My ESPN Preview, My New Favorite Player in College Baseball and other things of note from the SWAC Tournament

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on May 14th, 2014 in National stuff
 

SWAC-DesmondRussellPitch

 

Before I get to my couple of hours at the SWAC tournament, here’s my weekend preview for ESPN, which focuses on the “It’s Now or Never” teams. Click your mouse here.

I have a new favorite player in college baseball: Desmond Russell of Jackson State.

I got a chance to swing by the SWAC tournament in New Orleans today and saw J-State down Arkansas-Pine Bluff 7-1. Russell was the star of the show, throwing a complete-game five-hitter and also knocking in two RBI to help pace the 11-hit attack for the Tigers.

 

But it was Russell’s demeanor, pace and no-fear attack mode on the mound that I loved. He was no-nonsense, no-wasted-motions kind of guy. He would get the ball from catcher Jose Cruz and be ready to pitch so fast there were times when I wondered if the home plate umpire was even ready. As a fan, you’ve GOT to love that.

 

Russell also hit second in the Jackson State batting order and fielded the ball well from his position on the mound as UAPB laid down a couple of bunts and had a comebacker or two for him to make plays on.

 

I was talking with Prairie View A&M head coach Waskyla Cullivan during the game and he told me, “That guy is the reason Jackson State is so dangerous,” he said, while pointing at Russell.

 

“Man, he’s a senior and I’m going to be glad when he’s gone next year.”

 

Coach Cullivan also told me that Russell is a 26-year old senior with a wife and kid at home as well. Russell is a fun guy to watch and appreciate from the stands.

 

Oh, on a side note, Coach Cullivan had some interesting comments about his program as well, including the fact that Prairie View’s administrators built the Panther baseball program a whole new field with new dugouts and brick backstop just prior to this season.

 

The remainder of the project will be completed before next season with a covered grandstand, a press box and new concession stand and bathrooms. Here’s an artist’s rendition of what it will look like when it’s done.

 

SWAC-NewPVstadium

 

Coach Cullivan also told me the hiring of new coaches and the money that is starting to be put into programs all around the SWAC have made a huge difference in the quality of play from across the conference.

 

Unfortunately, the Prairie View team, just two years removed from making the NCAA Tournament, didn’t have quite the season they wanted to have, finishing 19-29 in the regular season and 11-12 in the SWAC. Cullivan said this year’s team just didn’t seem to gel together.

 

“It was a team of individuals,” Cullivan said. “We have talented guys but they just haven’t played together. In fact, I’ve had less talented teams win more in the past just by playing for each other and not for themselves.”

 

The Panthers lost their opening round game to Alabama A&M 11-5. By the way, another stunning fact about this year’s SWAC tourney, no Southern in the field of eight. The Jaguars finished dead last in the Western Division at 6-16 and 10-26 overall. That’s something you don’t expect to see out of a Roger Cador-coached team.

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WHAT I SAW AT THE URBAN YOUTH ACADEMY IN NEW ORLEANS

I only had a couple hours to spend but after I landed at Louis Armstrong International Airport (cool, an airport named after one of the greatest musicians of all time), I made my way to the Urban Youth Academy near UNO and got to see most of Jackson State’s 7-1 grinder over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

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LINESCORE:

Jackson State – 000 103 120 – 7  11  2

Ark-Pine Bluff – 000 000 010 – 1  5  1

 

PITCHING

WP: Desmond Russell, 8-4

LP: Mikey Ramirez, 6-5

Save: None

 

TOP HITTERS.

Tigers:

- Bryce Taylor, 2-for-4, 2RBI

- Desmond Russell, 1-for-4, HR, 2RBI

- Tilur Smith, 2-for-5

 

Golden Lions:

- Vladimir Gomez, 1-for-3

 

RECORDS:

- Jax State, 28-23

- UA-PB, 22-27

 

IN A NUTSHELL: 

Russell Desmond was one nasty warlock on the mound and also added a sonic boom of a home run in the 6th inning to pace the Tigers to a first round “upset” of UA-Pine Bluff. And I put upset in quotes because the Tigers came into the SWAC tournament as the 4th place team in the East, finishing the conference season with a 9-15 mark, and the Lions won the Western Division pennant with a 16-7 record.

 

But as you might’ve seen over the years, the SWAC tournament is crazy. It never goes as planned or according to seeding. So give the Tigers as good of a punchers’ chance as anyone here.

 

The two pitchers put up a pretty steady diet of zeroes through the first few innings before Jax State broke through with a run in the 4th inning. Bryce Taylor, the six-hole hitter for JSU, knocked in Melvin Rodriguez with a two-out single to get things started.

 

But the crusher came two innings later when Desmond, batting in the two-slot in the JSU order, sent an absolute rocket over the left field wall to start the inning off. It was one of those home runs that seemed to be rising even as it went over the fence.

 

Later in the inning, the Tigers added a couple of insurance runs as Bryce Taylor laced an RBI single through the right side, scoring Tilur Smith. Then JSU pulled off a double steal which allowed Jose Cruz to steal home from 3rd as Taylor slid into 2nd.

 

Jose Cruz skittles past UA-Pine Bluff catcher Mike Wieland on his steal of home.

Jose Cruz skittles past UA-Pine Bluff catcher Mike Wieland on his steal of home.

From there Desmond Russell just kept pounding the zone – as they say. He allowed just three hits and one unearned run the rest of the way. The key moment came in the 5th inning when the Lions looked to have something brewing with men on 1st and 3rd and the Lion bench becoming vocal. But Russell quelled the uprising with a  bucket of water as he induced Lion catcher Mike Wieland to ground into a rally-killing double play.

 

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PICS

A few more images from the J-State win.

Desmond Russell gets high-fives after getting out of a first-and-third with one out jam in the 5th inning.

Desmond Russell gets high-fives after getting out of a first-and-third with one out jam in the 5th inning.

 

Jose Hernandez makes a routine catch in right field. With the winds whipping as they were, even simple pop-ups became a bit of a circus.

Jose Hernandez makes a routine catch in right field. With the winds whipping as they were, even simple pop-ups became a bit of a circus.

 

Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach Carlos James huddles his team after falling behind 4-0 in the 6th inning.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach Carlos James huddles his team after falling behind 4-0 in the 6th inning.

 

Melvin Rodriguez, after slapping a leadoff double in the 7th.

Melvin Rodriguez, after slapping a leadoff double in the 7th.

 

A look at Wesley Barrow Stadium at the Urban Youth Academy.

A look at Wesley Barrow Stadium at the Urban Youth Academy.

 

Here's the view from behind the 1st base dugout. If there is one complaint of the facility, this vantage point is about the only place to take pictures without the netting of the backstop getting in the way.

Here’s the view from behind the 1st base dugout. If there is one complaint of the facility, this vantage point is about the only place to take pictures without the netting of the backstop getting in the way.

 

 

COMMENTS:

May 16, 2014 at 4:28 am
Go Gophers says:

Good for Jackson State. Glad they seem to have bounced back from the bus fire and losing most if not all of their equipment. Going to have to order one of their very nice looking hats, if their bookstore sells it. What a badass pitcher. 26, wife and kid, and just firing darts. Cool post.


May 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm
Roger L says:

Fantastic job as always on the finest blog in the ‘sphere, Eric, it’s an oasis for us college baseball devotees who would-if-we-could make it out to 300 games from March to June.
One thing about your comment on the netting getting in the way of your photos at the SWAC tourney—are we not heading for full netting down both 1st-3rd lines one day at all levels of baseball, even MLB, at some point in our lifetimes?? There’s going to be an incident to precipitate this at some point, and even as a purist, I’d feel better if teams/leagues acknowledged the dangers of foul balls (especially at kid-littered minor-league games) and invested in the netting. Frankly, i’m surprised there aren’t more incidents making headlines, but this has to be a debate that’s going to heat up…thoughts?