North Carolina Central Sports Information
DURHAM, N.C. – The North Carolina Central University baseball program had a historic season in 2018 as it set a new modern era program record for wins with 28, received votes in the NCBWA Top 30 poll for the first time, and finished with a winning record for the first time as a Division I program. This year, the Eagles will look to build upon their success and push even further to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.
Head coach Jim Koerner returns for his eighth season with the maroon and gray, and as he looked back on the 2018 campaign he spoke about how remarkable that squad was.
“The more you reflect on last year, the more special it becomes,” Koerner said. “It was really a great accomplishment by our guys and the program to break the school record for wins, to be above .500 overall, and to have a really positive season. I think it’s great that the group of seniors that we had were able to leave the program in a much better place than when they were freshmen.
“To see Devin Sweet have an opportunity to play at the next level with the Mariners was icing on the cake, and we had the MEAC Player of the Year in Corey Joyce (Lexington, N.C.) as well as several all-conference honorees.”
Joyce became the first Eagle to be named MEAC Player of the Year after a stellar 2018 season, and he’s part of a group of returners along with MEAC preseason all-conference selections Carter Williams (Brown Summit, N.C.) and Timmy Fischvogt (Kernersville, N.C.).
“We have a really solid foundation of returning players,” Koerner said. “Guys that have a lot of experience at this level that are going to have to show the new guys the way. But, it’s comforting to know that arguably we have the best two players in the conference with Williams and Joyce coming back, and one guy that I think gets overlooked a lot is Chris Kernen (Greensboro, N.C.). The year that he had last year was comparable to anyone in the conference, and probably deserved some kind of all-conference recognition, and we’re looking to him to anchor the pitching staff.”
The Eagles were one of the best teams at the plate in the MEAC during the 2018 season as the club belted a record 94 doubles and 292 RBI, and Joyce led the way with a single-season record 15 doubles as he batted .344. Williams slugged an impressive .521 as a primary leadoff hitter with 13 doubles, five triples and six home runs. Fischvogt was a steady presence behind the plate as he finished top-10 in the league with a fielding percentage of .982, and added 19 RBI with three doubles and two homers on the offensive side.
Also returning in the field for the Eagles are Caleb Coyle (Wake Forest, N.C.), Brad Mize (Oxford, N.C), Mitchell McCrary (Mills River, N.C.), Jacob Raby (Granite Falls, N.C.), and Drake Murray (Roswell, Ga.).
On the mound, the Eagle pitching staff allowed the lowest batting average in the modern era of the program at .251, picked up the second-most strikeouts with 402, and surrendered the second-fewest earned runs allowed with 209.
Kernen will lead the rotation for the Eagles in 2019 after posting a 2.85 ERA with five wins and 51 strikeouts in 22 appearances with nine starts and a complete game. Austin Vernon (Raleigh, N.C.) will return to the bullpen, along with Tyler Penner (Matthews, N.C.), Ryan Decker (Fletcher, N.C.), Andrew King (Greensboro, N.C.), and Jake Eigner (Germantown, Wisc.).
The Eagles welcome 21 newcomers for the 2019 season, and Koerner has been excited by the strong work ethic that he’s seen from them so far.
“I’ve been really impressed with the freshmen – and we have a lot of them – and transfers that have understood what it takes to be successful at this level,” Koerner said. “So far the work ethic has been really strong. They’ve been putting in the extra time to really fine tune their craft. It’s exciting when you see a bunch of guys that want it as much as this group of new players seem to want it. You couple that with what we have coming back, and it adds for some great chemistry and a lot of great depth.”
The Eagles are slated to play 52 games this season, with 32 of those to be contended at home at the Durham Athletic Park. The campaign begins on Friday, Feb. 15 at 4:00 p.m. against Canisius. During the course of the season, the Eagles will host ACC opponents Duke and NC State, and Northern Division MEAC schools Norfolk State and Delaware State. Appalachian State, Davidson, and High Point are among the other programs to visit the Bull City this year.
“There are no off days in this part of the country. I think the way we scheduled some of our non-conference games is going to help us continue to get better,” Koerner said. “Opening weekend is going to be a big test for us. Canisius is one of those northern programs that kind of flies under the radar, but every time you look at their record they’ve won 40 games, and they’ve been to a regional, and they get guys drafted.
“I’m excited to play NC State at home. I think it’s going to be a great night for our guys to be at home to play them, number one. Number two, you’re playing a top-25 program, maybe a top-10 or even top-five program on your home field, which should bring a lot of excitement not just to the team, but to the community too. We have Duke on the schedule again, and those games are always very competitive. I think there’s a lot on that schedule to put us in a position of where we want to be in the conference.”