Omar Johnson

Jackson State was far and away the best baseball team in the SWAC this season. The numbers prove it.

The Tigers, 20-4 in the league, finished two games ahead of second place Alabama State. Coach Omar Johnson’s ball club, 36-14-1, won eight more regular season games than any other SWAC team. Only one other team, Alabama State, had a winning record.

In head-to-head competition, JSU won four of six with Alabama State. Had SWAC baseball been a foot race, JSU would have been rounding third and heading for home while most of the others were approaching second base.

It was that one-sided.

And I know you are wondering where this is headed. The SWAC announced its all-conference, players of the year and coach of the year selections Wednesday, and you are not going to believe how the coaches and sports publicists voted.

Alabama State placed seven players on the first and second All-SWAC teams. Jackson State had five, the same number as Grambling, which finished with a 22-28 record.

That’s right: JSU, 36-14-1, and Grambling, 22-28, each had five all-SWAC players, two behind Alabama State, which finished 28-24.

Rick Cleveland

So, I know what you’re thinking: Omar Johnson must have done one helluva job coaching if two other teams were so talented and his team finished better than both.

So explain this: The SWAC Coach of the Year is Grambling’s James Cooper, who had a losing record.

Furthermore, the pitcher of the year is Alabama State’s Tyler Howe, who had a 7-4 record and a 3.54 earned run average. The coaches and publicists picked Howe ahead of Jackson State’s ace Miguel Yrigoyen, who just happened to achieve a a 9-2 record and a 2.92 ERA. Yrigoyen wasn’t just better, he was considerably better.

Alabama State’s Austin Bizzle was named relief pitcher of the year. He was 6-0 with three saves. Jose Tirado led the league with eight saves. He did not even make all-conference.

You couldn’t make all this up.

Grambling shortstop Marshawn Taylor was named player of the year and hitter of the year. Can’t argue that one. Taylor hit .397, best in the league. But that still doesn’t tell us how Jackson State, which hit .322 as a team had only four non-pitchers make first or second team All-SWAC.

There’s no really good explanation for how this turned out. Unless, it’s this: The All-SWAC teams are a popularity contest, and Jackson State, by far the best team, isn’t at all popular.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.