After a 10-year hiatus, Southern University baseball claimed the program’s first Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title since 2009 with a dominant 15-0 shutout of Alabama State Sunday afternoon at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
Tyler LaPorte, who shared the league’s Player of the Year award with Alabama State’s Yasil Pagan, capped a phenomenal SWAC tournament with a 2 of 4 performance, which included three runs scored and a three-RBI home run in the top of the sixth inning.
Southern pitcher Eli Finney made his second start of the tournament and baffled Hornet hitters from the start, pitching 8 and 1/3 innings, allowed no runs and scattered three hits. Finney fanned six hitters while the SWAC’s 2019 Relief Pitcher of the Year, Connor Whalen, entered in the bottom of the ninth to close the game. Whalen forced Alabama State shortstop Eriq White to groundout to Malik Blaise at short to ignite a post-championship dogpile that was 10-years in the making.
Finney only allowed five Alabama State baserunner and Alabama State failed to land a runner in scoring position until shortstop Cristopher DeGuzman reached second base on a passed ball in the bottom of the eighth.
Centerfielder Javeyan Williams and second baseman Johnny Johnson led Southern with four hits each and combined to score five runs and plate four RBIs. Catcher Bobby Johnson finished 3 of 5 at the plate and hit a two-run blast over the left field wall to spark Southern’s offensive onslaught.
The Jaguars belted out 16 hits and left absolutely no doubt who wanted the championship more.
Southern landed the first blow thanks to an RBI double by Ashanti Wheatley that scored Tyler LaPorte, who drew a leadoff walk. However, the Hornets ended the damage there as Hunter David flied out and Wheatley was tagged out at third following the ensuing throw-in.
After a 1-2-3 inning, the Jaguars added to the lead with Johnson’s two-run blast to lead 3-0. The sides traded scoreless innings until the top of the fifth, where the Jaguars added to their lead. There, Coby Taylor was hit by a pitch and Javeyan Williams laid down a bunt, beating the tag at first before LaPorte dropped a flare to right for a two-run triple.
Johnny Johnson scored LaPorte on a double down the left field line and stole third, scoring on an RBI sac fly by David. LaPorte later put the contest out of reach with a three-run shot over the left field wall and with the Hornets unable to figure out Southern starter Eli Finney, the Jaguars added five runs for insurance down the stretch, cruising to their first SWAC tournament championship since 2009.
Southern will head to Chicago for a post-season exhibition tune-up in the inaugural HBCU World Series against North Carolina A&T Thursday afternoon before learning where they will play in NCAA Regional on May 31.
By Christopher K. Jones