|Photo from Jackson State Athletics Media|
The Jackson State Tigers defeated heavily-touted Alabama State 9-8 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball championship game Sunday in New Orleans to claim their second straight SWAC title.
The Tigers (31-23) rallied from a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, getting three runs to tie the game up. Alabama State's Dexter Price gave the Hornets their final lead with an RBI single an inning later. But in the sixth, Alabama State pitcher Hunter McIntosh walked two Tigers, with JSU's Melvin Rodriguez driving in one run and another scoring on a throwing error. Bryce Taylor's sacrifice fly ended the three-run inning and gave Jackson State an 8-6 lead. The Tigers held off Alabama State from there to claim the 9-8 win.
Jackson State pitcher Desmond Russell, the SWAC's strike out leader, fanned three over five innings and had two hits and an RBI in being named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Reliever Alexander Juday added three strikeouts over two innings and was also named to the All-Tournament team.
"Our kids battled their butts off," Jackson State coach Omar Johnson told the New Orleans Advocate newspaper Sunday. "We're fortunate the guys came out and did the job that they did. I give all the credit to our players. Alabama State's an awesome team. They're well-coached. They had an outstanding year."
The Tigers repeat as SWAC champions, a feat the program has achieved four times, the last time in 1994 and 1995. It's the 16th SWAC baseball title for Jackson State. The Tigers receive the SWAC's automatic NCAA tournament bid and finds out on May 26 who they will play when pairings are announced at noon eastern time on ESPNU.
Alabama State (37-20) could also make the NCAA tournament after a strong season in which they beat one of the nation's perennial leaders, the University of Miami. They finished 21-3 in the SWAC losing only to Alcorn State, Alabama A&M and Jackson State. But the Hornets were 5-1 against Jackson State before their loss Sunday.
"Our expectations were to be in this situation," said Alabama State head coach Mervyl Hernandez, according to AlabamaStateSports.com. "We were not fortunate enough to win. I still believe we have one of the better teams in this conference, if not the best. Today we were one run worse than the opponent."