Southern baseball coach Roger Cador has said this year’s team will have to play small ball.
Well, that worked out just fine in the season opener as the Jaguars defeated Grambling 7-5 Friday night at Lee-Hines Field in their first of three games in the Urban Invitational. Southern visits UNO on Saturday and plays Grambling again Sunday in Alex Box Stadium.
Nine of Southern’s 12 hits were singles and the Jaguars took advantage of three Tigers errors to score four unearned runs and played error-free. They scraped together three first-inning runs in support of starter Santos Saldivar, who threw four scoreless innings before approaching his pitch count.
“I thought we swung the bats well,” Cador said. “We got a lot of hits and we didn’t make any errors, which was good. We could have pitched better with two outs in a couple of situations. We didn’t make the hits and their errors hurt enough, but for a first game I’m relatively pleased.”
D.J. Wallace went 4-for-4 and drove in three runs, two of which were scored by Tyler Kirksey.
“There were some initial butterflies,” Wallace said, “but I told (Kirksey) that if he got on base, I was going to do everything in my power to make sure he came around and crossed the plate. I was very impressed with how we played tonight.”
Saldivar allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out five.
“I was very happy with him,” Cador said. “I thought he pitched well, and when he had to get out of some jams, he made some good, quality pitches.”
Saldivar left with a 4-0 lead, which reached 5-0 before Grambling had some success against the bullpen.
Conner Baumgardner pitched a scoreless fifth before yielding the Tigers’ first run in the sixth. Johnathon Timeo doubled with one out, advanced on a wild pitch and came home on Korey Hall’s infield hit.
Victor Ilarraza relieved to start the seventh and gave up two runs as Grambling got within two. Kris Minter and Juan Bueno singled with one out and Timeo doubled them home.
But that’s as close as Grambling got. Southern got an unearned run in the bottom half when Kirksey reached on right fielder Minter’s three-base error and scored on Wallace’s single.
The Jaguars extended the lead further in the eighth. Snowden reached on an infield single and Bryan Rowry tripled home pinch runner Phillip Williams.
After Ryan Flynn pitched a scoreless inning, Sam May came on to pitch the ninth. He yielded a leadoff triple to Edwin Drexler, a one-out RBI-double to Bueno and a two-out RBI-single to Yariel Medina before striking out Brandon Kiser to end it.
“The first game of the season you’re always anxious,” Kirksey said. “We’ve been talking about making a statement in the first game because we haven’t been able to work that much (due to inclement weather). I think we did a good job, but we could have taken advantage of more opportunities.”
Lance Jones led off the bottom of the first with a singled and went to second on a passed ball. After consecutive strikeouts, Jones stole third and scored on Wallace’s infield single.
Wallace went to second on a balk, advanced to third on Almann Snowden’s infield single and scored on an error by Kiser at first. Jose De La Torre’s double made it 3-0.
“I was nervous in the first, but that big three-run inning really helped,” Sandivar said.
The Jaguars increased the lead to 4-0 in the second. Marcus Tomlin led off by reaching on Kiser’s fielding error, Bud Morton singled him to second and Jones advanced both runners with a sacrifice. After Kirksey forced Tomlin at home, Morton came home on a double steal.
Southern made it 5-0 in the fifth when Kirksey doubled with one out, stole third and came home on Wallace’s single.