Stillman College Tigers – HBCU’s Hottest Baseball Team

Black College Nines had a chance to catch up with Stillman College first-year head baseball coach Julius McDougal to ask him about the HBCU’s hottest baseball team, as his Tigers ballclub has won 19 of its last 20 ballgames, since March 20th.

Starting the first game this season, Stillman upset nationally ranked Mercyhurst, giving Coach McDougal his first career collegiate baseball win, then things took a dramatic turn. The Tigers appeared to be headed to another sub-.500 season, going 2-20 in their first 22 games of the season.

Played a tough top 25 nonconference schedule with a loss to No. 20 University of West Georgia, No. 7 University of West Alabama, and then losing three of four games to No. 4 Mercyhurst. But suddenly, Stillman found a new direction. Since then they have gone 19-1, including a current ten-game winning streak.

What McDougal, in his first year as a head coach and his staff have been able to do at Stillman, has been an incredible turnaround.

The 19 game hot-streak also includes a nine-game winning streak before losing a 9-6 contest this past April 2nd to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) foe Tuskegee University, the only blemish during the hot streak.

The Tigers are currently riding a 10-game winning streak heading into the last week of the season and then the start of the conference tournament.

We asked Coach McDougal about the Tigers and what turned things around at Stillman.

“First, we made some infield moves. We shifted Adam Bonner from second base to shortstop which has really shored up our defense. Bonner has the range to get after balls hit up the middle”.

Offensively, “coming into the season it took us time to buy into our game approach. After making adjustments we are making sound contact, with Kelvin Usselman swinging the bat well. Outfielder Hank Parker was moved into the fourth spot and is driving the ball.”

Stillman pitching has made big improvements since early in the season. “Our rotation has been lights out. All five starters are firing. Dakota Todd, Kewayne McCray, Zack Gonzales, plus our two closers, John Hutton and Mitch Peterson have shut the door on opposing batters. This pitching staff is working really hard and has cut runs down from earlier in the season.”

The biggest difference during the hot streak is the leadership during this run. Senior Nick Vitale is 38-for-77, batting .494, with 30 runs scored, 18 runs batted in, and 10 doubles from the leadoff spot. On the mound, senior Josh Freeman in his last six starts has a 3-1 record, 1.99 earned run average, with 26 strikeouts while only walking 4 batters. Also, Josh McDaniel has cranked three home runs during the streak.

Stillman has been able to build upon the first half of the 2016 season. Having to get through the first 22 games, those “March of Death” games are well behind them. “Seeing a group of kids turn it around, were playing a better brand of baseball” McDougal stated.

Stillman will finish the season out with a three-game conference series against Morehouse College then turn its attention to the SIAC conference tournament.

The hot streak is a huge bright spot as the baseball program is facing adversity. The college administration has dropped baseball and other athletic programs due to financial challenges, the school announced this past December. After this spring, baseball will be discontinued.

The school wants to “get back on solid financial ground. If they didn’t cut their sports programs, the school could go under financially.”

This also could be a positive for the ballclub. Knowing this is the last go-round as Stillman Tigers, the baseball team can use this as a rallying tool. Stillman is the only team in the SIAC with 3 top 25 wins and played a top 25 nonconference schedule. No strangers to the postseason, the Tigers have been SIAC Conference Champs and made NCAA Division II regional appearances in 2007-2009 and from 2011-2014.

This could be the Year of The Tigers.

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