By T. Scott Boatright
The roller coaster ride of the 2021 regular season for the Grambling State Tigers baseball team is done.
Now the G-Men move on to postseason thrills as they open Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament today at Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama.
Grambling (15-25 overall, 12-9 SWAC) is the No. 2 seed from the conference’s West Division and will open tourney play against Alabama State (9-18, 9-13 SWAC), the No. 3 seed from the East Division, at 9 a.m. today.
GSU head coach James Cooper plans to send Jason Alverez (3-4 with a 6.34 ERA and a team-high 64 strikeouts) to the mound to start the tourney opener for his Tigers against Alabama State.
“Jason Alvarez is going to have to come in hot,” Cooper said during a Tuesday night phone call. “He’s going to have to pound the strike zone and locate in and out with his fast ball. He’s going to have to be able to spin it for a good strike.”
Cooper said his Tigers will also need to be solid on defense and, “last but not least,” execute at the plate.
“I think we have been swinging the bats extremely well for the majority of the season, but when it’s tournament time those opponents you go up against do also have more of an extra incentive to make pitches and make plays,” Cooper said.
“The thing is, I like where we’re at offensively and I like where we’re at defensively, but I think this tournament is going to be predicated on how well we pitch to see how well we play down here.”
Cooper said he likes the way his Tigers line up in the eight-team tournament field.
“I like the matchup with everybody,” Cooper said of the tournament field. I think Jackson State, ourselves and Alabama State are the teams that can win in all three phases of the game — pitching, offense and defense. I think all three teams can win in many different ways as far as the ‘small ball’ game or the ‘long ball’ game. I think all three of us possess that.
“We’re not on the same side of the bracket as Alabama State, so if we do see them, it’ll mean it’s been a good tournament because it will be in the championship.”
Cooper doesn’t seem daunted by Jackson State’s 31-8 overall record and 24-0 mark in conference play.
“We were the only team in our conference to beat Jackson State this year,” Cooper said. “So I like our matchup with them even though they beat us at our place, we were able to beat them at a place they hadn’t lost all year, and that’s at their home field.
“With everything that’s transpired this year and the season Jackson State has had, with us traveling to Alabama State, we’re actually the only team from the (SWAC) West Division that played both of those teams. So we have that feather in our cap of knowing what to expect if we get on the field with Jackson State. I like our chances against both of those teams.”
Grambling’s roller coaster of a season saw the Tigers lose their opening 12 games before going 14-6 in their next 20 contests.
But then GSU’s coaster seemed to leave the tracks as the Tigers dropped five of their last six regular season games with the scheduled season-ending doubleheader slated to be played at Dallas Baptist being rained out..
“I think the down week last week because of the rainout with Dallas Baptist has allowed us to recharge our batteries so to speak,” Cooper said. “We had four position players that played in all 40 regular season games. Those guys got a chance to get a break when we normally couldn’t because of how much they mean to our offense and to help them keep their timing down.
“You don’t want to go into tournament play on a losing streak. But unfortunately that’s the hand we have dealt ourselves. I’m excited about where we are. We seem to be a tad more healthy than we’ve been in a while. So we’re ready to play.”