Jackson State seniors provide path to perfect record
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - There may have not been a more perfect moment to the end of perfect conference record for the Jackson State baseball team.
Leading Mississippi Valley State 9-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday, the question was no longer if JSU was going to win its 24th SWAC game, but when. Wesley Reyes answered that with a de facto three-run walk-off home run to run rule the Delta Devils, 12-1. Perfection now complete, the entire Tiger team was waiting to maul Reyes - one of nine JSU seniors - at home plate.
“When I hit it, I knew it was gone,” recalled Reyes on Monday. “It was great because it was my last at-bat (at home).”
This time, Reyes is for sure it was the final time he stepped in the batters box in a game at Braddy Field. JSU’s regular season is completed and now all that’s left is a trip to the SWAC Tournament in two weeks and maybe a regional at Mississippi State, Ole Miss or elsewhere after that. It’s a far cry from the last time Reyes and the rest of the Tiger’s senior class thought they had played their final game.
That came back in March of 2020 when all of sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought I was going to go out and work,” said senior centerfielder C.J. Newsome. “If they give me a chance to play, I’m going to play until my legs fall off.”
Thankfully for Newsome and the rest, the NCAA passed a one-time waiver last summer allowing for all players to regain their 2020 year of eligibility for 2021 and nine Jackson State seniors took that offer. That has been a blessing for head coach Omar Johnson who has always relied on veteran leadership throughout his JSU tenure, but did so even more this season considering that the team was not allowed to practice together last fall.
“These guys stepped up and they led the team the entire way,” Johnson explained. “Not able to have a fall made it more important that these guys were able to come back and show the younger guys how we do things. They played a major role in the success that we’ve had.”
It’s because of that importance that made the 15 minutes before first pitch all the more special for Johnson. All nine seniors, once thought to not get to experience a Senior Day, lined up in front of home plate and showered with applause from a crowd at Braddy Field for their achievements at Jackson State.
But those celebrations are short-lived. There is still work to be done in the conference tournament for a senior class that has not experience a postseason regional in the five years they have been on campus.
“We’re looking forward to winning the (SWAC) championship and I believe in my team,” senior pitcher Mario Lopez said. “It was a really good season we had and we have a really good group of guys and I believe we can go far.”
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