In both games of Saturday’s doubleheader at Lee-Hines Field, the Southern baseball team built big leads over Prairie View and seemed to be headed for a stress-free finish.
In both games, the Jaguars allowed the Panthers to make things interesting.
“Thankfully, we had Drew to come in and close them,” Southern coach Roger Cador said.
Southern closer Josh “Drew” Powell was certainly the face of Southern’s doubleheader sweep, entering in the ninth inning of both games and earning a save each time.
Powell closed the door on a 7-5 win in the first game, then came back hours later to seal a 5-3 victory.
Jesse “Doc” Holiday and Jose De Leon were both sharp in the doubleheader as Southern raced to big leads — but Prairie View finally got to Holiday in the eighth inning of the first game, and De Leon left the second game after working 6.2 innings because his pitch count had reached 120-plus.
“My mindset when I went out there was basically to finish the game for the starters,” Powell said. “Jose and Jesse both pitched great games, and I just wanted to finish the game for them.”
Southern, coming off a three-game sweep of Grambling last weekend, entered its final series of Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division play as the division’s top team.
The fact Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View and Texas Southern have divisional games to play beyond this weekend makes it tough to know how the race will shake out, but Southern can take a huge step toward winning the regular-season West title, and securing a No. 1 seed in the SWAC tournament, by beating the Panthers on Sunday to complete a series sweep.
The series finale will start at noon — not 1 p.m., as originally scheduled — as Southern (19-17, 14-9) and Prairie View (19-20, 8-9) attempt to beat inclement weather in the Sunday forecast.
“We want to take a stand at the end of the season,” Cador said. “We want to let people know we’re coming.”
SOUTHERN 7, PRAIRIE VIEW 5: Tyler Kirksey and Brian Rowry had two doubles apiece, leading a Southern offense that had six doubles — out of 12 hits — as a team.
The Jaguars rocked Prairie View starter Johnathan Mata for seven runs in the first three innings.
Rowry had a two-run double in the first to start the scoring. Kirksey’s three-RBI double in the third, followed by Marcus Tomlin’s sacrifice fly, put the Panthers in a 7-0 hole.
“I think the team came out with some confidence, knowing we’d played these guys several times and we knew what their pitchers had,” Southern outfielder Sean Washington said.
Meanwhile, Holiday allowed only three hits until the eighth, when a sacrifice fly by Brett Valley and an RBI double by Colby Hines helped Prairie View cut the deficit to five runs.
The Panthers scored three times in the ninth and were threatening to do more damage, but Powell induced a 6-4-3 double play with two on and one out.
SOUTHERN 5, PRAIRIE VIEW 3: Southern did all its scoring in the fifth inning, breaking a scoreless tie by getting to Prairie View starter Stef Hernanadez and bringing 10 batters to the plate.
Washington scored Jose De La Torre with a single, followed by Jeremy Lopez’s two-run double to make it 3-0. Caleb Hatcher and Marcus Tomlin then came through with back-to-back RBI singles.
A.J. Helms got two straight outs out of the bullpen to help Prairie View avert further damage.
De Leon only allowed one run on three hits, but Cador kept an eye on on the junior right-hander’s pitch count.
“When he got over 120 pitches, I decided I wasn’t going to take any chances,” Cador said.
Prairie View got back in the game in the ninth, when reliever Santos Saldivar gave up a two-run homer to Andre Oliver with nobody out.
But Powell again saved the day, retiring the next three Prairie View batters in order.