19 May

familiar refrain

Jackson State went 24-0 in the SWAC, leads the league in batting (.316) and ERA (4.28), leads the nation in stolen bases (131) and enters the league tournament as the No. 1 seed. There is, however, another number stuck to the Tigers that’s not as sparkly. JSU’s RPI, per ncaa.com, is 96. If JSU doesn’t win the SWAC tourney in Madison, Ala., this week, the Tigers’ low RPI won’t rate an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. It’s a familiar refrain at JSU. The out-of-conference resume isn’t good enough. The Tigers were swept three straight to begin the season by a good Mercer team, then lost to nationally ranked Mississippi State and Ole Miss as well as Tulane and split two with Louisiana-Monroe. And since no other SWAC school ranks in the top 200 in RPI, the 24 conference wins don’t carry a lot of weight. So, the heat is on the Tigers to take the tourney title, which they haven’t done since 2014. Coach Omar Johnson, who has posted 15 straight winning seasons, said in an interview with WJTV-12 that his message to the players is “just stay in the moment … play and enjoy it.” He has a strong and balanced club that swept the league individual honors. Player of the Year Ty Hill is hitting .431, Chandler Dillard .367, Freshman of the Year Chenar Brown .357 with eight homers and 45 RBIs. Equon Smith, a .301 hitter, has 24 stolen bases and Jatavious Melton 22. Six Tigers have double-figure steals. Nik Galatas (9-2), Pitcher of the Year Anthony Becerra (8-1) and Mario Lopez (5-0) have been steady starters, Reliever of the Year Steven Davila (six saves, five wins) a rock in the bullpen. Johnson said he wants his pitchers to work fast and his baserunners to be aggressive, a formula that has worked exceedingly well. “We’ve been tested,” he said in the WJTV interview. “We’ve dealt with adversity and guys have come through.” P.S. The first HBCU World Series will be hosted by the Hank Aaron Sports Academy at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. The best-of-3 series between the SWAC and MEAC champions will be played from May 28-30. (NCAA regional bids go out May 31.) The event was organized by Black College Nines and BCSG 360, who held a Black College World Series for smaller schools earlier this spring in Montgomery, Ala. Rust College participated.

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