Southern to lean on starting pitchers in SWAC tournament
Over the course of their Southern careers, senior left-hander Jesse “Doc” Holiday, junior right-hander Jose De Leon and senior right-hander Danny Garcia have combined to start 97 games.
They have 54 career wins among them.
So it’s no surprise coach Roger Cador will look to those three to carry the pitching load for the Jaguars as Southern (20-21) goes for its first Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship since 2009 — and, with it, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament — beginning Wednesday at LaGrave Field in Fort Worth, Texas.
“You’ve got to go out and throw your best,” Garcia said. “It’s the postseason. You want to go out there and shove it. You want to be lights out. You want to give your team a chance to win.”
In keeping with the weekend rotation he used throughout the regular season, Cador will pitch Holiday (6-3, 3.10 ERA) in Game 1 at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Alabama A&M and then turn to De Leon (4-3, 2.88) for Southern’s second game of the tournament. Garcia (4-4, 3.97) is in line to start Southern’s third game in Fort Worth.
“When you look at it, that’s the one advantage that we do have is those three pitchers have been there before,” Cador said. “We couldn’t be where we are without them. So we’re going to ride them a little longer. If they’re true to form, we’ll be in good shape.”
All three pitchers have been called on in big moments.
De Leon threw the championship game of the SWAC tournament as a freshman in 2011. Holiday is making his second straight start for the Jaguars in a SWAC tournament opener.
Way back in 2009, Garcia was a freshman when he recorded the final out of the SWAC tournament, inducing a fielder’s choice grounder that sent the Jaguars to the NCAA tournament.
He had Tommy John surgery to repair an elbow injury two months later and took a redshirt the following season.
Southern has not won the SWAC since then.
“I threw my hands up,” Garcia said this week, recalling the celebration four seasons ago. “It was probably the greatest feeling ever. I haven’t felt that way in a long time. I hope we can get that back.”
Garcia has been part of the Southern program so long, the statistics from his freshman season predate the database on the SWAC website.
College baseball has few fifth-year seniors, so it puts Garcia in a position to provide leadership and big-game experience.
“This may be the last time we ever pitch,” he said. “You want to go out with a bang.”
De Leon is the youngest of Southern’s weekend starters, but was the only one of the three to earn a spot on the All-SWAC first team. Opponents are batting .204 against him.
Even though it has been awhile since Southern won the tournament, De Leon said he believes this year’s team heads to Fort Worth in the right frame of mind.
“We’ve been out of it for four years, but I’ve got a good feeling this year,” De Leon said. “I think the team is really looking forward to getting that ring.”
Holiday, a second-team All-SWAC selection, struck out a career-high 14 batters on Senior Day at Southern earlier this month.
If the Jaguars reach the SWAC tournament championship game Sunday, it’s conceivable Cador could bring Holiday back for another start on three days’ rest.
But Holiday wasn’t inclined to look that far ahead.
Besides, he said he has faith in whatever pitcher would get the call.
“I trust everyone,” Holiday said. “I know whoever’s out there will get the job done.”
Outfielder Tyler Kirksey joined De Leon from Southern, the Western Division champion, on the All-SWAC team released Tuesday.
Kirksey hit .341 in the regular season with 11 RBIs.
Holiday was joined by senior closer Josh “Drew” Powell and designated hitter Kevin Williams on the second team. Powell went 3-0 and had five saves this season. Williams is batting .370 with 13 RBIs.
Top performers were Player of the Year Isias Alcantar of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Pitcher of the Year T.J. Renda of Alabama State and Hitter of the Year Darren Darmer of Grambling.
Sillon Cooper of Alabama State was the Freshman of the Year and Charles Tillery of Jackson State the Newcomer of the Year. Tillery played at LSU-Eunice last season.
Carlos James of Arkansas-Pine Bluff was named the Coach of the Year.