NCAA Baseball: Jackson State Tigers to face powerhouse LSU


Sports Reporter


THE Jackson State Tigers and its trio of Bahamian players now know the destination where their post-season Cinderella story will begin, in Louisiana as they take on a powerhouse of the Southeastern Conference.

Desmond Russell, Stephen Curtis, Aneko Knowles and Jackson State (34-20) will face the LSU Tigers (52-9) in the opening game of the NCAA Div I Regionals at Alex Box Stadium and Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at 2pm Friday, May 31.

The Tigers, searching for their first win in the NCAA tournament, are fresh off an SEC tournament championship after upsetting the top ranked Vanderbilt Commodores, the alma mater of pro baseball player Antoan Richardson.

JSU comes into the matchup with championship pedigree of their own with the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title. They were the lone member of the SWAC to gain a bid to the 64-team tournament field, while LSU is a member of a dominant SEC group that includes nine teams.

The NCAA Regional is a four-team, double elimination bracket played from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 2, or Monday, June 3, if game 7 is necessary.

All NCAA National Seeds games will be streamed online by ESPN3.

The Bahamian trio were key to the resurgence in the success of the JSU Programme which earned their first trip to NCAA baseball’s postseason tournament in 13 years.

Knowles, a junior outfielder, started in 46 of his 47 appearances this season. He hit .271, led the team with 26 stolen bases and four triples, finished third on the team with 36 runs scored, 19 RBI and an on base percentage of .377. On the mound, Knowles pitched his way to a 4-2 record in 10 appearances.

Curtis was also a regular in the starting lineup for 43 of his 47 appearances this year. Curtis hit .301, finished second on the team with 36 RBI and second with 13 doubles. He was fourth with 47 hits, 65 total bases and the led the team with 10 bunts as well.

The versatile Russell was on pace for a career season before he was sidelined by a knee injury 14 games into the season. He has already been pegged with high expectations headed into the season as SWAC preseason pitcher of the year.

At the plate, Russell hit .321 with 17 hits and a slugging percentage of .585 and still managed to finish second on the team with two home runs.

On the mound he was 3-0 in his three starts, including two complete games in nine appearances. He led the team with three saves, and finished second with 43 strikeouts.

The postseason berth was a particular blessing to Russell who had his regular season cut short, but now has an opportunity to shine against the nation’s best.

In an interview with David Brandt of the Associated Press, he expressed his relief to be back on the diamond.

“It feels great to come back and be able to help,” he said. “My teammates were behind me the whole time. You don’t get this opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament very often and I just wanted to be able to do something. Just watching was terrible.”

According to the NCAA, the national top eight seeds in the tournament are North Carolina (52-8), Vanderbilt (51-9), Oregon State (45-10), LSU (52-9), Cal State Fullerton (48-8), Virginia (47-10), Florida State (44-15) and Oregon (45-14).

The SEC led all conferences in the number of teams in the championship field with nine, while the Atlantic Coast Conference has eight.

The Pac-12 and Sun Belt conferences have four.

Making the tournament for the first time include Bryant of the Northeast Conference, Canisius of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference, Savannah State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and South Dakota State of the Summit Conference.

Overall, 31 of the 64 teams were in the field last year.

Miami (Florida) is in the field for the 41st consecutive year, extending its own record. Florida State is making its 36th consecutive appearance, second all time. Other long consecutive streaks: Cal State Fullerton (22), Rice (19) and South Carolina (14).

The 67th Men’s College World Series begins June 15 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.


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