Renaissance is on in the SWAC and MEAC
By Chuck Curti
Had the Eagles landed in
the MEAC this season, they would have found a league that
appears to be top-heavy with Bethune Cookman and North Carolina
A&T looking like the front-runners.
At BC, head coach Mervyl
Melendez has two starting pitchers back and lost basically his
entire infield. But Melendez has proven that old cliché true
during his tenure in Daytona Beach: BC doesn’t rebuild; it
Tops among the returnees
are Alejandro Jimenez (.331, 6 HR, 30 RBI) and pitchers Hiram
Burgos (6-7, 3.40 ERA) and Joseph Gauthier (5-2, 3.36).
“(Jimenez) is definitely a
leader on and off the field,” said Melendez. “He’ll be one of
the guys who guides us.”
Filling in one of the gaps
on the pitching staff will be Eric Thomas, who originally had
signed with Florida but changed his mind and instead enrolled at
Daytona Beach Community College. Another transfer who has
Melendez excited is OF/1B Osvaldo Torres (6-4, 240), who led the
University of Arkansas Little Rock in homers with eight in 2007.
New shortstop Jose Lozada is expected to help carry the offense,
likely batting second or even third in the lineup.
While listing North
Carolina A&T and darkhorse Florida A&M as teams who could be a
threat to BC’s conference reign, Melendez will continue to focus
his energy within.
“We’ve got to worry about
ourselves,” he said. “The competition in the MEAC has gotten
Strong would be a perfect
word to describe A&T, especially on offense. Though Charlie
Gamble’s loss to the Houston Astros in the 2007 draft leaves a
gaping hole in the Aggies’ offense, head coach Keith Shumate has
plenty of firepower left. Shumate, however, remains cautious.
“I’ll say we’re in the top
four (of the conference) if we’re healthy,” he said. “If
everybody stays healthy, we can cause problems for anyone.”
Melendez is more
forthcoming with the praise.
“They can beat anybody in
the nation at any time,” said Melendez.
Infielder Joe McIntyre
(.339, 7 HR, 65 RBI) is on the Wallace Watch List. Sophomore C.J.
Beatty hit 10 homers last season, while fifth-year senior Jeremy
Jones (.323, 7 HR, 45 RBI) is back with a chip on his shoulder
after being bypassed in the draft last year.
Beatty benefited from
hitting in the latter half of the order last season, and Shumate
is interested to see how he responds by moving to the middle of
“The sky is the limit with
him, but we don’t put any expectations with him as far as
The pitching staff will be
anchored by John Primus, who went 4-4 with a 5.16 ERA last year
with 80 strikeouts in 89 innings.
If BC and A&T are the top
two teams in the conference, the gap from 3-5 may be pretty
narrow. Claudell Clark’s Norfolk State team finished .500 last
year overall but will have to make up for the loss of Ernie
Banks (drafted) on offense and 10-game winner Luke Foss on the
Veterans Joey Seal and
Leon Schabacker will anchor the pitching staff, while Clark is
excited about newcomers Chase Bailey (transfer from Newberry
College in S.C.) and Brandon Hairston (freshman) on offense.
Both are left-handed hitting first basemen, but Clark said he
will find a way to get both in the lineup.
Catcher Brad Stephenson, a
junior transfer from Virginia Commonwealth University who sat
out last year, is expected to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Veterans Moriba George, an
all-MEAC second-team performer last year, and John Boyd return
to add stability.
“I think even though we
play a very competitive schedule this year, this team can get us
a couple games over .500,” said Clark regarding the fact that
NSU hasn’t had a winning season since his junior year (2000).
Delaware State also hopes
to approach that .500 mark, and head coach J.P. Blandin is
counting on pitching to do it. Most of his upperclass returnees
“I’m hoping that
translates into wins for us,” said Blandin. “We’re real happy
with our situation on the mound.”
Josh Schmidt, Jared
McAllister and Chase Kornemann, who is back after Tommy John
surgery, are expected to lead the pitching staff. Justin
Bittner, who is also a standout offensively from his second base
slot, will close.
all-American Jose Sanchez (SS) and fellow former juco player
Ross Babineaux are expected to contribute offensively.
“What you’re going to see
is what I would like to call a more ‘team’ approach to offense,”
said Blandin. “We’re going to score some runs and be more
“One thing that we have is
we’ve got more depth than we’ve had in a while. We like our
There wasn’t a lot to like
at Coppin State last season, as a team of only 11 players went
winless. But with a full complement of players (18) this season
and some battle-hardened returnees from last year, including
Harry Williams (.339), the Eagles aren’t likely to post a goose
Perhaps the biggest return
this year will be Lucas at the helm of Florida A&M. Lucas’ past
success combined with a roster stocked with plenty of talent
could make FAMU a factor this season.
Darryl Evans was named to
Louisville Slugger’s Freshman All-American team last year after
hitting .366 with four homers and 42 RBI. Tim Schalch hit .348
in 46 at-bats last year and went 3-3 as a pitcher. Adam Gordon
hit .299 with 30 runs, while Corey McFadden hit .284 with four
homers and 42 runs a year ago.
Lucas is one who has
always believed that HBCUs have been overlooked when it comes to
scouting. He wants to see more kids from these schools get a
chance to prove themselves at the professional level.
If Shanks’ assessment of a
“renaissance” is on target, that could come sooner rather than