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2008 HBCU Baseball Preview (Part Two)
PIKESVILLE, Md. — First year head coach Husain Mahmoud looks to rebuild Chicago State as they begin another year as an independent. The tough and heavy travel schedule will have the Cougars facing six HBCU opponents and the likes of Notre Dame.
Senior Luke Grow and the fourteen additional newcomers look to hit the ground running in the HBCU Classic hosted by Savannah State.
North Carolina Central also will be playing an independent Division I schedule this year with the likelihood of joining the MEAC in the near future looming. NC Central had a solid 2007 after resurrecting its baseball program for the first time in 30 years.
NCCU played in the Division II CIAA last season and posted a 15-5 conference mark while going 21-24 overall. Last season, the Eagles were led by freshmen Justin Goodson (.352), Kurt Wilson (.328), Oliver Jenkins (.318) and Mike Weathersby (9-6, 4.36 ERA), and the jump to Division I should only increase the talent pool for coach Dr. Henry White.
Had the Eagles landed in the MEAC this season, they would have found a league that appears to be top-heavy with Bethune Cookman and North Carolina A&T looking like the front-runners.
At BC, head coach Mervyl Melendez has two starting pitchers back and lost basically his entire infield. But Melendez has proven that old clichÃ© true during his tenure in Daytona Beach: BC doesn’t rebuild; it reloads.
Tops among the returnees are Alejandro Jimenez (.331, 6 HR, 30 RBIs) and pitchers Hiram Burgos (6-7, 3.40 ERA) and Joseph Gauthier (5-2, 3.36).
“(Jimenez) is definitely a leader on and off the field,” said Melendez. “He’ll be one of the guys who guides us.”
Filling in one of the gaps on the pitching staff will be Eric Thomas, who originally had signed with Florida but changed his mind and instead enrolled at Daytona Beach Community College.
Another transfer who has Melendez excited is OF/1B Osvaldo Torres (6-4, 240), who led the University of Arkansas Little Rock in homers with eight in 2007. New shortstop Jose Lozada is expected to help carry the offense, likely batting second or even third in the lineup.
While listing North Carolina A&T and darkhorse Florida A&M as teams who could be a threat to BC’s conference reign, Melendez will continue to focus his energy within.
“We’ve got to worry about ourselves,” he said. “The competition in the MEAC has gotten stronger.”
Strong would be a perfect word to describe A&T, especially on offense. Though Charlie Gamble’s loss to the Houston Astros in the 2007 draft leaves a gaping hole in the Aggies’ offense, head coach Keith Shumate has plenty of firepower left. Shumate, however, remains cautious.
“I’ll say we’re in the top four (of the conference) if we’re healthy,” he said. “If everybody stays healthy, we can cause problems for anyone.”
Melendez is more forthcoming with the praise.
“They can beat anybody in the nation at any time,” said Melendez.
Infielder Joe McIntyre (.339, 7 HR, 65 RBIs) is on the Wallace Watch List. Sophomore C.J. Beatty hit 10 homers last season, while fifth-year senior Jeremy Jones (.323, 7 HR, 45 RBIs) is back with a chip on his shoulder after being bypassed in the draft last year.
Beatty benefited from hitting in the latter half of the order last season, and Shumate is interested to see how he responds by moving to the middle of the order.
“The sky is the limit with him, but we don’t put any expectations with him as far as numbers.”
The pitching staff will be anchored by John Primus, who went 4-4 with a 5.16 ERA last year with 80 strikeouts in 89 innings.
If BC and A&T are the top two teams in the conference, the gap from 3-5 may be pretty narrow. Claudell Clark’s Norfolk State team finished .500 last year overall but will have to make up for the loss of Ernie Banks (drafted) on offense and 10-game winner Luke Foss on the mound.
Veterans Joey Seal and Leon Schabacker will anchor the pitching staff, while Clark is excited about newcomers Chase Bailey (transfer from Newberry College in S.C.) and Brandon Hairston (freshman) on offense. Both are left-handed hitting first basemen, but Clark said he will find a way to get both in the lineup.
Catcher Brad Stephenson, a junior transfer from Virginia Commonwealth who sat out last year, is expected to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Veterans Moriba George, an all-MEAC second-team performer last year, and John Boyd return to add stability.
“I think even though we play a very competitive schedule this year, this team can get us a couple games over .500,” said Clark regarding the fact that NSU hasn’t had a winning season since his junior year (2000).
Delaware State also hopes to approach that .500 mark, and head coach J.P. Blandin is counting on pitching to do it. Most of his upperclass returnees are pitchers.
“I’m hoping that translates into wins for us,” said Blandin. “We’re real happy with our situation on the mound.”
Josh Schmidt, Jared McAllister and Chase Kornemann, who is back after Tommy John surgery, are expected to lead the pitching staff. Justin Bittner, who is also a standout offensively from his second base slot, will close.
Junior college all-American Jose Sanchez (SS) and fellow former juco player Ross Babineaux are expected to contribute offensively.
“What you’re going to see is what I would like to call a more ‘team’ approach to offense,” said Blandin. “We’re going to score some runs and be more productive.
“One thing that we have is we’ve got more depth than we’ve had in a while. We like our team.”
There wasn’t a lot to like at Coppin State last season, as a team of only 11 players went winless. But with a full complement of players (18) this season and some battle-hardened returnees from last year, including Harry Williams (.339), the Eagles aren’t likely to post a goose egg again.
Perhaps the biggest return this year will be Lucas at the helm of Florida A&M. Lucas’ past success combined with a roster stocked with plenty of talent could make FAMU a factor this season.
Darryl Evans was named to Louisville Slugger’s Freshman All-American team last year after hitting .366 with four homers and 42 RBIs. Tim Schalch hit .348 in 46 at bats last year and went 3-3 as a pitcher.
Adam Gordon hit .299 with 30 runs scored, while Corey McFadden hit .284 with four homers and 42 runs scored a year ago.
Lucas is one who has always believed that HBCUs have been overlooked when it comes to scouting. He wants to see more kids from these schools get a chance to prove themselves at the professional level.
If Shanks’ assessment of a “renaissance” is on target, that could come sooner rather than later.