MARION — Could Jacksonville State be this year’s Tennessee Tech, the team that comes out of the Ohio Valley Conference to make a major splash in the postseason?
The tale on that story will begin to be told next weekend, but one thing’s for certain. The Gamecocks will enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams, and with a resume that suggests they have the ability to make some TV league squads nervous.
Feasting on second-line pitching from Morehead State in the middle innings Saturday, Jacksonville State notched its 12th straight win with a 10-3 decision for the OVC Tournament title at Rent One Park.
It will be the fifth NCAA tourney appearance in coach Jim Case’s 18 years with the Gamecocks. An argument can be offered that they could make a run similar to Tennessee Tech’s a year ago. The Golden Eagles reached a super-regional and took Texas to a third game before losing in Austin.
“We can do what Tennessee Tech did last year,” Case said. “Can we? That’s the question. But I can tell you that what Tennessee Tech did has opened our eyes to make us believe it’s possible. Kind of like Roger Bannister finally running a four-minute mile.”
Jacksonville State (37-21) owns non-conference wins over No. 7 Georgia and at Auburn, which figures to snag an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks are 17-10 in road or neutral site games, and boast a No. 1 starter in Garrett Farmer (5-1, 2.24) who in 100 2/3 innings, has fanned 104 and walked 12.
Morehead State coach Mike McGuire sounded like an eager buyer for the argument that Jacksonville State can put the OVC in the college baseball spotlight again.
“They have a number one starter who can go win the first game,” he said. “And they have a potent offense. With the right matchups, in the right region, they’re capable of doing what Tennessee Tech did last year.”
Entering the OVC event as its regular season champion, Jacksonville State used the double bye to good advantage. It edged Belmont 6-5 Thursday before cruising past Austin Peay 8-2 on Friday, a far easier path than the one Morehead State took.
After losing on Wednesday to Eastern Kentucky, the Eagles won three games in as many days, but waded through their pitching staff to do so. They were forced to start a reliever, lefthander David Looney, against the Gamecocks.
Looney held up for three innings and Morehead State (40-21) actually took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth on an infield out by Dom Peroni that scored Trevor Snyder. But Jacksonville State took charge with four in its half of the fourth.
Isaac Alexander laced the first of three extra-base hits in the inning, a triple that plated Nic Gaddis to tie it. Devin Brown’s RBI double untied it, and a two-run double to left-center by Carson Crowd made it 4-1.
Brown struck again in the fifth with a two-out, two-run single, a grounder through the left side that upped the margin to 6-1. Two more runs in the sixth basically made the game’s remainder a long slog to the 27th out.
That finally happened when Stephen Hill bounced into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. Reliever Corley Woods fired both arms in the air before the pivot was even made, and launched his glove high into the humid air as the ball slapped the first baseman’s glove.
Alexander went 3 for 5 with a double in addition to his triple, while Brown added three hits and three RBI. Catcher Alex Webb, who doubled and added a sacrifice fly, was selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Dylan Hathcock (3-0) worked 6 2/3 innings to bag the win, scattering nine hits and allowing two runs. He walked none and whiffed six.