By T. Scott Boatright
Sometimes baseball is a game like chess — patience can be a virtue and can lead to a big win.
That’s the way things played out for Grambling State University Wednesday as the Tigers roared late to take an 8-2 victory over Alabama A&M Wednesday morning in a first-round Southwestern Athletic Conference Baseball Championship showdown at Toyota Field.
Cameron Bufford got Grambling on the scoreboard to open the bottom of the first inning as he blasted his 11th home run of the season, a left field solo blast to put the Tigers up, 1-0.
Alabama A&M evened the score in the third, scoring on a muffed throw by the catcher to get the Bulldogs on the board. Jason Alvarez answered back by striking out the next batter in the frame to end the inning.
The Tigers moved back on top again in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single from Caleb Clines that pushed across pinch runner Terry Tolliver, Jr.
Grambling scored three more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning as Bufford’s bat remained hot with his single to center field to start things off. Jahmoi Percival followed with a single to right field before GSU designated hitter Keylon Mack reached on an error prior to a two-RBI single up the middle from Joseph Gunn. Jeremy Almaguer hit an RBI single to right field to extend the Grambling advantage lead to 5-1.
Bufford was back at it in the bottom of the eighth inning as he blasted a towering two-run home run to deep left field. It was his 12th round homer of the season, making him the leader of the SWAC. Percival’s double to right field followed by an RBI single up the middle by Keylon Mack to score him secured the win 8-1 for the Tigers.
“We got a great start from Jason Alvarez. He was able to keep their hitters at bay until our offense got it together. Late in the game the offense got rolling — we got a chance to get some good swings on some good pitches. When one player can get a big hit to relax everybody, it wakes up the bats. I think that’s what Cam Bufford did for us today.”
Alvarez worked eight innings for the Tigers, picking up the win while striking out 10 Bulldogs.
Cooper admits he hopes to use the pitcher again later in the SWAC tourney.
“I can still ask for more, yes I can,” Cooper said, half-jokingly. “I need another eight innings and 10 strikeouts the next time he goes out there and I hope it’s on Sunday for the (SWAC) Championship game.”
Now Grambling, the No. 2 seed from the SWAC West, will take on Jackson State, the top seed from the SWAC East, at 3 p.m. today.
Jackson State stands at 31-8 overall, but Cooper still feels good about his team’s chances.
“I feel good especially knowing we had a chance to see those guys earlier this year,” Cooper said. “We got a split with them in the two regular-season games and we had a chance to watch them today. You could tell they were kind of pressing a bit. It could be their one seed. It could be their record. It could be being 24-0 in conference (games). Or it could have been they were facing a tough pitcher (in Texas Southern Cam Fields). Hopefully the guy we send out there will be the opposite of Fields and will put them in a funk offensively.”
That guy Cooper plans to send out to the mound for the Tigers is Antoine Valerio, who stands at 3-2 on the season with a 7.47 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
“We got that opening round and have some momentum,” Cooper said. “Now we just have to build on that. This is only just starting. We want to take this thing the distance.”