Two of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) most reliable baseball programs, Edward Waters College and Talladega College face off in Jacksonville, Florida this weekend. The two conference rivals are ranked in Black College Nines’ (BCN) first 2017 Top 10 small school poll. Generally, both teams have beaten up on each other the last seven seasons with Talladega holding a slight edge.
Last season, Edward Waters won four of six games and finished 31-13 overall, with a 12-2 record in conference play, but was eliminated by the Tornados in the Association of Independent Institutions (A of II) conference tournament.
An early season test could determine the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) and (A of II) national seeding when the conference tournament starts in May. Both teams are contenders for the conference title and hope to get into a position to be invited to the NAIA National Tournament.
Offensively, the Tigers of EWC are off to a slow start, but appear to be breaking out from struggling to score runs with runners in scoring position. Shockingly, this team returned the entire roster from last season’s 31-13 team. The Tigers (17-10) are led by HBCU Black College Nines’ preseason All-Elite Team pick, Jordan Pontious, hitting .462 with 7 doubles, 1 triple and two home runs. HBCU BCN preseason All-Americans Miguel Beltre is hitting .353 with one home run and 11 runs batted. Also, Brian Rodriguez (.333), Will Boggs (.320) and Carlos Cabrera (.318) provide strong bats.
On the mound, the Tigers are led by senior BCN HBCU preseason All-Elite’s hard-throwing left-hander, Frederick Belz (2-3), and reliever turned starter RHP Richard Edwards (5-1) 2.45 earned run average. Righties Travis Colemen (2-0) and Julio Flores should see weekend action if needed.
Talladega (18-10) is a good hitting team. The Tornados feature Brondick Johnson (.393) 7 doubles, 3 home runs with 23 runs batted in, Jesus Zapata (.388) and 23 runs batted in, Wilkin Louis (.367) with 2 home runs and 19 RBIs and Emilio Martinez (.333) 2 home runs and 19 RBIs. Additionally, Jorge Rodriquez is hitting .310.
On the pitching side, Talladega boosts the arms of Brian Marquez (2-0) 2.27 earned run average, Kyle Chavez (3-2) ERA of 2.47 and Julian Fitts (2-2). With one of the strongest rotations in HBCU baseball, Talladega hurlers have some signature wins in 2017. They have knocked off teams nationally ranked in NAIA Top 25 like No. 2 Faulkner University, No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan and No. 25 University of Mobile. Talladega still has remaining games against top ranked Faulkner, Georgia Gwinnett and Mobile besides its remaining conference games with Edward Waters.
Edward Waters is starting to face the toughest part of its schedule with nationally ranked opponents Keiser University (3 games), Southeastern University (4 games) and then a crucial stretch of 12 straight road games before the next home game on April 15. The Tigers close their regular season April 29-30 against Talladega. All indications are that these two team could meet in the (A of II) conference tournament in which Talladega has eliminated EWC in four of the last five conference events.
Saturday afternoon could feature a matchup of impressive starters when Edward Waters’ Belz (2-3), a fiery competitor with intimidating stuff, is expected to take on Talladega’s hard-throwing Brian Marquez. If both are on top of their games, pitching could decide the outcome for both ball clubs.
Edward Waters enters into the contest having won its last seven ball-games includes defeating NAIA powerhouse non-conference foe South Carolina-Beaufort who received votes in the NAIA top 25, taking both games of their scheduled doubleheader. Talladega is heading into the series having split a doubleheader with Cumberland (KY) who also received votes in the NAIA top 25.
The challenge for EWC this weekend will be Tornados Kyle Chavez, who is coming off of a five-inning, two-hit outing against Cumberland (KY), where he fanned four batters issued two hits and walked none.
Chavez is 3-2, 2.47 ERA through seven starts this season, striking out team-high 54 batters and allowing just a .209 opponent average. He’s throwing three pitches for strikes and has a good command of his fastball.
EWC should be well positioned to counter that, as the Tigers enter this series with a better on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) . Senior outfielder Miguel Beltre has been really hot swinging the bat.
This match up will be closely followed for seeding in the (A of II) conference and in BNC top ten “small school” poll. Talladega is currently ranked No. 2 and Edward Waters ranked No. 3 in the latest BCN top ten poll And this series should have national implication for both teams in the next rankings.