For all his success during individual seasons the last seven years — five 30-win seasons, a better than .700 winning percentage in the SWAC, guiding a team that led the conference in batting average and stolen bases — was empty without a conference championship for Jackson State head baseball coach Omar Johnson.
On Sunday, all that changed after the Tigers beat Prairie View 6-2 to win the program’s first SWAC title since 2000.
“A long time coming,” Johnson matter-of -factly said through a wry smile following the game.
It had been a long time for a program that has been among the best in the regular season in all of Black College Baseball since Johnson was hired to replace Mark Salter. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, JSU was 201-123 overall, and 104-41 in SWAC play, according to the team’s web site. Only the legendary Robert Braddy could stake claim to such proficiency.
As great as JSU was from February to May, Johnson — for whatever reason, could not win during the hectic SWAC Tournament. Not with arguably the best position players, starting pitchers or even best laid plans.
Being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed didn’t matter either. Neither did rolling into the tournament as Eastern Division champions. The Tigers had been knocked out of the tournament by schools with lesser pedigree, ability and talent at times.
“It’s baseball,” Johnson said days after his bunch was bounced from the tournament just 12 months ago.
As the disappointing losses mounted in the tournament, he never wavered on the plan or on his baseball belief system — a system that left many wondering if he was ever capable of elevating Jackson State baseball above regular season victors.
Many will talk about the championships Johnson should already own or could have won in the aftermath of this triumph.
But Johnson, who understands that in a sport where failure is expected and the supposed best team rarely wins, is what makes this win more gratifying.
“It feels good to win this championship,” said Johnson. “We thought we had good enough teams in years past, but have not been able to get it done. You have to have some good breaks and I guess you have to be patient.”