The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Southern Division is up for grabs and could be settled this weekend. Two of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) top baseball programs, ranked in Black College Nines preseason top 10 poll, square off this weekend in what is considered a critical conference showdown as No. 3 Bethune Cookman hosts the No. 2 ranked Rattlers of Florida A&M.
In the last three years, these two teams have beaten up on each other. Last season, the two teams met in the MEAC conference tournament won by Bethune who then advanced to the NCAA Regional tournament. Florida A&M could enter the game with a chip on its shoulders remembering that 5-2 loss last year.
Last season, FAMU swept Bethune Cookman in the first conference series meeting on its way to a 10 game winning streak. The Wildcats turned the tide winning two of three on FAMU’S home turf four weeks later.
The stakes are high. Who sits atop of the division could have an early jump on how the standings shape-up come May and these two teams could leap into HBCU Baseball top spot of the 2017 Black College Nines first top 10 poll set to be released this Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
This weekend will be an entirely new experience. Both Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman are receiving votes in The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Division I Top 30 Poll.
A first in the history of HBCU baseball. Two teams from the same conference, yet alone two HBCU baseball programs ranked at the same time in the same year outside of Black College Nines top ten poll, garnering national attention.
But it is an old experience renewed. The scheduled three-game series, so important to the State of Florida, the conference, to both schools, and to the fan bases, this promises to be a very competitive series on the field. Both teams are entering the contest with a ton of late inning heroics or come from behind walk-off wins thus far in 2017.
Bethune Cookman (8-3) opened the season winning four straight, three against Boston College and one against cross state rival Florida Gulf Coast University. BCU comes into the game winners of four of their last five games, and are on a two-game winning streak.
The Cats have defeated Stetson, Jacksonville and took two of three from Tennessee Tech this past weekend.
Offensively, Bethune Cookman is off to a good start, led by Jameel Edney (.375) with six doubles ranking among the nation’s top 25 (according to NCAA DI statistics), one triple and two runs batted in, Jordan Stacy (.375) with one home run and a .563 slugging percentage, Austin Garcia with a (.368) batting average, three doubles and six runs batted in, Danny Rodriguez (.357), three doubles , 2 home runs, nine runs batted in with a .571 slugging percentage and Adonis Lao (.353) with six runs batted in who is tied for second with Austin Garcia in doubles (3) each for the team lead.
On the mound, hard-throwing right-handers junior Tyler Norris and freshman Anthony Maldonado, along with senior LHP Donte Lindsay or junior RHP Alex Herrera could line up to start on the weekend. BCU has a stable mate of bullpen help from relievers by committee or Head Coach Jason Beverlin can turn to Ivan Coutinho who has been really good in relief.
Florida A&M, meanwhile, has played the role of “Kardiac Kids” in come from behind victories in walk-off fashion four times this season. The most recent walk-off this past weekend came while being down 12-3 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning before scoring 9 runs to tie the game and then winning 13-12 in extra innings. FAMU (9-3) has a nice mix of veteran experience. They can hit a ton.
At the plate, 16 of 19 Rattlers position players have driven in a run or better. Leaders include Kayce Reese hitting .400 with one double and a .512 on base percentage, Ben Ellzey (.383) with one home run and five RBI, John Capra (.352) ten runs batted in, Brian Davis, off to a torrid start to the season (.341) with two home runs and 17 runs batted in, Willis McDaniel (.340) three doubles, one home run and eight runs batted in and Aubrey McCarty (.327) one triple, one home run and 12 RBIs.
On the hill, pitching is suspect. Only two wins from starters in the early going. JoJo Durden’s 2.35 earned run average and 1-0 record leads the team. Durden also has 11 strikeouts. Aubrey McCarty has a 3.52 ERA and 1-0 record. Jamie Grant’s team leading 4-win total all have come in relief appearances. Who starts the series will dependent on how the bullpen will be used.
Florida A&M started the season taking 2 of 3 games from Wofford, lost a mid-week contest to Auburn, won the next 6 games by defeating George Washington and Mercer before falling to East Tennessee State. FAMU has won 7 of its last 8 games.
They find ways to win. Head Coach Jamey Shouppe is in his 4th season at the helm and wants another appearance in the NCAA Regional tournament.