble by allowing only one earned run in a seven-inning 15-3 victory. He walked one and scattered five hits.

“We’ve got to do a better job from a coaching standpoint preparing them,” Southern coach Kerrick Jackson said. “We fought back on Saturday but created such a big hole. . . we weren’t able to finish.

“(Twenty-four free bases), that’s tough to come back from if you’re not throwing strikes. We were falling behind in counts and being in predictable hitters counts where we had to throw a fastballs and they were on time. You take the walks out and it’s a completely different story. (Guienze) threw strikes. He didn’t do anything special. He pitched around some things that happened.”

Jackson said he’s looking at some changes in the rotation this weekend and on Wednesday, when Southern plays host to Nicholls State (23-21) at 6 p.m. Regular midweek starter Eli Finney, who has pitched well the past three weeks against LSU, Alcorn State and UL-Monroe, likely will move to the weekend. Jackson is undecided on Wednesday’s starter.

“I don’t know where we’re going to use him, but that’s the plan,” Jackson said of Finney, who is 3-2 with a 5.32 ERA. He pitched seven innings and allowed one run and one hit in a 7-2 victory over LSU on April 9.

David still ailing

Hunter David, slowed by a hamstring injury, tried to play in the opener at Grambling and went hitless in three at-bats with one strikeout as the designated hitter. He did not play in the last two games and his status is questionable for the remainder of the season, Jackson said.

“That hamstring is bothering him,” Jackson said. “That could linger for the rest of the year. At his point, he won’t play unless he’s 100 percent.”

David entered the weekend as the league’s top hitter with a .400 mark, but he’s fallen to fourth at .388. Tyler LaPorte raised his average to .396 and is second only to Jackson State’s Jaylyn Williams.

Back on top

Despite losing two of three, Southern moved back into the SWAC's top spot in team batting average at .312 while Jackson State is next at .309. Southern scored 31 runs on 30 hits in the past two gasmes after getting only three hits in the opener.

LaPorte went 5 for 12 with six RBIs in the series, while Willie Ward and Javeyan Williams were both 5 for 10. Ward had six RBIs.

About Nicholls State

The Colonels are on a four-game winning streak after sweeping San Jose State last weekend. Their leading hitters are third baseman Brady Bell (.296) and designated hitter Champ Davison (.289). The RBI leader is first baseman Alex Paz (26), who hit a grand slam in Sunday’s 10-7 victory.