Eagles seek elusive postseason success
N.C. Central coach Jim Koerner has not had a losing record in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference since taking over the Eagles baseball program in 2011.
NCCU went 14-10 in the MEAC in 2012, 12-12 in 2013 and 12-12 this time around heading into the MEAC Tournament this week at Norfolk State in Norfolk, Va.
The tournament starts Wednesday, and NCCU, the No. 3 seed out of the MEAC’s Southern Division, faces Norfolk State, the No. 2 seed from the Northern Division.
The Eagles, of course, want to still be playing baseball on May 18, championship Sunday, when a win would secure their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
First things first, though: NCCU under Koerner is 0-2 in opening rounds of the MEAC Tournament.
Koerner said his squad is poised to get over that hump in the double-elimination tournament because the Eagles are in a nice rhythm from having played Friday and Saturday, the back-to-back losses on those days to Savannah State and Florida A&M, respectively, notwithstanding.
In years past, NCCU has entered the MEAC Tournament without having played for several days, Koerner said.
“Our big thing is we’ve just got to get through the first three innings,” Koerner said. “We tend to start a little bit slow and try to settle into games. We’ve just been stressing over the last couple of weeks to come out aggressive and remain aggressive.
“We’ve got to play nine innings of baseball.”
NCCU, with an overall record of 18-31-1, is a resilient squad that will need to rely on pitching and defense while capitalizing on opportunities at the plate, Koerner said.
NCCU’s Carter Williamson this season is third in the MEAC with 42 runs batted in, and Tyson Simpson (.353, 35 RBI) has swung a mean bat for the Eagles. Those two are seniors, along with short stop Zack Lee, whose glove has been golden.
“For a Division-I shortstop to field over .950 is tremendous, and, on top of that, he’s batting at least .310,” Koerner said. “All three of those guys have really carried us offensively.”
NCCU senior pitcher Terry McNabb (2-8, 4.52 ERA) will start against Norfolk State (9 a.m., NCCUEaglePride.com). He’s been a real bulldog on the mound, Koerner said.
Eagles senior reliever Jacob Russell (4-4, 3.00 ERA) has been solid coming out of the bullpen, Koerner said.
The Eagles this season have been without several seniors on account of injuries, Koerner said. That has forced younger players to develop faster than expected, with five to seven freshman and sophomores sometimes in the starting lineup, he said.
Koerner said the stage at the MEAC Tournament won’t be too big for his younger players, although the pace of play tends to be quicker in the postseason.
Experience does count for something at this time of the year, so the older Eagles will need to lead the way, Koerner said.
“You’ve got to be able to stay in the moment and make sure things don’t get out of hand,” Koerner said.