JACKSONVILLE — Jim Case calls himself a “stat rat,” and make that an emotional stat rat after Jacksonville State’s amazing run through the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament.
In fact, the JSU coach didn’t want to sell his team’s accomplishment short, so he did something unusual for a coach Monday. After watching the NCAA tournament selection show with his team, he addressed the Gamecocks more about the OVC tourney than the NCAA tourney.
Look ahead, yes.
For sure, he said the Gamecocks are not done yet. But don’t forget to enjoy what just happened in Jackson, Tenn., over the previous five days. It was special.
It was so special that the “stat rat” cooked up a Stat Ratatouille special and served it up for his players.
We’ve all heard that JSU became the first team to win six games in a row in OVC tourney history, coming out of the elimination bracket to win. Did you know JSU faced every closer in the tournament and batted .331, despite getting just two hits in the tourney-opening loss to Eastern Illinois?
Opponents hit .196 against JSU.
JSU hit 17 doubles to four for opponents, had 46 RBIs to 19 for opponents, had 15 two-out RBIs and hung a 6.49 ERA on opposing pitchers.
We’ve all heard that the full pitching staff was named the tournament’s MVP. Did you hear that, over seven games, JSU had a team ERA of 2.14?
That’s a full point and change under Pi, and JSU lived the life of Pi in making it happen. Through winning six elimination games, played at elimination-bracket times with elimination-bracket heat over four days, the Gamecocks sucked down so many fluids they didn’t want to eat, Case said.
It all led to Case’s message. Come this weekend, the Gamecocks just have to play like they’ve already played to have a solid chance in the NCAA regional they earned the historically hard way.
“What you’ve already done, truthfully, is a story,” Case told his team. It’s a story of resiliency.
The Gamecocks’ loss to EIU ended about 10 p.m. Wednesday, and then the elimination-bracket odyssey started at 11 a.m. Thursday. The loss to EIU was a gut punch.
JSU got only two hits but had two runners on with two outs in the ninth. Paschal Petrongolo ripped a ball down the left-field line and into the corner. The ball rolled under a fence that didn’t quite touch the ground, so JSU was left with a ground-rule double, one run and runners on second and third bases.
Next man up, Ryan Sebra, struck out to end the game.
“We went from being certainly tied to losing the game in about 45 seconds,” Case said. “So, it was a major, major disappointment.”
Against SIU-Edwardsville the next day, JSU was down 5-4 going into the ninth inning.
“So, you’re looking at two-and-out, and they just battled,” Case said. “They just found a way. And then, with every step that went after that, it seemed like we were just feeding off of each other.”
Pinch hitters got in on the act. Joe McGuire, the freshman from Oxford, came to bat with JSU trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning of the winner-take-all game against Tech on Sunday and singled in the game-tying run.
“That just changed the whole feeling of the game,” Case said.
McGuire fought through a 10-pitch at bat against Tech closer Seth Lucio.
“I just went up there with the mentality of, I knew he was going to throw a fastball,” McGuire said. “That’s their guy, and I knew he wanted to throw it, and I just went up there with the mentality that, ‘This man is not going to beat me’.”
JSU’s pitching staff had that attitude the whole tournament.
“Casey Antley threw a complete game,” Case said. “He’s been here four years and never done that. Adam Polk, seven innings? C’mon, that’s hard to expect, right there, after he had already pitched in the tournament, maybe a couple of hitters? You can’t expect that.
“(Taylor) Shields taking the ball on one day’s rest and giving us four innings, so that we can save (Zachary) Fowler and let him pitch on three days’ rest on championship day? I mean, how unselfish, and he’s just gutting it out, and he did a great job of giving us four innings of nothing so that we could get the game going under control.
“We couldn’t do it without that, or (closer Travis) Stout pitching in five out of the seven games. I don’t even know if he gave up a hit.”
Case ultimately settled on “team accomplishment” as the simple way to describe how JSU earned its extended season, but not even that does it justice.
“You have to have people do extraordinary things,” he said. “That’s what they did.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.