OXFORD, Miss. --- Jacksonville State had a friend in fate during last weekend’s Ohio Valley Conference tournament. The Gamecocks might have a friend in Mother Nature for the NCAA tournament.
Friday's openers in the NCAA Oxford Regional, which includes JSU, were postponed because of rain. The Washington-Georgia Tech game will move to 1 p.m. Saturday, and JSU will play Ole Miss at 5 p.m.
The NCAA manual dictates that the regional use a 2-3-2 format, with two games on Saturday, three on Sunday and the championship round, with a possible “if” game, on Monday. Sunday's games will be at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday's games would be at 2 and 7 p.m.
Play was scheduled to start Friday with a 3 p.m. game between Georgia Tech and Washington. JSU and host Ole Miss were to play at 7 p.m. After two hours of rain delay, NCAA officials announced a tentative start time of 6 p.m. for the Washington-Georgia Tech game, but the postponement announcement came shortly after 6 p.m.
Forecasts called for 60 percent chance of rain in the Oxford area Friday, and the threat of approaching rain prompted the grounds crew to pull the tarp back over the infield after the tarp had been removed.
JSU’s team remained at its hotel until after Friday’s postponement was announced. The Gamecocks came to campus for a 7:15 p.m. batting and throwing session in Ole Miss’ indoor football practice facility and the Swayze Field indoor batting cage.
The unexpected day off came less than a week after the Gamecocks played seven games in five days in the OVC tourney. After losing the opener to Eastern Illinois, JSU became the first team to win six consecutive OVC tourney games.
They claimed the league’s automatic NCAA bid and got an extra day off, to boot.
“We’ll take it,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “We played a lot of baseball last weekend. The pitching staff, being honest with you, I probably stressed it a little bit.
“We had to. I don’t know if we could have been here without doing that, so, as I told them. We’ll take this. I don’t think it does anything but help.”
The day off most helped pitcher Zachery Fowler, who is due to get the start against Ole Miss. Fowler had to work twice in the OVC tourney, including the clinching game Sunday in Jackson, Tenn.
“It’s not bad for us; that’s for sure,” Fowler said. “I think I’m back on schedule now. I think I’m going on, what, four days’ rest now?
“So, it’s good for me. Another day rest is just good for my arm.”
JSU learned of its NCAA tourney destination Monday, less than 24 hours after completing its historic run through the OVC tourney. Case gave the Gamecocks off Monday, except for the pitchers during their normal run.
They left Jacksonville on Wednesday and went through practice and press conferences Thursday. On Friday, they wound up in a holding pattern at the team hotel, awaiting the NCAA’s decision.
While the extra day’s rest was good for JSU physically, they were ready to get started with the NCAA tourney shot they earned.
“Actually, I think our guys wanted to play today more than anything,” Fowler said. “I think we wanted to strap it up, and another day?
“It’s good for our bodies, but I think, like I said, we wanted to play, and tomorrow is just, we’ve got to hold it all in another day.”
Probably nobody wanted to play more than the third and fourth hitters in JSU’s lineup. No. 3 hitter Griff Gordon has 96 hits this season to tie the single-season school record and rank fourth nationally. No. 4 hitter Paschal Petrongolo is on a personal-season-best 11-game hitting streak.
“We definitely protect each other (in the lineup),” Gordon said. “I didn’t know how many hits I had until they gave us the book for this tournament. Hopefully, I can get a few more hits in this tournament.”
Gordon leads the Gamecocks with a .376 batting average.
“Griff, he’s been about as steady as you can be” Case said. “There’s been other guys that you can say, ‘Oh man, this guy is hot.’ Griff is pretty steady.”
“It’s almost like, if he goes hitless, it’s like, whoa. Who is that guy (pitcher)? He must have some pretty good stuff.”
Petrongolo goes hotter and colder, Case said, but is actually hotter than his recent numbers indicate.
“He had a good (OVC) tournament, but he got just robbed a couple of times where he hit missiles right at people,” Case said.
The hot-hitting Petronogolo said he had mixed feelings about the extra day off JSU got Friday in Oxford.
“It helps us just because of how many games we played last weekend, but we were ready to go,” he said. “We were looking forward to this game a lot.
“We’re hoping to get our first regional win, so we’re just fired up and ready to go.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.