Alabama State and Texas Southern are the favorites to win the SWAC as tournament play begins today, though Jackson State — defending conference champions and Eastern Division foe Alabama A&M — figure to challenge for the league title.
Only three wins separated the top three teams in the Eastern Division this season. Reigning champion Jackson State will be looking for its third consecutive title. The Tigers have not won three straight SWAC championships since their 1993-95 streak. But as the No. 3 seed, they will have to get past East Division champions Alabama State. The pair are the only two teams this year to break through the 30-win barrier and ASU leads their series 4-2.
Texas Southern secured the No. 1 seed with a 16-7 conference record. The Tigers will be contending against No. 2 seed Alabama A&M for a chance at the title. SWAC Coach of the Year Mitch Hill has led his Bulldogs to their best finish in over five years. They closed out their conference season with a series win against Alabama State that snapped the Hornets 12-game win streak. It also marked the first time since 2010 Alabama A&M took a series from their rival.
No.2 Southern vs. No. 3 Jackson State
JSU and Southern are meeting for the third time this year. The Tigers took both of their previous meetings winning 11-5 on March 24 and 12-9 on April 7. Jackson State is led by player and hitter of the year Melvin Rodriguez. He comes into the tournament leading the league in several categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, hits, RBI, and total bases. JSU dropped to the three seed in the east after losing their final series to Alabama State. Having won only one of their last four games, the Tigers are looking to start hot in the postseason with Rodriguez and freshman of the year Jesus Santana.
Southern, on the other hand, comes into the tournament on a four game win streak, including a clean sweep of division rival Grambling State. They will look to all-conference selections DJ Wallace and Santos Saldivar to propel them past the defending champs. Wallace is batting a team-high .357 and leads the team in hits and RBI, and is second in the league in slugging percentage. Saldivar is the team’s ace on the mound. He leads the league in strikeouts and is top five in ERA.
No. 2 Alabama A&M vs. No.3 Grambling State
The two teams have not met in over six years. Alabama A&M won three of its last four conference series’ to earn the east’s No. 2 seed. They are led by all-conference senior Andrew Utterback and co-hitter of the year Julio Nunez. The pair are hitting .359 and .330, respectively, and combine for over a third of the team’s home runs.
Grambling State is looking to jump out of its slump. The Tigers have dropped six of their last seven games. All-SWAC selections Edwin Drexler and Roger Diaz are two of their biggest offensive threats. Drexler is deadly on the base path. He has stolen a team-high 26 bases this season, third most in the league. Diaz is second on the team in hits and RBI.
No. 1 Alabama State vs. No. 4 Prairie View A&M
This is the first meeting of the two teams since 2013 when they split 2-2 and Prairie View defeated the Hornets twice to advance to the tournament championship. ASU is looking for its first title in program history after collecting their second consecutive east division title. They are relying on the arm of starter Joseph Camacho to help get them there. The SWAC pitcher of the year went a perfect 11-0 this season, striking out a team-high 72 batters. All-SWAC outfielder Cesar Rivera will be key for the offense. Hitting .402, he is top three in eight statistical categories across the league and leads the SWAC in runs scored.
Prairie View will look to its all-around top player Grant Dougherty to help fuel an upset. Doing double duty this season, the outfielder leads the team in hitting (.318 avg), stolen bases (23-of-30), and is also an all-conference reliever on the mound. He boasts a team-best 2.92 ERA in 14 appearances with a 2-0 record and three saves under his belt.
No.1 Texas Southern vs. NO.4 Alcorn State
This is the first meeting of these two teams since last year’s tournament when Texas Southern downed the Braves 5-4 in 10 innings. TSU has won seven of its last eight games coming into the tournament. The Tigers are led by all-conference shortstop Robert Garza. He is batting .372 with a team-high 51 hits, 10 doubles, four triples and four home runs. Starter Frank Cruz IV has paced the Tigers bullpen. He has a team-best 56 strikeouts in 67 innings and is tied for the team-high in wins.
Alcorn State took its final series against Mississippi Valley State University to earn its playoff berth. The Braves won all four of their last conference games and will look to all-conference outfielder Scotty Peavey and newcomer of the year Collin Carrol to help the team advance to the winner’s bracket. Peavey has a team-best .356 batting average and is tied with Carroll, who is hitting .345 this season.