JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State’s baseball team just did the unthinkable, winning six straight games in four days to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament out of the elimination bracket.
Now, the Gamecocks hope to build on that in the NCAA Oxford (Miss.) Regional.
The OVC’s automatic bid won JSU (36-25) a showdown with host Ole Miss (41-18) on Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN3, which is an online-only branch of the network. Ole Miss will carry the double-elimination four-team regional’s top seed, and JSU will be the No. 4 seed.
Second-seeded Washington (39-15-1) and No. 3-seeded Georgia Tech (36-25) will play at 3 p.m. Friday.
The Oxford Regional winner will play the Lafayette (La.) Regional winner in a best-of-three Super Regional. Louisiana-Lafayette is the No. 6 national seed and would host, if the Ragin’ Cajuns advance.
The NCAA tournament concludes with the College World Series, which starts June 14 in Omaha, Neb.
The NCAA field of 64 was announced Monday, less than 24 hours after JSU concluded its improbable OVC tourney run with a 4-2 victory over Tennessee Tech in Jackson, Tenn.
JSU became the first school in OVC history to win six straight games in the league tournament. After losing 2-1 to Eastern Illinois on Wednesday night to fall into elimination bracket, JSU reeled off its longest winning streak of the season, beating SIU-Edwardsville 7-5, Eastern Illinois 13-2, Morehead State 7-1, Southeast Missouri State 6-2 and Tech twice, 10-7 and 4-2.
Now, the Gamecocks have to move on and gear up for the NCAA tourney. JSU coach Jim Case said the way the OVC tourney worked out could be a “true blessing” because of the momentum and confidence going forward.
“If we would have won the thing straight through (the winners’ bracket), a lot of lessons that we’ve talked about, we really wouldn’t know about those,” he said. “I think there’s a reason for a lot of things that happen, and maybe that was the reason that happened."
Case gave position players Monday off after they batted .331 as a team through the OVC tournament. The pitching staff that got JSU through the weekend and was collectively named the tourney's most valuable player had to make their normal run.
“If I had to call a normal practice today, they might have revolted,” Case said. “It was tough. We weren’t in war, or something like that, but it was tough to do. It’s burning up hot. We’re trying to pour fluids down them the whole time. It makes it hard for them to want to eat because we poured so much fluid in them.
“That was an easy decision. The hard one was making pitchers come out there to run, which they’ve got to do.”
The Gamecocks watched televised coverage of the NCAA selection show on the media and suite level of JSU Stadium. They waited through nearly the entire show before the Oxford Regional pairings were announced.
The Ole Miss-JSU matchup drew applause, followed quickly by hush as the Washington-Georgia Tech matchup was announced. What’s next for JSU became real quickly.
“Right now, we’re just focused on one game at a time,” said Zachary Fowler, who worked 7 2/3 innings on three days’ rest to be the winning pitcher of the OVC final. “We feel that we can play with anybody in the country right now. Our offense is swinging the bat well. Our pitching staff is almost, like, it’s hard to believe what we’re doing right now. It’s fun to be around and fun to experience.
“Going into this week, we just want to play ball.”
Case, a member of Mississippi State’s staff before coming to JSU, has coached at Swayze Field many times. He has seen this year’s Ole Miss team on TV multiple times.
“It’ll be a lot of fun, and I really think it will be fun because I don’t think we’ll be intimidated,” Case said. “It’s one of the beauties of having an older team.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.