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Jackson State: Tigers in ‘familiar place’ ahead of SWAC baseball tournament

Texas Southern has been the ‘Achilles’ heel’ for Jackson State the last two years. Can JSU change this?

Texas Southern has been the Achilles hill for Jackson State the last two years. Can JSU change this?

Jackson State: Tigers in ‘familiar place’ ahead of SWAC baseball tournament

Securing a spot in the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament has not been an issue for the Jackson State baseball program over the years. In fact, Jackson State has won the second most conference SWAC championships (16), sitting behind Southern at 26 dating back to 1959.

The Tigers, however, have not won the conference title since 2014, falling short of their goal over the last four years. What makes this trend all too familiar for JSU as the 2019 SWAC baseball tournament kicks off Wednesday morning is the team that has ended its postseason journey the last two seasons: Texas Southern.

In 2017, JSU won the SWAC East division and secured the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament but was eliminated in the semifinal round to Texas Southern, losing 11-2. Then, a year ago, Jackson State found itself in the same situation as the Tigers lost to Texas Southern 10-9 in extra innings in the semifinal round of the tournament.

When No. 2 seed (SWAC East) Jackson State (30-22, 15-9) takes the field against No. 3 (SWAC West) Texas Southern (17-31, 13-11) Wednesday at noon, the Tigers will look to avoid a third-straight exit versus Texas Southern.

Texas Southern – a team that will look to earn its fourth SWAC title in five years – did not have the best regular season standings, finishing third in the SWAC West behind Grambling (24-23, 16-8) and Southern (26-19, 15-5). However, with experience and knowing what it takes to play in the tournament, Tx Southern baseball coach Michael Robertson will have his team ready to play, hoping to make yet another run at a SWAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance.

The two teams did not meet in the regular season, marking the last time Jackson State and Texas Southern played coming in the 2018 conference tournament. JSU first baseman Raul Hernandez and shortstop Wesley Reyes have been waiting for this moment to get redemption against Texas Southern since before the 2019 season started.

“It’s been two years in a row that they beat us,” Hernandez said in the preseason press conference in February.

“I’m tired. I want to win the championship and go farther. It is my last ride and if I accomplish that championship, it is going to be awesome.”

Under Tigers coach Omar Johnson, Jackson State enters the tournament coming off a 15-game winning streak that started on March 31 with a win over Alcorn State 13-1 and ended with a loss against SWAC East leader and No. 1 seed Alabama State (25-24, 18-5) 3-2 on April 27. The Tigers ended the regular season, splitting the series with Kansas, winning the second game 8-7.

JSU enters the tournament leading the SWAC in batting (.312), pitching and fielding. Four Tiger players finished on the All-SWAC team. They include outfielder Equon Smith (SWAC Newcomer of the Year), Hernandez, designated hitter Chris Prentiss and third baseman Jaylyn Williams.

These players, among a few others, will need to be at their best for the Tigers to get over the hump against Texas Southern and ultimately make a run in the conference tournament.

Meanwhile, Texas Southern enters the tournament coming off a loss on the road against Kansas State 11-5 in its season finale. In reference to SWAC play, Tx Southern won two of three against Arkansas Pine Bluff before its game against Kansas.

As a team, Texas Southern ranks seventh in batting, sixth in pitching and seventh in fielding in the conference.

The Tigers finished with two players on the All-SWAC team that include outfielder O.J. Oloruntimilehin and starting pitcher Aron Solis.

The winner of the JSU-Texas Southern matchup will play the winner of the Southern-Arkansas Pine Bluff game on Thursday at 6 p.m. While the loser of the two teams will play the loser of the Southern-UAPB game Thursday at noon.

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