Texas Southern: SWAC Kings AgainAt The Ballpark
NEW ORLEANS — Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know the drill. Win going away. Have your players dump cold ice-water over you. Walk up and collect another trophy.
This whole SWAC tournament championship game is becoming old hat for Texas Southern and head coach Michael Robertson. And this time, he made it pay off for his charges once again as the Tigers routed Grambling on Sunday 18-3 to pull off their third SWAC title in the last four years.
“Does it ever get old?” I asked quite dumbly after coach Robertson had once again been doused with a cooler full of ice water.
“It doesn’t,” the soft-spoken head honcho for the Tigers responded. “I’m really excited for this group of kids because the core of this team that came to us out of high school was Leblanc, Hicks, Oliver and Dukes… they’ve been in four straight SWAC championships and won three of them. You’re happy for them most of all.”
The eighth-year TSU Tiger head coach is referring to shortstop Horace LeBlanc, designated hitter Blake Hicks, righthander Seth Oliver and leadoff man Kamren Dukes. Those four-year talents have enjoyed success at a level not seen before by any four-year baseball players in Texas Southern history.
“They have all worked really hard and been through a lot, so I’m really happy for those guys,” coach Robertson said afterward. “Then we’ve also got a lot of guys who have been here for the past three years and they have been to the championship game all three years and won two of them,” he pointed out with glee.
“It is almost like they think it is really easy to get to this point,” Robertson said. “They have no idea how hard it is to get here every season. I mean I’m glad we’ve won all these conference titles, but some of these guys might be thinking it’s easier than it really is. And believe me, winning championships like this takes a lot of hard work. They have no idea, man.”
But modesty-be-damned, Robertson is giving his charges some indication that it just comes with the territory, since he also led Prairie View A&M to SWAC championships in 2006 and 2008 when he was the head coach there in the mid-2000s. Robertson then grabbed the reigns at TSU in 2008.
“My guys just seem to get up to this level and play really, really well when it counts,” he said. “I don’t know what it is.”
Sunday seemed to be an exceptionally breezy win for the Maroon-clad Tigers, as the 15-run margin of victory would indicate. In four games here at Wesley Barrow Stadium at the Urban Youth Academy in New Orleans this week, TSU scored 46 combined runs and won all four games they played by an average of 11.5 to 4.8.
Sunday started off innocently enough with Grambling adding a run in the second and a run in the third to forge out to a 2-1 lead after the first 15 outs of the game were recorded. Considering TSU was starting a guy – Andrew Solis – who had already started the first game of the SWAC tournament back on Wednesday and threw 120 pitches in the 10-3 win over Alcorn State, this one had the earmarks of a knock-down, drag-out.
It definitely looked like it was going to be an uphill battle in the sun-drenched, upper-80s temps of New Orleans. The well-named Ace Felder spotted GSU with the early lead by slapping a standup double in the second inning and then racing home on an RBI single from Marshawn Taylor to open the Grambling scoring. Then he knocked an RBI single of his own in the third inning to put GSU up 2-1.
Then all hell broke loose.
In the bottom of the third inning, Texas Southern came storming back by sending 13 batters to the plate and posting nine runs on seven hits while also getting the benefit of one walk, one error and a pair of RBI triples to suddenly turn this white-knuckler into a 10-2 bloodletting after three innings. The outcome was never in doubt from there as TSU kept the other Tigers at bay with a good pitching-and-hitting-based stiff-arm the rest of the day. In fact, the remainder of the three-hour, 16-minute game was rather boring. It seemed like no matter who the arm-weary Grambling Tigers sent to the mound, the Texas Southern Tigers kept hitting squarely on the barrel.
And this despite the fact that the wind was actually blowing in toward home plate all day and only one home run was hit in the entire 21-run affair.
But this was simply a case where the Texas Southern boys stayed hot at the plate. For the four-game tournament, the Tigers went a combined 46-for-136, a .336 average. Today was their biggest day at the dish as comprising those totals was a double by Kamren Dukes, triples by both Gaudencio Lucca and Keanu Van Kuren and a home run (into a stiff head wind, no less) by Christian Sanchez.
“I have to admit, I had a lot of pressure on me this season,” Robertson admitted afterward. “We won it last year and we had a lot coming back so the expectations were that we were going to win it again. I kept trying to tell everybody before the season, ‘Nah, we ain’t got it this year,’ but my A.D. wasn’t buying it. He said, ‘You’ve got everybody back.’ So these guys have played through the pressure this year. I think everybody expected us to win it again.”
“One thing you don’t want to do is to drop the ball when you’ve got high expectations. Those are the things that get you fired,” Robertson said with a smile.
But Robertson has plenty of reason to smile after today’s win. TSU didn’t have a single player in the 2018 D1Baseball top 20 SWAC prospects list at the beginning of the season, yet the Tigers attacked the season as a whole, as one unit. And despite not having the top-notch talent, they had a top-notch TEAM. That is what made the difference for TSU in 2018.
When I asked Robertson what he’d like to see his charges do in regionals this year, aside from it just being his third trip to the NCAAs in the last four years, he put it simply…
“I want us to make history,” he said. “Do something other than just compete well. We’re tired of going in there and playing tough, we need to win. We’re tired of getting close. We want to make some changes based on performance.”
We’re watching you, Coach.
After the game I saw former Southern head coach Roger Cador, a legend in the HBCU ranks, on the field giving his congratulations to Robertson, and I asked him what the legendary Southern coach said to him in the postgame.
“He’s been very supportive since his retirement,” Robertson said. “He’s called me a few times. I’ve called him. He’s been a really good sounding board and a really good friend for me over the years. You know, we battled really hard against each other when he was coaching and people thought we didn’t get along when we coached against each other but it was just competition. And ever since then we’ve been the best of friends and he just wanted to congratulate me and tell me he was proud of me.”
CLINTON YATES SIGHTING
Yes, even at an HBCU postseason tournament do we get graced with the presence of Clinton Yates, a sports journalist of sizable renown who left the Washington Post a few years ago to join ESPN’s The Undefeated and is also a semi-regular on ESPN’s Around The Horn.
Even though the visual you see here shows him really digging the hot dogs at Wesley Barrow Stadium in New Orleans, I’m guessing Yates will have something written about the HBCU programs and the lack of black dudes in professional baseball. After the game I noticed him talking with Grambling head coach James Cooper for an extended period of time.
A few more images from Sunday’s SWAC title game.