JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A new tradition has emerged as the Jackson State baseball team continues its historic run in conference play this season.
“Coach (Omar) Johnson cooks either steaks, hamburgers or hot dogs every Monday after we sweep a weekend,” said JSU senior right fielder Chandler Dillard. “That’s been a little incentive that we’ve had.”
Unfortunately for Dillard and the hungry - in more ways than one - Tigers, the grill was untouched this week. Not because the Tigers failed to sweep a SWAC opponent for the first time this season, but because they didn’t play anyone this past weekend.
With COVID-19 still leaving somewhat of an imprint on the 2021 season, the SWAC schedule gave the Tigers the baseball-equivalent of a bye weekend. On top of that, JSU does not play a mid-week game this week due to final exams. So when it hits the road to open a series with Alabama A&M on Friday, it will be the first time Jackson State plays a baseball game in nine days.
“We scrimmaged a couple of times (over the weekend) and had some simulated games,” said Johnson. “So they got some at bats, it just wasn’t against outside competition.”
Whether it has been grilling burgers or throwing small batting practice sessions for the players between their studies, Johnson is trying a little bit of everything to keep his team motivated and in a rhythm. Having already all but locked up the program’s first SWAC regular season championship since 2006, the immediate goal now for the Tigers is to try and complete an undefeated conference season, but also to be playing their best baseball when they host the conference tournament in May.
The 18-0 conference record only begins to tell the tale of just how dominant JSU has been since SWAC play started.
Using conference-only statistics, the Tigers are currently first in team batting average (.314), on-base percentage (.434), fielding percentage (.963), earned run average (5.08) and opponent batting average (.238).
“Just coming out here, working hard and seeing it pay off, but it’s paying off maybe a little more than we expected it to,” laughed Dillard, who is one of three JSU players that has driven in more than 30 runs this season.
“It’s just fun that the idea that we’re the best team coach Johnson has had in a long time.”
At the same time, Dillard and the Tigers are not letting the numbers and records overtake their mind too much as they get set for a test against Alabama A&M. The Bulldogs were swept by JSU at Braddy Field back in March, but are now currently on a win-streak of their own, having recently swept both Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State.
Game one of the series will throw out its first pitch at 2 p.m. on Friday in Huntsville, AL.