Editorial board of The Chanticleer
Decades before Eli Jenkins and Josh Barge helped fill Burgess-Snow Stadium. Or Whitney Gillespie and Taylor West mowed down opposing batters at University Field. Even before Ray Harper returned glory to the men’s basketball program.
There was Rudy Abbott and Jacksonville State’s baseball program carrying the torch.
Abbott coached in 1,470 games from 1970 to 2000 and led the Gamecocks to 1,003 wins and posting a program-best 43-7 mark in 1979. He also led JSU to back-to-back Division II in 1990 and ’91.
The level of success was established. So, when Jim Case took the program in 2001, the expectations were set. And he hasn’t disappointed in his 16 seasons as the head coach of the Gamecocks.
As head coach at Jacksonville State, Case has accumulated over 500 career wins, 14 straight Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Championship tournaments appearances, four NCAA Division I Regional appearances and a two-time OVC Coach of the Year. The Gamecocks have never failed to make the conference’s postseason tournament and have a 64.1 winning percentage against OVC opponents under Case.
However, talk with legendary Jacksonville State radio announcer Mike Parris about one of the more remarkable things he’s witnessed surrounding the Gamecocks’ baseball program and the answer is simple — the 2014 OVC tournament.
After falling to Eastern Illinois 2-1 to start the tournament, the Gamecocks went on to become the first team in OVC history to win six-straight elimination games — knocking off SIUE (7-5), EIU (13-2), Morehead State (7-1), SEMO (6-2), Tennessee Tech (10-7) and the Golden Eagles, again, (4-2) — to win the school’s fourth conference tournament championship.
Another statistic Parris is quick to fire off is the 23-4 record in OVC play during the 2008 season, which featured two-time OVC Player of the Year Clay Whittemore and future Major League Baseball player Todd Cunningham. It was one of three 20-win seasons for the Gamecocks in league play under Case.
In those 16 seasons, Jacksonville State has only had a sub-.500 record twice — 2002 (23-31) and 2012 (28-30). But has also coached 14 All-Americans, including Whittemore, Cunningham, Donovan Hand, Clayton Daniel, Travis Stout, Paschal Petrongolo and a guy by the name of Coty Blanchard.
So, while Burgess-Snow Stadium, which went through a $47 million expansion prior to the 2010 football season, and Pete Mathews Coliseum, which also saw a face lift this decade, are seeing a very sharp attendance increase because of the renovations, one can’t help but wonder the reaction by the veteran head coach when the $7.5 million stadium finally opens.
If the attention the Jacksonville State football and basketball teams have received as a result of the facility upgrade is an indication, then Case and the baseball team will begin to receive the respect that is long overdue.