The Alabama State University Hornets are poised to repeat as SWAC baseball champions and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Regional Playoffs. The East Alabama school rolls into the 2023 Southwest Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament as the number one seed from the Eastern Division, riding an impressive 39-16 overall record and a conference record of 24-7 into Russ Chandler Stadium, home of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
The Hornets are a hard-hitting team with a .332 batting average over a 55-game schedule, including the University of Alabama and Yale. Jack Hay leads all Hornet batters with a .364 average, followed by Ian Matos at .348, Jayden Sloan at .347, and Cristian Lopes at .325.
ASU banged out 79 homers on the season, eclipsing the old school record of 64, and was led in the power department by Ali Lapread, a pitcher and outfielder, who hit 12 homers and batted .385 in 112 plate appearances. Rand Flores leads the batters with 200 or more at-bats with ten homers, followed by Jack Hay and Ian Matos with nine each. The Hornets have outscored their opponents 469 to 291.
On the mound, Omar Melendez is a workhorse, tossing 87 innings and posting an 11-0 won-lost record with 92 strikeouts and a 2.59 earned run average. Ricardo Rivera went 10-0 with 65 strikeouts and a 3.36 ERA. In contrast, Shadai Colon struck out 63 batters with his 5-0 record and 3.25 ERA.
The Hornets, led by Head Coach Jose Vazquez, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, are playing exciting baseball. Vasquez was hired in 2016, and in seven years, he has a .644 winning percentage and a 236-152 overall record. Coach Vasquez is becoming one of the top baseball coaches in Division I. He recruits heavily in Puerto Rico and has 11Puerto Rican players on this year’s squad from the island of his birth.
First up for ASU is Prairie View A&M University, coached by former professional baseball player Antwan Riggins. Prairie View is seeded fourth after a 15-14 conference record. You can never count-out a Riggins-coached team. It is hard to find a baseball coach at a PWI or an HBCU level who pays attention to the slightest details of the baseball game than Coach Riggins.
Grambling State University is the number one seed in the West after a 22-7 conference record and going 27-24 overall. Head Coach Davin Pierre led the team on an interim basis a year ago and survived a national search for a replacement for Coach James Cooper, who left to take a minor league coaching position with the New York Yankees. The G-Men are a solid-hitting team led by Keylon Mack, who is hitting at a .359 clip with 13 home runs. Kyle Walker is batting .357, followed by Cameron Bufford at .321. In comparison, Trevor Hatton is batting .305 with 12 homers, 71 runs batted in, and 27 stolen bases.
This year’s SWAC tournament is being played in the magnificent confines of Russ Chandler Stadium, is on course to be one of the most exciting in recent years. Play begin Wednesday May 24, at 9 a.m. and conclude with the championship game on Sunday May 27, at 1 p.m.
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir onthe Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for blackcollegenines.com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU-Pro Sports Media Association, and the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at [email protected].