Jackson State captures SWAC baseball title

Jackson State’s baseball team is no stranger to the championship game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament as the Tigers defeated Prairie View A&M last year.

On Sunday at Barrow Stadium, Jackson State earned its second consecutive title and a trip to the NCAA regionals with a 9-8 win over Alabama State.

“Our kids battled their butts off,” said Jackson State coach Omar Johnson who was doused with the water and ice in the team’s cooler after the game. “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.”

While Jackson State (31-23) had a great first half, the second half was less than satisfactory.

“The first half of our year was outstanding,” Johnson said. “The second half was tough. That tells you about our conference. Our conference is getting better.”

Melvin Rodriguez led the Tigers, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and one run scored. Charles Tillery also went 3-for-4 with an RBI and scored two runs.

Alabama State (37-20) hit three home runs and was led by Waldyvan Estrada, who went 2-for-5, scored three runs and had two RBIs.

The Hornets made their first trip to the SWAC title game, and that was part of the team’s goals.

“Our expectations once we took over the program three years ago was to be in this situation,” said Alabama State coach Mervyl Melendez, was previously a finalist for the job at the University of New Orleans. “We were not fortunate enough to win, but I’m still proud of my guys. I believe we have one of the better teams in this conference, if not the best.”

With two outs in the first inning, the Tigers scored their first run when Tilur Smith hit a doubled to left for the game’s first hit. Following him, Rodriguez hit a double to right that brought home Smith for the 1-0 lead.

The Hornets took the lead in the first when Estrada hit a home run to left field that also brought home Cesar Rivera for a 2-1 advantage.

Jackson State tied the game at 2-2 in the second when Aneko Knowles singled to right field to bring home Tillery.

Alabama State’s starting pitcher Normando Valentin left the game after the second inning and was relieved by Joseph Camacho. Valentin allowed four hits, two, runs, struck out one and walked none.

Camacho lasted three innings and allowed seven hits, three runs and struck out one.

Jackson State’s Desmond Russell lasted five innings and allowed 10 hits, six runs and struck out three. Russell also went 2-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored.

The Hornets broke the tie in the bottom of the third. After Estrada scored on a groundout, Dexter Price hit a two-run home run to left-center for a 5-2 lead.

The Tigers came back to tie the game in the fourth inning. Stephen Curtis hit a triple to right-center that brought home Tillery. Curtis then crossed home on a flyout to center. Gary Thomas scored the last run of the inning on Russell’s single.

Price broke the tie for Alabama State in the bottom of the fifth when he singled to center to score Emmanuel Marerro for a 6-5 lead.

With Jackson State up 8-6 in the sixth, the Hornets came within one of the lead when Raul Perez singled to score Estrada, who escaped the tag of Jackson State catcher Jose Cruz.