OXFORD — Jim Case figured if his freshman shortstop could field his position without any issues, that was plenty.
The Jacksonville State coach wasn't counting on Isaac Alexander to swing the bat as well as he has — much less deliver the most dramatic hit of the young baseball season.
JSU defeated visiting Radford 4-2 on Friday when Alexander ripped a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, setting off a joyous celebration in the Gamecocks' dugout as the players spilled out and rushed to the plate to greet a happy Alexander.
“This is huge for him, and he’ll never forget it,” Case said. “He’s going to be in this situation a lot in the future, and he’ll always remember this. It won’t be, ‘I think I can do it.’ He’ll say he knows he can do it because he did it in the fifth game of his college career.”
Through five games for the Gamecocks (4-1), Alexander has fielded 25 chances at shortstop without making an error, and that fulfills Case’s biggest mission. But at the plate, Alexander already has six hits and seven RBIs.
None was bigger than Friday night’s blast, reversing what had been a tough day for the freshman. In three previous at-bats, he had struck out twice and lined out to third base.
With Radford reliever Austin Ross on the mound and runners on first and second, Alexander worked the count to 2-2 before getting a curve ball a little bit above belt high that he could handle.
“He hung a curve ball,” Alexander said, adding that he thought that’s what Ross might throw him in that situation.
“If it was down, I was going to let it go,” he said. “But he hung, and I hit it.”
Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, Jacksonville State trailed 2-0. Clayton Daniel slugged a double to right-center field, scoring Nolan Greckel from first base and cutting the advantage to 2-1. In the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Naismith singled to the outfield, and Nic Gaddis got hit with the first pitch he saw.
That set up the chance for Alexander, who said the feeling of rounding the bases after such a big hit was “unreal.”
“It was great to see the team go crazy. It was good to get that hit for them,” said Alexander, who added that his last game-ending home run came last year as a Muscle Shoals High School senior against Hartselle.
On the mound, JSU starter Garrett Farmer worked six innings, allowing only a two-run homer to Spencer Horwitz in the third inning. Freshman reliever Sean Rape — who Case said he has plenty of confidence in — got two outs in the seventh but loaded the bases. With the count at 2-0, Case brought in Austin Brewster, a junior.
Brewster (1-0) got out of the inning without any damage. He wound up working 2⅓ innings and allowing only a single.
It all helped make up for a bizarre bottom of the third inning in which JSU got four walks and a hit batter but failed to score. Two batters who walked got caught stealing.
“That’s something you look at and say, ‘Boy, it’s going to be one of those games,’” Case said.
JSU will play a doubleheader today at noon against Radford (2-3), who is coached by former Alabama assistant Joe Raccuia. Radford made the NCAA tournament last year and two of the last three seasons.