JACKSONVILLE — It's good news, bad news, good news, bad news and good news for Jacksonville State's baseball team.
The good news for the group is nobody had to be on campus at 3 a.m. Thursday for a trip to the airport.
The bad news? The Gamecocks didn't have to go to the airport because their season-opening, three-game series at Baylor was canceled. Baylor's home in Waco, Texas, is suffering because of winter weather issues, ranging from whether the field would be playable to whether the hotel that the Gamecocks booked could accommodate them.
The good news? Through JSU coach Jim Case and assistant coaches Evan Bush and Mike Murphree working the phones, they've put together a four-team round-robin at Jim Case Stadium for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Southern Illinois, Tennessee Tech and Alabama State were all searching for games, so they're heading to Jacksonville to play some baseball against each other and the Gamecocks.
The bad news? JSU has lost a chance to play against a Power 5 Conference school in Baylor.
The good news? Who cares who the opponent is, because it's a chance to play baseball. About 49 weeks ago, the Gamecocks saw their season get canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they're allowed to hit the field and play.
"I think probably as much as any year that I can remember, the excitement to play is really high," Case said before practice this week.
Apparently, the winter weather issues across the country left plenty of teams looking for a place to play, and JSU just happened to have a stadium with lights and artificial turf. Even though Jacksonville's forecast for this weekend shows a chance of rain, having a turf field means that when the water stops coming down, it takes only minimal work before the teams can step between the lines again.
On Wednesday afternoon, Case looked at his phone, noticed he had more than 40 messages, and wondered aloud how he could return them all.
Still, it's baseball, and that's good news for the Gamecocks, who have practiced in the fall, practiced in the spring and are ready to be done with practicing.
"When you've got a group of guys who are 18 to 22, they love to have outcomes," Case said. "Even though we play each other out here, it's not an outcome like a 'W' and an 'L.' I don't know what will happen with us as far as 'W' and 'L,' but I think we're ready to compete and ready for there to be winners and losers."
On Friday, Jacksonville State will play Southern Illinois at 4 p.m. On Saturday, Tennessee Tech will face Southern Illinois at 11 a.m., followed by Jacksonville State vs. Alabama State at about 2:30 p.m, and Alabama State vs. Tennessee Tech at about 6.
On Sunday, Alabama State will play Southern Illinois at 10 a.m., followed by JSU vs. Tennessee Tech at about 1:30 p.m. Tickets will be $10 a day, and the box office will open one hour prior to the start of each day.
Case said he plans to use junior Christian Edwards, junior Dylan Hathcock and junior Colin Casey as JSU's starting pitchers in its three games.
Edwards was the closer for the Gamecocks' 2019 Ohio Valley Conference championship team, but Case is giving him a chance as a starter.
"We feel like our bullpen is going to be a strength, and we feel like if we take him and put him in the rotation, it gives us an opportunity to be the strength," Case said. "He has the best arm on our staff. It makes sure we get him in the big games."
Casey is from Jacksonville High and worked mostly in middle relief, but is getting a chance at a starting spot. Last spring in the JSU's abbreviated 15-game season cut short by COVID-19, he worked nine innings and didn't give up an earned run.
"When you factor that, plus what he did in the fall, plus what he did in the spring, I feel like he earned it," Case said. "He earned it the old-fashioned way: he just grinded and grinded and got better and better."