Two Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) arch-rivals and HBCU Baseball small school powerhouses, Edward Waters College and Talladega College open conference play this weekend with a four-game series of two doubleheaders beginning Saturday and concluding Sunday at J.P. Small Memorial Stadium, home of Edward Waters baseball and a small Negro League Museum in Jacksonville, Florida.
Since the start of this rivalry, both programs have played the games like they’re competing for a conference championship.
Last season, both teams split the six-game series in a home and home match up. Talladega won two of three games from the Tigers in Jacksonville and EWC returned the favor in Talladega including winning two of three games in Talladega.
The two teams were ranked in Black College Nines’ (BCN) 2019 Top 10 small school preseason poll. Generally, both teams have beaten up on each other the last eight seasons with Talladega holding a slight edge.
Talladega, in three of the last four years, continues its mastery over Edward Waters. The Tornados defeated its arch-rival in the 2017 Association of Independent Institution (A.I.I.) baseball championship semifinals for the second time since the start of the tournament. That win secured Talladega’s selection in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round which they have played in back to back seasons. Talladega wants a third trip to the national tournament this year.
In 2016, Edward Waters won four of six games from Talladega and finished the regular season 31-13 overall, with a 12-2 record in conference play, but was eliminated by the Tornados in the (A.I.I.) conference tournament.
Both teams have a tough non-conference schedule but are struggling to win and finish games, which makes this a critical weekend series.
Offensively, EWC is off to a slow start. The Tigers are looking to end a modest three-game losing streak from last weekend against Warner University, ranked in the NCCAA Top 10 Poll. Having dropped those games at home, they are reeling since a pair of loses to last year’s NAIA national champion and No. 1 ranked Southeastern University this past Feb. 12th.
In its last last ten games, Edward Waters is 4-6 and currently stand at 7 wins and 11 losess. Scoring runs are hard to come by. The bright side at the plate, JUCO transfer Freddy Torres and freshman Joseph Eischen both are hitting .396. Torres has six doubles, four home runs and 26 runs batted in leading the team in all statistical categories. Eischen has five doubles, four home runs and 17 runs batted in is second on the team in the stats department. HBCU BCN preseason Elite Second Team redshirt senior Wyatt Reid is off to a slow start hit .255 this year, a far cry from this time last season when he was hitting .362.
On the mound, the Tigers are led by sophomore Manuel Guerra, (2-1) with a 2.73 earned run average and freshmen Levi Sigler, (2-1) with a 5.63 earned run average in 20.0 innings pitched. In seven of the Tigers loses, the starters other than Guerra and Sigler are not receiving run support and the defense has committed 36 errors in 18 games played. Both starters and relivers will be called upon in this key series.
Talladega enters the weekend splitting a pair of mid-week non-conference games defeating No. 4 Faulkner in game one, then losing the second game 7-6. Talladega’s schedule finds opponents either ranked or receiving votes in both the NAIA Top 25 Coaches and HBCU Baseball Top 10 Polls. They still have games remaining against top ranked Faulkner, Georgia Gwinnett, Tennessee Wesleyan, Reinhardt, Point, Florida Memorial, Mobile and Fisher besides its remaining conference games with foe Edward Waters. At the plate, the Tornados team batting average a surprising .263. Wilkin Louis leads hitters through the first fifthteen games of the season hitting .327 with two extra base hits. He has a pair of doubles while knocking in seven runs. Gustavo Castellanos is hitting .324 on the season with seven runs driven in. Meanwhile, Manuel Caballero with a .317 batting average and Jorge Rodriguez, hitting .280, both are tied for the team lead with four doubles and seven runs batted in apiece.
On the pitching side, three different pitchers have a 6.00 earned run average or higher on the season including Saturday starter Daniel Castillo, (2-2) with a 6.48 earned run average, Julian Fitts, (1-0) with an ERA of 6.23, who is second on the team in strikouts (17) and Luis Berrios, (1-3) with a 7.56 earned runs average. Talladega relievers have struggled at times this season but they have some signature wins in 2019. A 5-10 record this year, five of the wins came against nationally ranked in NCAA DII and NAIA Top 25 like Auburn Montgomery, University of Mobile, No. 17 Middle Georgia State, No. 15 Bryan College and No. 4 Faulkner University.
This series should have a national implication for both teams in the first HBCU Baseball rankings out March 12th.