Eagles set for MEAC baseball tourney
Baseball could be N.C. Central’s entry point into national postseason play, as the Eagles wrap up the regular season tonight at Davidson and get ready for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament that starts Tuesday in Norfolk, Va.
The Eagles will enter the conference tournament as a confident No. 3 seed, and exiting with the title would earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“I think our guys have to be confident,” NCCU coach Jim Koerner said. “We’ve played every team that’s going to be in this tournament besides Maryland-Eastern Shore, and we’ve beaten every team that’s going to be in this tournament.
“It’s going to come down to taking advantage of opportunities, and you’ve got to get a little bit lucky. It’s a combination of both.”
NCCU’s first game in the MEAC Tournament is May 15 at 9 a.m. The Eagles, representing the Southern Division, will face the undetermined No. 2 seed from the Northern Division.
The Eagles have hung their hats on pitching and defense, Koerner said.
Senior left-handed closer Gavin Guarrera has eight saves, second in the MEAC. His earned-run average is 0.77 in 23.1 innings, recording 19 strikeouts while giving up 10 walks.
The grind of the season eventually caught up with the Eagles, but Guarrera said finishing strong before the MEAC Tournament should recalibrate the team.
“We sort of tailed off,” Guarrera said. “All we need to do is get some momentum headed into the tournament. Once we do that, we’re a difficult team to beat.”
This is Koerner’s second season with NCCU, and the Eagles went undefeate in the MEAC for the second season in a row.
“I think the guys that we have (as) a part of this program have really bought into our philosophy and how we want things done, and I think the results have shown on the field,” Koerner said.
Koerner has been developing the players he inherited and blending that talent with the handful of guys he has recruited during his short time in Durham, Guarrera said.
A call to discipline and mental dexterity, though, are the tools Koerner brought to the dugout that really stand out, Guarrera said.
“Talent is not going to always win in baseball,” Guarrera said.
Koerner said the kids who play for him must have the total package, combining baseball skills with proven records of being solid performers both in the classroom and in the community.
“There’s more to it than just going out playing baseball,” Koerner said. “It also allows me to sleep at night. I think you can win different ways, and I think coaches do win different ways. But for me, I’m not going to sacrifice what I believe is right just for a (win). If we’re going to win, if we’re going to be successful, it’s got to be my way.”
The Koerner way is an NCCU batter being man enough, within reason, to stand his ground and get plunked by the pitcher.
“We preach on-base percentage quite a bit,” Koerner said. “You can’t score runs unless you’re on base, so I want guys with that mentality. We want guys to be tough in the batter’s box.”
NCCU junior third baseman Troy Marrow leads the nation being hit by pitches, entering the game against High Point with 25.
“I’m a team player,” Marrow said. “If it’s bases loaded, a guy throwing 99 miles per hour with the game-winning run on (for the) conference championship, I’ll take it off the head.”
Earlier in the season, Koerner explained that the teams in the 2012 College World Series absorbed at least 90 pitches to the bodies of their players. Marrow said he looked back over his baseball career and realized that he was always getting hit by pitches anyway, so he figured he would stand in and take some lumps for NCCU.
Koerner has changed the culture at NCCU, Guarrera said, including hosting more reputable baseball schools such as Campbell and winning on the road.
It means NCCU can play big-boy baseball, Guarrera said.
High Point 7, NCCU 4
The Eagles banged out 10 hits, but High Point made the most of its 13-hit attack to take a 7-4 win Tuesday at historic Durham Athletic Park.
NCCU (25-26) took a 4-3 lead with solo runs in consecutive innings starting in the second, but High Point (24-24) plated three in the sixth to take control.
Eagles starter Terry McNabb (4-6) took the loss on the mound.