Leave it to shortstop Jeremy Lopez, Southern’s bottom-of-the-order spark plug, to explain why the offense was so effective yet again Sunday afternoon against Jackson State.
It’s very simple, Lopez said. In an 8-2 victory at Lee-Hines Field, the piping-hot Jaguars simply kept doing what they’ve done throughout this current winning streak, which now stands at 13 games.
“We’ve been getting the clutch hits in the right situations. We’re not leaving runners on (base), and we’re just making it happen,” he said. “We’ve been doing that during the whole streak, and I guess that’s why we’re rolling.”
Rolling they are. Roll they did. Lopez’s two-RBI single highlighted a four-run second inning for Southern, which collected 11 hits and five walks to cruise past the Tigers, completing a two-game sweep.
As well as the Jaguars’ hitters performed, however, they were almost one-upped by their starting pitcher.
Sophomore right-hander Jose De Leon fired eight strikeouts in seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and one walk.
On two occasions Sunday, as the afternoon turned from cloudy and pleasant to flat-out hot, De Leon pitched himself into trouble.
He loaded the bases in the top of the fifth, thanks to a fielder’s choice, a hit batsman and a walk. But after getting a visit from SU coach Roger Cador, De Leon struck out No. 3 hitter Kendall Logan looking.
Later, in the seventh, De Leon hit JSU’s Glenn Walker to load the bases with one out. He got the next hitter, Frank Solis, to pop out. Then he struck out Logan swinging.
“I could only see everything that happened,” Cador said. “It went to his head and (affected) his concentration. So I only went out there to try to get him back in focus. He was able to re-focus. The last time, he was able to make great pitches with the bases loaded, striking people out. I mean, it had some emotion in there.”
After he wriggled out of both jams, De Leon (6-3) pumped his arms and screamed toward the grass as he walked toward the third-base dugout, obviously happy.
“Concentration — that’s the key to everything in baseball, really,” De Leon said. “I lost my focus a little bit, but I was just able to get the focus back before they scored.”
The Jaguars (28-14), in fact, were one strike away shutting out JSU (28-14) — but the Tigers scored with two outs in the ninth inning off closer Josh Powell.
Pinch hitter Sylvester Peck punched an 0-2 single to center field, scoring Aneko Knowles, and Logan followed with an RBI single that brought home Peck.
Powell struck out Charles Epperson to finish the game.
Thanks to Southern’s opportunistic offense, Jackson State was simply too far behind in the ninth to mount a serious rally.
The Jaguars broke a scoreless tie in the second when JSU starter Jose Garcia (4-3) loaded the bases, then hit Clint Ourso with a pitch.
But the next hitter, Lopez, followed with an at-bat that was emblematic of Southern’s offense during this 13-game streak. He worked the count full and anticipated a pitch in the heart of the strike zone.
Lopez got it, and he sent a low line drive back through the middle of the infield, scoring two more runs.
The Jaguars scored four runs in the inning, then followed with one run in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Seven of SU’s starters got at least one hit. Lopez was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and Cameron McGriff and Wilmy Marrero each went 2-for-4.
“I’m really feeling good about how we are playing right now,” Cador said.
He should. The Jaguars have one more weekend series against an opponent Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division.
They host Arkansas-Pine Bluff this weekend, followed by a tuneup series with LSU-Eunice.
Then the SWAC tournament begins May 16 at Lee-Hines Field, where they’ll surely feel right at home.
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