Each game, the defense was sloppy. Each game, the offense went nowhere fast.
The Southern baseball team was, as usual, supposed to contend for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. Instead, the Jaguars looked more like they needed counseling.
March had been a complete disaster. Now, it was the first day of April; they had already lost one of two games at Arkansas-Pine Bluff; and in the series finale, they were circling the drain, down seven runs in the sixth inning against the last-place team in the Western Division.
Wilmy Marrero had seen enough. His senior season was not supposed to crash and burn like this.
In the dugout, with a whopping 28 fans in the stands, Southern’s center fielder challenged his teammates.
Marrero’s verbal outburst didn’t amount to a full-fledged assault, and it didn’t include a lot of dirty words. But let’s put it this way: It’s not entirely suitable for publication in a family newspaper.
Maybe that’s what led to Southern’s great turnaround. Maybe it was something else. At any rate, the Jaguars rallied to bury UAPB that day, 13-7.
“It wasn’t even the fact that we (started) hitting. We came together as a team,” Marrero said Sunday. “We were playing for each other, instead of just for one guy. Everybody came together as a group and started playing ball.”
That they did. That they have.
Since that day in Arkansas, Southern has won 18 of 19 games, including 16 in a row. The Jaguars finished their regular season with an 11-1 mercy-rule victory over the same UAPB team — a game that included much of what the team missed during that midseason slide.
Even during the roughest of patches — lest we forget, Southern dropped eight of nine games at one point — the weekend rotation was more than a handful (as it stands, Jesse Holiday, Jose De Leon and Brian Foster have combined for a 3.09 ERA and 1.19 WHIP).
The problem was with defense and hitting. Through 28 games, Southern had committed 52 errors and averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
All those failures are a memory now. In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Jaguars scored 10 of their 13 runs with two outs — and all weekend long, middle infielders Jeremy Lopez and DeMario Ellis sure hits into spectacular defensive plays.
Voila. Now the Jaguars are a contender for the SWAC title.
“I always thought we’d battle through it,” first baseman B.J. Rowry said. “Our pitching has been pretty consistent all year, and that’s a plus. Losing all those games — it was kind of a worry, but not really. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I felt.”
Now it’s May, and it’s hot. The pressure’s on. The conference tournament begins May 16 at Lee-Hines Field, and to earn an NCAA berth, Southern will have to win.
Each game since that day in early April, the Jaguars have proven they can.
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