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2021 Southwestern Athletic Conference Preview



The SWAC will have a different look in 2022 when the league expands to add Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. With those two programs coming over from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the SWAC will consolidate its position as the best baseball conference for historically Black colleges and universities.

But that’s all still a year away. The top teams in the SWAC project to be the same again in 2021, as Alabama State, Jackson State, Southern and Texas Southern contend for the title. But with some key comings and goings in the conference, places among the conference’s elite can’t be taken for granted.

The SWAC for the 2021 season is sticking to a status quo schedule of eight three-game conference series. The conference tournament will be held May 19-23 in Jackson, Miss.

Can Alabama State be contained?

The Hornets in 2019 won the East Division for the fifth time in six years and appeared to be on their way to another division title in 2020. They were 14-4 and a perfect 6-0 against SWAC opponents, including going 3-0 on Opening Weekend in the Andre Dawson Classic.

Alabama State now brings back that team intact for 2021. Outfielder Jabronski Williams (.313/.450/.625, 3 HR, 6 SB) and third baseman Trenton Jamison (.302/.431/.491) are back to lead the offense. It also brought in a solid group of newcomers that could soon be pushing for playing time, including outfielder Abner Benitez.

The Hornets’ offense is good, but their true separator is on the mound. They by far had the best pitching staff in the conference in 2020, posting a 3.12 team ERA, more than two runs better than second-place Jackson State (5.39). Starters Jacknell Guzman (3-0, 2.05), Austin King (2-0, 3.32) and Brenton Pooler (1-0, 0.52) will be back in the rotation. Relief ace Britt Buckelew (1-0, 1.15, 1 SV) returns as well.

In a conference known more for its offense, Alabama State’s pitching and defense is unmatched. And unless any SWAC foes can find an answer to the Hornets’ run prevention, they will be hard to beat.

What can fans expect from Southern under interim coach Chris Crenshaw?

After a difficult decade, Southern, the most storied baseball program from the historically Black college and university ranks, was rejuvenated under Kerrick Jackson. After winning just nine games in 2018, Jackson’s first season, the Jaguars leapt forward in 2019, as they won 32 games and the SWAC Tournament to advance to regionals.

Now, however, Southern will look to keep its momentum going without Jackson, who resigned in November to become president of the MLB Draft League, a new summer ball league. Chris Crenshaw, Jackson’s top assistant and a Southern alumnus, was promoted to interim head coach to succeed him. Crenshaw was Southern’s recruiting coordinator and inherits a solid roster that went 6-10 against a challenging schedule in 2020.

Southern has some strong young players, like second-year freshmen Jahlil Hendricks (.286/.419/.343) and Bubba Thompson (.271/.286/.407). It also brings back the bulk of its pitching staff, including every pitcher who threw more than 10 innings in 2020.

The Jaguars have the talent on hand to again compete for the West Division title. Crenshaw knows what it takes to win at Southern and should be able to pick up where Jackson left off.

Can Jackson State or Texas Southern challenge the division favorites?

If Alabama State and Southern are the favorites in their respective divisions, Jackson State and Texas Southern are the clear challengers.

Jackson State went 9-7 in 2020 and has a veteran team back in 2021. Jaylin Williams, the Tigers’ leading hitter is gone, but senior outfielders Chandler Dillard (.426/.486/.541, 11 SB) and Equon Smith (.429/.500/.595, 8 SB) are back to lead the lineup. Senior lefthander Anthony Becerra (1-1, 3.10) returns to headline a pitching staff that posted the second-best ERA in the conference in 2020.

Texas Southern went 7-12 in 2020 against a challenging schedule. The Tigers added the most impactful newcomer in the conference this offseason in fourth-year junior righthander/outfielder Kamron Fields, a graduate transfer from Texas. Fields explained his decision in a post, saying that after seeing this summer’s movements against racism it was “time for me to stand for my beliefs and represent something bigger than himself.” Fields will bring needed experience and high-end ability to the pitching staff, while the lineup is led by Oscar Ponce (.370/.427/.479), the team’s top hitter in 2020.

Texas Southern is the more likely of the two teams to emerge as a division winner in 2021. It will need to improve on the mound after posting a 9.16 team ERA in 2020, tied for the worst in the conference. The addition of Fields could be a significant boost for the Tigers.

Can Grambling State bounce back in 2021?

The Tigers came into 2020 on the heels of impressive back-to-back seasons. In 2018, they reached the SWAC Tournament championship game and in 2019 won 27 games, marking their best regular season in a decade.

That progress hit a speed bump in 2020, however, as they went 6-10. Given more time, it’s possible Grambling would have turned its season around, but it’ll now have to do so in 2021.

If Grambling can get fifth-year senior outfielder Jahmoi Percival back on track after a poor 2020, it would go a long way to improving its lineup. He was one of the Tigers’ top hitters in 2019 but started slowly in 2020 and finished the season hitting .135/.233/.231. After losing top starter Bryan Delgado, Grambling will look to fourth-year juniors Kerry Boykins (1-1, 3.93) and Marc Luna (1-2, 6.43) to lead the pitching staff.

Grambling lags behind West Division rivals Southern and Texas Southern entering 2021, but should be able to prove that 2020 was more of a blip than a long-term trend.

How will Alabama A&M fare under first-year coach Elliott Jones?

Southern wasn’t the only SWAC school to make a coaching change this offseason. Alabama A&M fired coach Manny Lora in March following two seasons as head coach, going 14-49.

To replace him, athletic director Bryan Hicks hired Elliott Jones as the Bulldogs new head coach. Jones spent the last eight years as an assistant coach in the SWAC, working at Southern and Grambling.

Jones inherits a tough situation with the Aggies. They ranked eighth in the SWAC in batting (.218) and seventh in ERA (7.31) in 2020. It’ll be a rebuilding job in Huntsville, but the good news is outfielder Janmikell Bastardo (.323/.357/.446, 7 SB) as a freshman last spring emerged as the Aggies’ best hitter and returns to lead the lineup in 2021. Finding some more pieces around him will be critical to taking steps forward.

Top 2021 Draft Prospects

1. Kam Fields, RHP/OF, Texas Southern
2. Chandler Dillard, OF, Jackson State
3. Cameron Hearn, OF, Alabama State
4. Alexander Castro, RHP, Alabama State
5. Equon Smith, OF, Jackson State

Horton, Cade 2 (Courtesy Of Oklahoma)

2022 MLB Draft: Oklahoma RHP Cade Horton Uses College World Series To Rocket Up Draft Boards

In a draft class that has been decimated on the college side (and has started losing pitchers on the prep side as well), Horton is potentially filling a demographic vacuum ahead of the July draft.

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