Prairie View A&M coach Waskyla Cullivan and his band of Panthers are riding an emotional high days after capturing the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, and will now turn their attention to making a run deep in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re very excited to have the opportunity to win the SWAC Tournament and look forward to the regional,” Cullivan said Tuesday.
Prairie View was able to take home their third SWAC title, their first since 2007, with a 7-4 win over upstart Mississippi Valley State Sunday led by tournament MVP Evan Richard.
Richard, a senior catcher, hit .385 and drove in three runs in five tournament games. While his hitting exploits stood out, his coach was more impressed with Richard’s ability to calmly work with a deep and talented pitching staff.
He’s done a great job of handling the pitchers, and its been a by-product of how we’ve won,” Cullivan said.
That was exemplified during the championship game when ace Derrick Mitchell, pitching on just three-days rest, stifled the Delta Devils , allowing one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings.
“Derrick has been our best pitcher the last two seasons,” the fourth year head coach said.
The Panthers will have to rely on both Richard and Mitchell as the bunch advances to the regional round of the NCAA Tournament where Cullivan hopes the club stays in-state to compete.
According to ESPN’s Bracketology, Prairie View is projected to play in the College Station Regional in the same pool as Texas A&M, Arkansas and Sam Houston State.
Even though the Panthers dropped a 10-1 decision to Texas A&M March 6 and lost 8-1 to Sam Houston State a month earlier, the team is confident it can pull off the upset in round one. Prairie View will officially find out who and where they play during the NCAA Tournament selection show May 28.
“Baseball is not physical sport like football and basketball is where David doesn’t have a chance against Goliath ,” said Cullivan. “In this game, David has a chance.”
Four Panthers Represent SWAC Tournament Team
Panthers catcher Evan Richard received his SWAC Tournament MVP award on Sunday, and fittingly he was also named to the All-SWAC team as a catcher. He went 5-for-13 (.385) with three RBIs, three runs scored and six base on balls during the tournament.
Sophomore James Fontenot was named to the All-SWAC team at short stop. Fontenot was only 2-for-14 at the plate, but he drew nine walks, had five runs scored and two stolen bases in the tournament. Fontenot also proved to be one of the more exciting defensive players to watch with a seemingly unlimited range of coverage and the arm to get the put outs at first or turn double plays.
Stef Hernandez threw a gem, going a complete nine scoreless innings for the Panthers with five strikeouts in their 2-0 win over Jackson State. He also started three games as a designated hitter, going 2-for-10 with two RBIs. He was named to the SWAC All-Tournament team under pitcher/DH.
Panthers senior right-handed side arm slinger Daniel Castillo had five saves, a 5-0 record and the lowest ERA (1.47) of any SWAC reliever heading into the tournament, but he was left off the All-SWAC Team. He responded by going 1-0 in the SWAC Tournament and picking up a save in the Panther’s championship game en route to being named to the SWAC All-Tournament team as a pitcher.