The 10-year drought is finally over. The Southern University baseball team is back in the NCAA Regionals, their first since 2009, after a complete dominance at the plate and on the mound over Alabama State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Championship game. In the 15-0 shutout, the Southern allowed just three hits in the win.
The Jaguars, nationally ranked as the No. 1 ranked team in Black College Nines Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Baseball Large School Top 10 Poll, faced a stern test to begin the 2019 season as they were picked as cellar-dwellers, but concluded winning the conference division, posting a 32-22 overall record, received the number one seed, then had a dramatic conference tournament run concluding in postseason trip to the NCAA national tournament. Their run through the SWAC tournament included two come from behind victories and a walk off win.
Southern won behind the lights out pitching of Eli Finney, who kept the SWAC’s most explosive offense at bay all afternoon with his complete game performance. He threw a three-hitter with no runs, struck out six batters in the win at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans.
Finney’s dominant performance, mixing his pitches and using every square inch of the strike zone, kept Hornet batters off balance. SWAC Co-Player of The Year, Yamil Pagan’s bat was silent throughout the entire tournament. Finney complicated those matters by only allowing one Alabama State baserunner to get into scoring position and that was the result of a passed ball in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Southern brought live bats. The team scored 15 runs on 16 hits to roll past ASU. Of those 16 hits, four were doubles, one triple and two home runs. Johnny Johnson had two doubles, both Ashanti Wheatley and Hunter David had one each. The lone triple came off the bat of Tyler LaPorte who also belted a three run home run along with a solo Bobby Johnson blast.
Southern opened the game with one run in the first inning. A leadoff walk to LaPorte, advancing to second on a Johnson grounded out to the shortstop, Wheatley doubled to left center and drove home LaPorte for the 1-0 lead. The Jags added two more runs in the top of the second inning. Malik Blaise was hit by pitch followed by the Bobby Johnson two run home run to left field.
Southern added four more runs in the top of the fourth. Coby Taylor was hit by a pitch, Javeyan Williams bunt singled to first base and Taylor advanced to second. LaPorte then tripled down the right field line with Williams and Taylor scoring. Johnny Johnson doubled down the left field line and LaPorte scored. Johnson stole third, scored on Hunter David sacrifice fly finalizing the frame at 7-0.
The Jags weren’t done for the day, plating three runs in the sixth inning. The big blow, LaPorte’s three-run home run to left field. A four run seventh and one at the top of the ninth sealed the deal for Southern.
Williams and Johnny Johnson led Southern at the plate. Williams finished 4 for 5 with a run batted in and scored four times. Johnson was 4 for 6 with a couple of doubles and three runs driven home. Finney’s pitching gem was backed by his defense.
The Jaguars have won the more SWAC titles than any other SWAC school. Only four head coaches have served at Southern between 1949 and 2017. Kerrick Jackson’s hiring in 2018 made him the fifth.
Southern is the last HBCU to win a national title (1959) becoming the first HBCU to win the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship. The Jaguars also became the first HBCU to win a game in the NCAA Tournament by defeating No. 2 ranked Cal State Fullerton in 1987.
The team’s next game will be the NCAA Division I Regional. They will find out during the Memorial Day holiday, May 27, when the NCAA will announce picks and destinations during the Baseball Tournament Selection Show on ESPNU.