By T. Scott Boatright
MADISON, Ala. — Momentum swung back and forth as hard as the bats for both Grambling State and Jackson State in a winner’s bracket game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament.
That kind of game often boils down to the little things, and that’s what cost Grambling Thursday afternoon as the G-Men fell 14-13 after JSU scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Jackson State looked to have put GSU away early after five runs in the third inning put JSU on top 6-1.
And Grambling’s deficit became much worse in the bottom of the fifth after Jackson State plated seven more runs to build what seemed to many to be an insurmountable lead at 13-1.
But this game was only getting started.
Like a floored heavyweight pulling himself up the ropes and back to his feet after a second knockdown, Grambling came out swinging in top of the fifth, taking advantage of two JSU errors along with two hits to push across six runs to cut the JSU lead down to 13-7.
And “Old Mo” took the G-Men on an even more thrilling ride in the bottom of the seventh, as Grambling parlayed four hits, including a solo home run by Jordyn Smith to lead off the stanza and a two-out grand slam from Jahmoi Percival, into six runs that tied the game up at 13-13.
“We put ourselves in a hole with some walks, some bad baserunning mistakes, some routine errors missing the cut-off man, not backing up bases … it was bad,” said GSU head coach James Cooper. “Two baserunning mistakes hurt us because we could have scored runs that would have helped us later.”
But then came Grambling’s big sixth and seventh innings.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the most runs we’ve scored in back-to-back innings all year,” Cooper said. “And it came at a great time. But when you’re playing a very good opponent that typically doesn’t make mistakes and beat themselves, you can’t give teams like that huge leads. But that’s exactly what we did. At that point we had to make all of our bats ‘super-impactful’ because we were playing with such a large deficit.
“The biggest thing I’m proud of is that our guys didn’t quit. They showed fight and played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort, even though the scoreboard told them otherwise. A play or two here or there, and it’s a different outcome in the game.”
Things stayed tied heading into the bottom of the ninth. JSU’s first batter fouled out to left field, leaving the G-Men hoping to push the contest to extra innings.
That wouldn’t happen.
“Getting the leadoff batter out was a big sigh of relief because all of their big innings came when they were able to get the leadoff hitter on (base),” Cooper said. “We make a good pitch to the next batter, but he hits a chopper — a weak ground ball — to our third baseman. He had to jump to catch it, but I think he jumped too high. He didn’t have to jump as high as he thought he did, and the ball just didn’t hit in the spot of his glove where he wanted it to and he didn’t catch it. It was an infield hit. Then we tried to spin a ball on a certain count to the next batter and a wild pitch advanced the runner.
“We had the next hitter down 1-2 in the count. But we caught too much plate on the next pitch and the batter (Jatavious Melton) was able to put the barrel on the ball. He hit it hard right down the left field line past our third baseman for the game-winning run.”
The loss drops Grambling (12-26) into the loser’s bracket, where the G-Men will play Texas Southern (11-35) at 9 a.m. today.
Texas Southern defeated Alabama A&M 12-7 in a loser’s bracket game earlier Thursday.
“Looking at how they had to pitch, I think we’re one up on (TSU) pitching-wise,” Cooper said about TSU. “I do think we have a better offense. Good pitching and offense will put you in a good place. The thing I think we need to focus on bringing to the table (today against Texas Southern) is good defense (GSU committed four errors against Jackson State). We need to make routine plays in routine ways.”