The Tigers of Texas Southern University are headed back to the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament after defeating Alabama State 4-2 in 13 innings Sunday to claim the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
Gerrek Jimenez’ bases-loaded single in the top of the 13th proved to be the game-winning run as the Tigers (20-32) won their second conference championship in three seasons. Jimenez came into the game in the 12th inning as a defensive replacement, and knocked the game-winning hit in his only at-bat of the game and second of the entire tournament.
Michael Villanueva pitched six shutout innings of relief to pick up his team-leading eighth win of the season. The freshman from Baytown, Texas, struck out three batters and allowed only two hits and walked two batters.
Alabama State fell to 31-25 with the loss, the team’s only setback of the 2017 tournament. The Hornets were attempting to defend their 2016 championship in a rematch of last year’s title game.
Austin Bizzle, the SWAC’s Relief Pitcher of the Year, absorbed his first loss of the season (7-1). He retired the first nine batters he faced before giving up a leadoff double to Jose Camacho in the 13th.
Camacho’s leadoff double in the 13th ended a run of 20 consecutive batters retired by Bizzle and ASU starter Tyler Howe, who pitched the first nine innings of the game. After the hit, Gaudencio Lucca was hit by a pitch to give the Tigers runners on first and second with no outs.
Bizzle got a groundball straight back to the mound from Kamren Dukes, setting up the force out of Camacho at third base. However, the attempt to get Dukes on the double play at third failed when Ray Hernandez’ throw was low, allowing Lucca and Dukes an extra base, giving the Tigers two runners in scoring position.
The Hornets opted to give Blake Hicks an intentional walk to set up the force play, but Jimenez showed no rust or nerves as he knocked a single to left field to score Lucca. TSU added another run when Jose Cabreja knocked a shallow fly ball that was just out of reach of the rightfielder, scoring Dukes. The play was ruled an infield fly, meaning Cabreja was called out, but Dukes still had enough time to score.
Hicks had knocked in the first run in the top of the first inning, hitting a single after Howe walked three consecutive batters. Christian Sanchez, who was later named the tournament MVP, added an RBI double in the fourth inning to score Hicks.
ASU got on the board in the bottom of fourth with Gustavo Rios’ RBI single. Cage Cox tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with a leadoff homerun.
TSU starting pitcher Anthony Martinez pitched seven innings, striking out four batters. Villanueva, Lucca, and Martinez were all named to the All-Tournament team alongside Sanchez.