MEAC Preview

Bethune-Cookman still on top of the MEAC in 2008


Feb. 17, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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It's still Bethune-Cookman's domain until further notice. With last year's MEAC tourney title, the Wildcats have now won nine of the last 10 conference titles and gone to the NCAA tournament seven of the previous eight seasons. That's dominance. Though things are looking up elsewhere, with Norfolk State and North Carolina A&T setting high-water marks for wins last year. And the Aggies gave B-CC all they wanted in the tournament; they are still just contenders at this point as the rest of the conference tries to keep up.

 

Favorite: Bethune-Cookman

Contender: North Carolina A&T

Darkhorse: Norfolk State

 

Bethune-Cookman (33-27, 16-1)

 

The Good News:

It comes as no surprise that the Wildcats had the best pitching (3.90) and defense (.965) in the MEAC last year. Starters Joseph Gautier (5-2, 3.26) and Hiram Burgos (6-7, 3.40) will keep B-CC in any game. 1B Alejandro Jimenez (.331-6-22) and OF Jose Ortiz (.284, 14SBs) will kick-start the offense.

 

The Bad News:

Exited hurlers Dustin Blackwell and Francisco Rodriguez accounted for 18 wins and 217 innings of work last year. The Angels have left the lineup too: Angel Mercado (.404) and Angel Negron (.339) are both gone.

 

Schedule Note:

The Wildcats will get plenty of taste of the big time when they take on teams like UCLA, USC, Stetson, Florida, FAU and Miami. But truth be told, that's the usual fare with them.

 

Coppin State (0-44, 0-18)

 

The Good News:

I'm sure every college baseball fan in the country is pulling for the Eagles to get a win this year. Harvey Lee takes over the coaching duties and will bring a whole new -- dare I say, winning -- attitude. OF Harry Williams (.339) returns to spark the offense.

 

The Bad News:

Oh man! Where do I start? Obviously, for a winless team, the ERA was a balloon (16.67) and the fielding was .908. The team batting average of .161 was fairly alarming too. There's no where to go but up, to say the least.

 

Schedule Note:

I kept hoping for a bevy of Division II or NAIA opponents on the slate so that the Eagles could get a guaranteed W or two. But to no avail, since there are few. There is a matchup with North Carolina Central on the 11th of March. MEAC games with UMES stand as the best chance for Division I wins.

 

Delaware State (22-26-2, 10-8)

 

The Good News:

2B Justin Bittner (.327-6-38) and OF Jarrett Bibb (.305) and C Wynton Weather (.272) will keep the defense strong up the middle. Senior hurlers JR McAllister (7-5, 5.24) and James Friel (4-5, 5.46) are returning weekend starters.

 

The Bad News:

The Hornets finished the 2007 season on a 1-8 dip. Top hitters Tom Shelley and Brandon Gravely will be missed. The defensive percentage of .943 must improve. The `pen must step up, after DSU got outscored by 39 runs in innings 7-through-9.

 

Schedule Note:

With Maine coming to Dover in the last weekend in February, let's hope for a surprising warm front. The Hornets also get MEAC biggies Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State at home in late April.

 

Florida A&M (16-36, 11-7)

 

The Good News:

Robert Lucas, who was the former head coach from 1986-to-1991, returns to take over the head coaching duties. CF Darryl Evans (.366, 18SBs) and 2B Cory McFadden (.284) will pace the offense. SS Adam Gordon (.299, 11SBs) will anchor the defense.

 

The Bad News:

Longtime coach Joe Durant ended a 17-year run as the FAMU head man. A horrible 1-27 start from last year probably ran him off. Or maybe it was the .927 fielding percentage, which was a huge problem. Cirilo Manego (5-6, 5.46) is the lone effective pitcher remaining from last year's staff.

 

Schedule Note:

Other than the opening weekend at UCF, the rest of the out of conference schedule is pretty manageable, including seven games with non-Division I opponents.

 

North Carolina A&T (28-31, 11-7)

 

The Good News:

The Aggies made a spirited run in the MEAC tournament, coming within a game of going to the NCAAs. Their 28 wins for 2007 was a school record. INF Joe McIntyre (.339-7-65) is a Wallace Award candidate.

 

The Bad News:

3B Charlie Gamble and P John Primus were two of the best players in A&T history and have now moved on. Ags need to avoid another 3-12 start like last season. The 350 strikeouts suffered by A&T batters were way too many as well.

 

Schedule Note:

Good night! Lots of tough games here before MEAC play, including a pair against North Carolina State, three at Elon and single games with Louisville and Charlotte. I like the trip to Jackson State at the end of the regular season for a good MEAC-SWAC showdown.

 

Norfolk State (25-25, 9-8)

 

The Good News:

NSU set a school record with 25 wins in 2007. Spartans will lean on Leon Schabacker (4-7, 3.87) as the staff ace. OFs Billy Canady (.264, 11SBs) and Jarrod Farley (.234, 14SBs) cover a lot of ground. Watch for C Brad Stevenson, a transfer from VCU who didn't commit an error behind the dish in 2006.

 

The Bad News:

MEAC pitcher of the year Luke Foss is in pro ball now, as is C Lyall Foran and 1B Ernie Banks. All were huge keys to the most successful Division I season in Spartan history.

 

Schedule Note:

Good beginning and ending here. The Spartans will play in the HBCU Classic down in Savannah to start the season (vs. Chicago State, North Carolina Central and Savannah State). Then, for the second year in a row, they'll host the MEAC tournament in Norfolk. Last year, they finished in third place after racing out to a pair of wins in rounds one and two.

 

UMES (10-45, 5-13)

 

The Good News:

Things could be turning around in year two of coach William Gardner's regime. Kenny Richardson (.240) and Tyler Love (.181) will anchor the infield and improve on offense. Lefty Mike Roberts (2-12, 7.98) threw four complete games last season.

 

The Bad News:

With only eight returning players off of last year's team, the Hawks will rely on a lot of newcomers. The top six hitters on the 2007 roster have all moved on. Dustin Longchamps, the only pitcher with an ERA below 7.00 (4-11, 4.26) is no longer around for the staff to lean on.

 

Schedule Note:

I don't know how something like this happens, but it appears as if the Hawks will play four MEAC weekends on the road and only two weekends at home. C'mon schedule-makers, in the words of John McEnroe, you can NOT be serious!

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