The Claflin University baseball team returned seven of its nine starters from last year’s team, all who have played together for the last two seasons and provided a bright outlook for the Panthers coming into the 2016 season. That experience put the team in a good position for this spring. Although they struggled at times during the season, they remained consistent at the plate.
The big bat of Damien “Rashad” Bivens .(315 batting average, 6 home runs and a team leading 45 RBI) has lived up to preseason hype and has had offensive support from a team full of live bats. Jeturi Brown is hitting .345, Jesse Minter at .337, Lyndale Mosley at .333 and Reginald Rogers is hitting .327 with 4 home runs and 39 RBI. Jabari Brown is hitting .320 with Christopher Gilliam hitting .281 and 5 home runs along with 27 runs batted in.
Coming into the season, I previewed the Panthers as a team that could upset some of its conference foes. Then came the SIAC tournament. Claflin exploded and came alive claiming the conference and a number seven seed in the NCAA Division II South Regional tournament.
What might make Claflin dangerous in is regional? They have a deep lineup that doesn’t give opposing pitchers a break, led by stars in Bivens and Rogers. They showed what they are capable of doing wearing out bullpens.
Let’s look at the Panthers postseason profile.
At the start of the season, in the first ten games, Claflin was 2-8. Many assumed that it meant that Claflin was overrated coming into the season and they were nowhere close to being the team they were last year. But as time has gone by, we’ve found out that they are just good, and, as it turns out, Claflin is the top team in the SIAC after all.
In a league that has been led for much of the season by Benedict College, Paine and Miles College, Claflin sits comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field of 52.
They have played a tough nonconference schedule including games against ranked Lander and Florida Southern. Lander University is in the DII tournament. When you consider its strength of schedule, Claflin’s 24-27 record is a really good mark. They did a really good job of setting themselves up for success with their schedule at the end of this season and they’ve won them all.
What they have working against them to some degree is the fact that they need the pitching staff to log some major innings and limit base runners. Dillon Parker, Jamal Devine, Lyndale Mosley and Keamond Eison must be lights out. In the NCAA tournament, teams bring their “A” games on the mound, so Claflin should expect nothing less. It’s going to be a tough sell for Claflin. But in my opinion, this weekend with all things possible, they make a deep run in Tampa and reward themselves with a trip to the World Series.