By Kamron Gatlin
Eastfield’s baseball team followed a consistent pattern recently, winning a national championship every five years: 2001, 2006 and 2011.
This year’s team will try to break that pattern and repeat as NJCAA Division III champions.
The Harvesters are entering this season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in NJCAA Division III. With 14 players returning from last season’s World Series team, this ranking seems justified.
Many of those 14 players logged significant playing time last season, including World Series MVP Nathan Hancock, who had a batting average of .385 with 20 RBI in 148 at bats. Another returning key player is right-handed pitcher Joe Mills, who struck out 65 batters in the same number of innings while only walking 16.
One thing that carried Eastfield last year was its strong team chemistry. Coach Michael Martin thinks that will continue this season.
“We’ve got a pretty good group of guys this year, and we believe the new guys we brought in will fit in nicely with the players we already have” said Martin.
The key for the Harvesters this year will be their ability to run the bases.
“We have got some good speed guys this year,” Martin said.
Because of the dumbing of the bats last season (a new rule change in which the NJCAA took away bats that were deemed too lively), this added speed could play a big part in manufacturing runs on days when the team isn’t hitting well. The Harvesters will try to use this speed to put on many different plays that get their speed guys going and create problems for the opposing teams pitchers and catchers.
Two areas that the coaches really emphasized this offseason were pitching and defense.
“We believe that if we can do those two things then we will be in every ballgame and have a chance to win it in the end,” Martin said.
The Harvesters really excelled in this category last season, ranking third among all NJCAA Division III teams in fielding percentage.
Easfield opened the season by splitting a pair of doubleheaders against Ranger College, an NJCAA Division I school, putting the Harvesters’ record at 2-2. The team opens conference play Feb. 17 at Brookhaven.