With patches of snow still covering parts of the field Wednesday afternoon at Minges-Overton Complex, Pitt Community College found itself inside at Next Level Training Center for the first official practice of the 2018 baseball season. That did nothing to put a chill on the excitement the Bulldogs have as they begin their quest for a return to the Division II World Series.
PCC finished 42-9 last year, posting a 1-2 record in the 10-team double-elimination series in Enid, Okla. A 14-6 loss to eventual champion Kankakee Community College of Kankakee, Ill., ended the the Bulldogs’ run.
For those sophomores back this year, nothing short of a return to Oklahoma will suffice.
“We made it, which is always nice, but the ultimate goal is to win the whole thing,” said third baseman Drew Piscorik, one of three former South Central High School players on the PCC roster. “We’re excited to get back with this new team. We’ve got a lot of returning guys, a lot of good new guys, some talented guys, so hopefully we can make a push. We’re definitely more motivated to make that push to win the whole thing.”
PCC, which opens Feb. 10-11 with a pair of doubleheaders against USC Sumter, enters the season ranked sixth in the Division II preseason poll. The Bulldogs climbed as high as fifth last year and entered the World Series as a No. 3 seed. They opened with an 8-6 loss to Hinds Community College then fell 16-12 to Parkland and 14-6 to Kankakee.
“Looking back at it, it was a great season, but I think our guys felt like we were as good as any team out there. We just didn’t play like it,” said head coach Tommy Eason, named the Region X and Southeast District Coach of the Year last season.. “. … We start the season with a lot of confidence, but at the same time it’s probably going to be one of those seasons where the bull’s eye is on our back all season long, and that’s fine. That what makes good teams good teams, and if they can handle that pressure, no big deal.”
Piscorik welcomes the challenge that comes with being nationally ranked.
“I’m not shying away from that,” he said. “I’d much rather be targeted and get everybody’s best than to beat them when they’re not at their best.”
Replacing their top three pitchers ranks as priority one for Eason and his staff that includes Jason Wood and newcomer Addison Braswell, a former PCC player who most recently was a student assistant at NC State. Shelton Perkins, Justin Walke and Blake Morgan combined for 21 wins for PCC last season.
Ten pitchers with a combined 20 wins and five saves are back, led by Andrew Blake, a 6-5 right-hander from Lewisville. Blake posted a 7-1 record last year despite a 7.30 earned run average. He was dominating at times, striking out 67 in 53 innings, but also surrendered 69 hits and a team-high 10 homers.
He said he spent the offseason in the weight room and working on his mechanics to improve on his freshman year.
“I started off pretty hot last year with wins,” he said. “I’d like to repeat that and maybe lower the ERA.
“A lot of guys put in a lot of work in the fall and in the offseason in the weight room and on the field. I think now that we’ve had a little taste of that we want to go back out there to Oklahoma.”
Piscorik also looks to improve on a solid season in which he hit .368 in 48 games with five homers and 36 RBI.
“Offensively I’m looking to do a little more damage,” Piscorik said. “I feel like I’m a middle-of-the-order guy, and I feel like some more power numbers would be good for me. Really it all comes down to me hopefully driving in runs and guys getting on base before me. We’ve got a lot of team speed. Hopefully if those guys get on I can knock them in.”
Among the top returnees logging at least 70 at-bats are outfielders Braxton Greene and Patrick Wheeler, infielders Macon Langston, Mason Pickard and Reese Farmer, and catcher Sammy Craft. PCC also picked up three roster additions for the spring semester — infielder Joey Goldsmith from Madison High School in Vienna, Va., pitcher Branden Kunz from UNC Charlotte and outfielder Joe Mason from Wingate.
Mason was among players tabbed as 2018 Junior College Players to Watch by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in the publication’s Jan. 5 edition. He hit .313 for Wingate last season with 51 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 29 RBIs.
Eason said Mason not only adds depth to the outfield but brings some needed power from the right side of the plate.
“He’s a pretty special outfielder and a pretty special player within himself,” Eason said.
Kunz, a right-hander, is injured but is expected to provide depth to the pitching staff.
“He’s pretty new to pitching,” Eason said. “I think he’s only pitched for one year. Talking with the coaches at Charlotte, they thought it would be a great opportunity to go to junior college and get a few more innings in and hopefully be able to re-recruit him.”
Blake said, as a sophomore, he has added responsibility to help newcomers like Kunz to settle in and help the Bulldogs reach their goals.
“I think it’s important for everybody to have the leadership qualities, but as a returner and coming off a decent year last year I think it’s important that a lot of the older guys to take that role of leadership and taking some of the younger guys under their wings,” he said. “You can’t get complacent. You really have to stay the course and trust the process. Coach Eason has a saying, ‘Steady Eddie,’ don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Stay even keel throughout the season, throughout the games. That’s one thing we’ve really got to focus on this year.”
And hopefully repeat as Region X champions and return to Oklahoma.
“The taste is nice, the ring’s nice,” Piscorik said, “but I’d like to get a bigger one.”