Plenty at stake as Southern, Prairie View meet at Lee-Hines

The last time the Prairie View baseball team left Lee-Hines Field, the Panthers were celebrating a 7-4 victory over Mississippi Valley State to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament and earn an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.

There will be no such stakes for Southern and Prairie View when they meet on The Bluff this weekend, but the winner of the series could very well win the Western Division title and lock up a No. 1 seed in this year’s SWAC tournament.

The three-game series starts with a doubleheader at noon Saturday. The finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

“Who would have thought with all we’ve been through that we’d been where we are right now?” Southern coach Roger Cador said. “We have a chance to be in a position where we control our own destiny.”

Key injuries have hounded a Southern team that was unable to practice at Lee-Hines during the preseason becuase of renovations to the infield.

But a sweep of rival Grambling helped the Jaguars (17-17, 12-9) move from fourth place to first in a Western Division race that has always been anyone’s to win.

Even now, with the regular season winding down, it’s hard to predict how the standings will shake out.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View and Texas Southern all remain within striking distance of Southern, and all three — unlike Southern, which wraps up the SWAC West portion of its schedule this weekend — have makeup games still to play.

Prairie View (19-18, 8-7) travels to UAPB (15-25, 9-7) next weekend for a three-game series. Texas Southern (17-21, 9-9) visits Grambling.

“We’ve just got to take care of what we have to do this weekend,” Southern pitcher Danny Garcia said. “We can only control what we do in these three games. That’s the only thing we’re looking at right now.

After entering the SWAC tournament as the West champ last year, Southern had a chance to reach its first NCAA tournament since 2009 by handling business on its home field.

But the Jaguars were out of the running in three days.

By the time Prairie View played Valley in the title game, Garcia said most of the Jaguars, himself included, had headed home for the summer.

They couldn’t bear to watch.

“We were the No. 1 seed going in there and were rolling,” Garcia said. “It was embarrassing the way we went out.”

Despite sporting a record around the .500 mark for most of the season, Southern could be in position to make better memories in Fort Worth, Texas, next month.

Third baseman Caleb Hatcher was the latest Jaguar to come back from an injury, as he returned to the lineup Tuesday night against Loyola. Outfielder Sean Washington, sidelined in recent weeks because of a leg ailment, is due back this weekend.

Meanwhile, the starting rotation of Jesse “Doc” Holiday, Jose De Leon and Garcia is coming off its best collective performance of the season.

Holiday and De Leon combined to go 17.1 innings against Grambling without surrendering an earned run. Garcia worked 7.1 innings in the Sunday game, allowing three runs on three hits.

But Cador said it will be hard to expect those kind of outings from all three once again.

“The thing that concerns me is, we extended all three of our starters this past weekend,” Cador said. “They might not be as sharp.”

Dominique Harris is batting .317 with five homers, 31 RBIs and a .504 slugging percentage to lead Prairie View. Greg Salcid carries a .341 average with one homer.

Southern won two of three at Prairie View last month, rebounding from a 3-2 loss in the series opener.