The opening pitch of the 2013 MEAC Baseball Tournament is already underway and for the first time in nearly two full recruiting cycles, the Bethune-Cookman baseball team does not have a tournament 1 seed.
The Wildcats ended the regular season in a tie for first place with Savannah State in the MEAC’s Southern Division but it was the Tigers who earned the Southern Division’s top seed based on conference tiebreaker rules. SSU joins Delaware State (who earned the top seed in the Northern Division) as the tournament’s #1 seeds.
Despite the seeding, MEAC fans should not dismiss this year’s BCU squad or presume that this team’s demise is at hand. The Wildcats are the only MEAC team with an RPI ranking in the Top 100 nationally (peaked at 78) and BCU has enjoyed victories over nationally ranked Arizona State, Miami, Central Florida, and South Florida. Additionally, the Cats have also defeated quality non-conference foes Stetson, Florida International, Central Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast and Jacksonville University.
Perhaps the greatest indication of the vitality and prowess of this year’s squad can be found in the team’s torrid record in the second half of the season. The Maroon and Gold enjoyed a .667 winning percentage in the second half of the year included in which was a 16-4, 20 game stretch from the beginning of April through the first week in May.
Duct Tape and Glue
Skipper Jason Beverlin’s leadership and influence on this year’s squad has been amazing and deserves celebration. BCU loss 4 players to Tommy John surgery before the season even began. Amongst those loss to surgery was the 2013 MEAC Preseason Pitcher of the Year, Gabby Hernandez. To add to Beverlin’s challenges, 4 of BCU’s 5 new everyday starting position players had never played an inning of Division-1 baseball before this season. Despite his team’s youth and injury woes, coach Beverlin still lead his squad to a 30 win season, a share of the regular season divisional crown, and the impressive list of out-of-conference victories mentioned above.
The expectations that surround BCU baseball will likely deny Beverlin MEAC coach of the year honors but you would be hard-pressed to find another manager in this league who has done a better job with his club than Bethune-Cookman’s second year skipper.
Challenged and Setting a Tone
There was a definitive turnaround in the Wildcats 2013 campaigned and it coincided directly with the first series against Savannah State. The Tigers visited Jackie Robinson ballpark for a three game set on the weekend of May 30th. SSU swept the first two games of the series but the most significant moment of that weekend (and the 2013 season perhaps) was the on-field skirmish in the second game that led to the ejection of three players: BCU’s Anthony Stokes and Savannah State’s Mendez Elder and Jason Wynn.
That dust-up seemed to give BCU the wake-up call they needed. The Wildcats have played much more consistent baseball since that incident and the players have seemed to take much more ownership for the success of the squad.
When asked about the event recently coach Beverlin stated: “Savannah State is a good baseball team and they challenged us as a team.” “We talked to our guys about setting a tone. We get to face all of the teams in our division twice so we have an opportunity to set a tone the second time through our schedule that (our opponents) are going to remember come tournament time. I think our guys really took hold of that and they have been trying to set that tone going into the tournament and in the second half of the season.” “Starting in April, our team got on a hot streak and we have been playing good baseball ever since.”
When asked about his expectations for his team in the MEAC tournament, the skipper stated “this is the most fun part of the season and I am excited to see what the (MEAC) tournament will bring.”
“This is what you work hard for in the offseason and I fully expect us to be successful.”
“All of the early morning and Fall workouts, all of the time you put in is to reward yourself with an opportunity to play for a conference championship and to give yourself a shot at regionals and the College World Series.”
BCU will begin pursuit of their 8th consecutive MEAC title when they take on Coppin State at 7:30 P.M. on Tuesday night in first round tournament action.
The Championship finale is set for Sunday, May 19th at 1 P.M.
All games are scheduled to be played at Marty L. Miller field on the campus of Norfolk State University.