JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Three weeks ago, Jackson State's baseball team stood on the side of the interstate, watching as a fire destroyed its bus.
Now the Tigers (31-23) are headed to the NCAA tournament.
It's been a crazy May for Jackson State, which was struggling before the team's bus caught on fire May 5 during a road trip to play Savannah State. No one was injured in the blaze, but nearly all of the team's equipment was destroyed. Several players also lost a substantial amount of personal items — including wallets, keys and clothes.
But the Tigers pushed aside the adversity to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament one week later. Now they'll face No. 6 overall seed Louisiana-Lafayette (53-7) in the NCAA tournament's opening round Friday.
It's the second straight year Jackson State has made the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers lost two straight games in last year's double-elimination regional but feel they're better prepared to pull an upset or two this weekend in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Mississippi State (37-22) and San Diego State (42-19) are the other two teams in the regional.
"We have a lot of older guys — a lot of seniors," senior catcher Jose Cruz said. "We're used to this, so it's not new. We'll be adapted to it. We've just got to play and we've got to win. If they get up and score and the crowd is on their side, we've got to respond."
Cruz said the bus fire helped galvanize the team in early May. The Tigers struggled with high expectations throughout the season, but the fire took some of the pressure off, and the players were simply thankful to be back on the field.
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