North Carolina Central Baseball Sets Sights On Postseason in 2020

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NCAADI/MEAC/Baseball

 

North Carolina Central Sports Information

 

DURHAM, N.C. – After reaching 20 wins for a fourth consecutive season in 2019, the North Carolina Central University baseball program prepares for the new season in a new landscape within the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The Eagles competed in the Southern Division of the MEAC over the last eight years, but this season all eight teams will compete in one unified conference, and each team will play one three-game series against the other seven opponents.

NCCU head coach Jim Koerner returns for his ninth season with the maroon and gray, and looks forward to seeing the team build upward after achieving 21 wins in the previous campaign.

“As a team, it was a learning experience,” Koerner said about last season. “We came up a little short at the end of reaching our primary goal of getting back to the MEAC Tournament, but I believe our guys gained a lot from the experience, and it’s that experience that’s going to push us forward this year.

“The offseason has been great,” Koerner continued. “I believe that we’ve really established a lot of depth this year all the way across the diamond. I believe we’re very athletic. We’re very balanced from a match-up standpoint being able to play a number of left-handed hitters, and a number of right-handed hitters. I think we’re going to have tremendous team speed. Like I mentioned, there’s a depth at every position, which means competition has been really high, and guys have been working hard to push each other.”

The Eagles have two Preseason All-MEAC selections this year, as Carter Williams was voted to the First Team, and Ryan Miller was selected to the Second Team.

“It was great watching Ryan Miller come in as a freshman and do as well as he did,” Koerner said of the 2019 MEAC Rookie of the Year. “It was really something special for him, but also for the program moving forward. It was a big cornerstone for what we’re going to do in the future.

“And then, you see what Corey Joyce was able to do as a junior,” Koerner continued. “To win back-to-back MEAC Player of the Year awards and then to be drafted by the Detroit Tigers capped off a tremendous career for Corey.”

Miller burst onto the scene by throwing 11 strikeouts in his first career appearance against Canisius, and became the third Eagle to be named MEAC Rookie of the Year in 2019. He won a team-best six games and finished third in the league with a 3.15 ERA over a staff-high 12 starts. He also finished third in the conference in wins, and tied for first in fewest walks allowed with 13. Miller finished his freshman season ranked 23rd in NCAA Division I with a 5.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and had the second-lowest walks-per-nine innings (BB/9) in a single season at NCCU in the modern era at 1.64.

Williams earned First Team All-MEAC honors in 2019 after batting .328 with a team-high 65 hits, tied for the third-most in a single season in the modern era at NCCU. He also slugged .475 with 14 doubles and five home runs, and led the team with 42 RBI to tie for fifth-most in a single season at NCCU in the modern era. During the summer, Williams competed in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) with the Valley Blue Sox, and hit .353 with an impressive .441 on-base percentage and .841 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Entering his senior year, Williams is NCCU’s modern era career hit leader with 196 hits, and is 77 hits away from breaking the MEAC’s all-time hit record.

“On the mound, I see the same thing,” Koerner said of the pitching staff. “I think there’s a lot of depth there. A lot of guys got experience last year, and we have some players that have really improved from last year.

“One player that stands out the most right now is Caleb McRoy. He’s really taken that next step in his overall development. From a weekend standpoint, I think our rotation is going to be very strong, and should match up against anybody we play.

“Having Ryan Miller, Austin Vernon, and transfer Shane Davis in there, I think it’s going to be a pretty good mix. That goes along with a really strong bullpen. Bringing back Ryan Decker and Brendan Bell, along with some other pieces.”

McRoy made 13 appearances in his freshman year and pitched 14 innings with 19 strikeouts. He made eight appearances without allowing an earned run and nine appearances without allowing a hit. Vernon had an electric start to the season last year as he collected 10 strikeouts with just one walk allowed in five innings pitched over three games. He made a total of 22 appearances with seven starts, and won three games. Vernon also finished tied for fifth in the MEAC with a team-lead tying four saves over 44 innings pitched, and finished third on the team with 57 strikeouts.

NCCU returns 27 players from the 2019 campaign, including seniors Vinny Bailey, Trey Maslin, and Tim Fischvogt.

Bailey returns to anchor first base after appearing and starting in all but one of the Eagles’ games in 2019. He finished third on the team with 50 hits, tallying 10 doubles, one triple, and five home runs to tie for the team lead and tie for fourth in the MEAC. He also finished top-10 in the MEAC in slugging percentage at .470 and on-base percentage at .431, and ninth in the MEAC with 29 walks. Defensively, he was tied for second in the MEAC in putouts with 336, and led the league in fielding double plays with 27.

Maslin made 46 starts last season and batted .276, and he finished top-10 in the MEAC with 37 RBI. He also slugged .324 and had a .373 on-base percentage with 14 walks, and seven stolen bases. Fischvogt will play his 100th game behind the plate this season. Last year, he posted a .984 fielding percentage and threw out nine runners attempting to steal.

“These guys have been around, they’ve battled, and they understand what it takes to get there,” stated Koerner. “They understand where we’ve maybe come up a little short in the past and what we need to do this year. It just gives us a lot of guys that have played the game, that have been through the battle, and that have that have the ability to show our new guys and talk to our new guys about what it’s going to take for us to get back to the postseason.”

The Eagles also added a mix of transfer student-athletes and freshmen to bolster the team, and Koerner expects an immediate impact from them.

“Starting with the freshmen and their work ethic, I think they’re really hungry. I think they want it, they want to learn, they want to get better. They’re very passionate about the game,” Koerner said of the newcomers. “I believe there’s a couple guys in there that can make a big impact this year, including Alex Sniffen and Zach Zedalis. I think they’re both going to be able to contribute on the mound, and Alex is going to have a chance to contribute with the bat as well.

“We also brought in a number of transfers,” Koerner continued. “There’s two junior college pitchers that are going to be big impact guys. I mentioned Shane Davis, who’s going to anchor a weekend rotation spot, and then we have Scott Meylan, who is going to come out of the bullpen.

“We have also brought in a bunch of infielders that have transferred from some good programs and had some good junior college experience in Cameron Norgren, Michael Alicea, Kobe Phillips and Luis DeLeon, who all have the ability to really impact the game in this program.”

NCCU has a 53-game schedule this year, and it all begins on Friday, Feb. 14 at the Durham Athletic Park against Radford for a three-game series. Koerner says he has a positive feeling about the squad and their ability to accomplish their goals.

“We have all the pieces in place to be very successful,” Koerner stated. “There’s nothing that we don’t possess for us to accomplish all of our goals. Now, the first goal is to get back to postseason play and qualify for the MEAC Tournament, but once we do that, the goal is to win it. It’s hard to win championships, but the pieces are there for us to be able to do it.”

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