FAMU Looks to Repeat in 2024 as SWAC Baseball Champions

HBCU Baseball in the Spotlight this Week

FAMU baseball team celebrating 2023 SWAC Baseball Championship victory (c)2023 Harold Michael Harvey

ATLANTA, Georgia – The Southwest Athletic Conference, the nation’s premiere Black College Baseball Conference, kicks off its championship tourney this week at Russ Chandler Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta.

This year, the SWAC proved its preeminent status as three member schools knocked off three traditional Power Five baseball programs. During the 2024 season, Bethune-Cookman (19-10 and 29-25), the number two seed in the East, claimed a thrilling victory over intra-state rival, the University of Miami (24-29).

While the East’s number 3 seed, Alabama State University (18-12 and 28-25), drove about 50 miles down the road to defeat the War Eagles of Auburn University (27-26).

This trend began with a walk-off victory by Southern University (15-12 and 22-27) – seeded number four in the West – over cross-town rival LSU (33-20), then the number one team in the country in some established baseball polls.

2024 is the second time the SWAC baseball tournament is played at Russ Chandler. This venue became available when the NCAA  decided it would no longer schedule D-1 Power Five regional college-level tournaments.

The Tourney kicks off on Wednesday morning in a 9:00 a.m. matchup between Bethune-Cookman University (19-10 and 29-25) and Auntwan Riggins’ Prairie View Panthers (18-9 and 26-23).

The two schools did not compete against each other during the regular season. Six-year coach Jonathan Hernandez leads the BCU Wildcats. The Cats played in the championship game last season, losing to FAMU after leading most of the game.

Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats celebrating a victory that puts them into the 2023 SWAC Championship game (c)2023 Harold Michael Harvey

Players to watch for BCU are Jose Gonzales, a .356 power hitter. He had nine doubles and four home runs and drove in 46 runs for the Cats this year. Garrett Chun collected 56 hits and drove in 38 runs, while teammate Sergio Rivera had 58 hits and 38 RBIs. On the mound, the Cats are led by Tanner Boccabello, who won seven games and lost two, with a 2.79 ERA and 68 strikeouts. Daniel Garivia went 5-3, striking out 47 batters. Pablo Torres added six saves with a 3.42 ERA.

Prairie View A & M University and Coach Auntwan Riggins during 2023 SWAC tourney action ©2023 Harold Michael Harvey

Coach Riggins’ Prairie View Panthers are powered by Michael Burrough, a .362 hitter who scored five home runs and drove in 52. Michael Smith led the team in home runs with nine. Smith drove in 49 runs while batting .335. Garrison Weiss contributed 40 runs batted in with his .313 batting average. Matthew Krall led the pitching staff at 5-1, while Michael Dews struck out 74 batters on the way to a 4-3 record.

Game two pits Grambling State University (18-8 and 21-25) against Alabama State University. On Sundays, Coach Davin Pierre removes his baseball cleats and wears his pastoral robe.

Pierre will call on Tigers home run king Cameron Bufford this week, with a .335 batting average, seven homers, and 41 RBIs. Earlier this season, Bufford broke the Grambling school career record for homers by hitting number 38 in the Garr-Lucas HBCU Baseball Classic in Atlanta.

Bufford finished his career with over 40 home runs. Kyle Walker is the team leader in homers this season, with 11 to go with his .359 batting average and 35 RBIs. Aston Inman drove in 46 runs for the Tigers while batting .344. Mason Martinez was a workhorse on the mound, going 10-2 with 78 strikeouts. Randy Reyes was 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA.

Alabama State Head Baseball Coach Jose Vazquez surveying the field at the 2023 SWAC Baseball Championship Tourney (2023) Harold Michael Harvey

Alabama State University’s head coach, Jose Vazquez, has been named the USA Baseball National Team manager. Vazquez brings a robust and power-hitting team into the tournament. ASU crushed 58 home runs in the year, led by Right Fielders Ali LaPread, who hit 13 home runs while batting .333 and driving in 39 runs. Juan Cruz batted .390 with 58 RBIs and eight homers. Isaiah Landry contributed 59 hits and batted .339. Jack Hay hit a solid .319 and drove in 36 runs, and Jamal George hit seven homers to go along with his .311 batting average. ASU is led on the mound by Alex Burden (4-1), Luis Rodriguez 6-3 with 67 strikeouts, and Jorhan LaBoy (6-3) and 62 strikeouts.

Game three will showcase Texas Southern (18-6 and 22-23), the first seed in the West, against Jackson State (16-12 and 33-18). TSU is led by the legendary coach Michael Robertson. Coach Robertson’s team won the SWAC Baseball Tournament in 2015, 2017, and 2018. On the field, Robertson’s team has the hard-hitting (.368) Nin Bruns, II. Bruns hit six homers this season and drove in 42 runs. Michael Goudeau hit seven homers while batting .336 and drove in 41 runs. Jaden Jones hit six homers and drove in 40 runs while batting .313. Domenic Martinez led the way on the mound with a 4-3 record. He struck out 51 batters. Justin Barnes went 2-0.

SWAC 2023 Tournament action at Russ Chandler Field (c)2023 Harold Michael Harvey

In the nightcap, FAMU, coached by Jamey Shouppe, the reigning SWAC champion, will take on the giant slayer Southern, coached by Chris Crenshaw. The defending conference champions are led by Ty Jackson, a .373 hitter who has eight home runs on the year. Sebastian Greico has nine home runs with 45 RBIs while batting .329, and True Fontenot drove in 42 runs while batting. .343. Caleb George recorded 9-2 on the mound with a 2.82 ERA, and Carson Kelly was 7-3. Southern is led by K J White, a .379 hitter. Their power comes from Tyler Hawkins, who hit nine home runs, drove in 45, and batted .366. Khyle Radcliff hit five home runs and drove in 44 runs to go along with his .341 batting average. Kameron Byrd hit .307 for the Jaguars. The Southern pitching staff is anchored by Drew Lassoigns, 5-3 with 55 strikeouts. Rashard Grace is 2-0, and Ronard Grace is 3-2 with 47 strikeouts.

By the numbers, there is a lot of HBCU baseball talent on display at Russ Chandler Field this week. There are two power hitters to watch: Grambling’s Cameron Bufford and Alabama State’s Ali LaPread. They could propel their teams to a dark horse tournament win if either gets hot.

Harold Michael Harvey, JD, is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the 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 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU-Pro Sports Media Association, and the Black College Legends and Pioneers Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at [email protected]

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