The Claflin University baseball team captured the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Championship on Sunday in a thrilling come from behind victory defeating Stillman College 8-7 in a 10-inning suspenseful game to earn the first SIAC Championship in program history.
Claflin advances to the NCAA South Region Tournament with the win, going 20-29 during the regular season and now stands at 24-29. Claflin was perfect throughout the tournament winning all four games. Stillman’s mystifying hot streak run, winning 24 of their last 28 ballgames, comes to an end with a final record of 27-24.
It was a rough baseball season for the Panthers ballclub, having to deal with losing their Black College Nines preseason all-American starting pitcher Darius Boykins from a season ago. At the plate, there’s plenty of talent on the roster, but the pitching staff is what it takes to perform at the college level.
Coming into fall ball, the expectations were very high with a veteran lineup. It remained that way even after the news broke that Boykins, who some major league scouts were eyeing, would not return to school.
But the fans still showed up. The success of last season in the conference made them believe in a winner. Although the start of the season was very difficult, wins hadn’t been coming and some fans weren’t happy about the results, the fact remained that head coach James Randal did not write his team off, then came tournament time.
Now they are conference champions, and earned some credibility in the college baseball world, especially in the SIAC.
Claflin seemed to be getting better every season since joining the SIAC in 2008-09. This season, the return of Damien “Rashad” Bivens, who led the team in all major offensive categories last season and was the SIAC Conference Player of the Year, along with Boykins was to have been a stout 1 2 punch at the plate and on the mound.
Before the start of this season, I had penciled in Claflin as a team to look out for. That changed upon receiving the Boykin news, but I should have stuck with my gut feeling. In my opinion, if Boykin had been on the 2016 roster, this team would have won 30-plus ball games this season.
There’s still plenty of action left and it will take a heck of an effort to win in the NCAA Division II regional facing nothing short of ranked opponents.
The NCAA Division II Baseball Selection Show is set to air Sunday, May 15th, at 10pm on www.ncaa.com