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Club baseball set for title defense

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The East Carolina club baseball team spent its rebuilding year after last season’s World Series win building another potential national champion.

Instead of taking this season to regroup and steadily build another contender, the Pirates and second-year coach Ben Fox are already pushing for a consecutive national crown at the National Club Baseball Association World Series, which begins against familiar foe Penn State today in Holly Springs. It was no small task to be back to the stage when considering ECU lost all but two of its starters from last season.

But here it is, a new cast of characters with the same goal making an unprecedented fifth straight appearance in the tournament.

“We’ve got some guys that played at other schools that are finally getting their chance to play here now, and we have some guys that didn’t get to play a lot last year that are finally getting their chance,” Fox said of his team. “We only returned two starters, we lost all of our starting pitching and this year was considered by most people a rebuilding year for us. But a lot of the new guys, they didn’t want to go through a rebuilding year and they put in a lot of hard work to get us back to this point to be able to compete for a national championship again.”

Understandably, even with the substantial roster losses from last year’s title-winning team, this version of ECU club baseball was shaped in part by the wave of momentum that comes with winning a national title and being a regular at the World Series.

Although none of it was easy, Fox agrees there is no better recruiter of new talent than winning on the biggest stages.

“Last year finally got us some publicity that I think we had deserved for a while,” he said. “We had been to four World Series in a row, and last year finally winning (against Central Florida) and it being in Holly Springs — locally, where people could come and watch and see the level of baseball that we play — it created a lot of momentum for the program for sure.”

The Pirates topped the Knights in dramatic fashion last season when Nick Venditti drove home Tyler Sholar with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 1-0 triumph. Fox admitted the drama also helped the Pirates.

Still, Fox stressed that it was difficult losing so much and being able to refill the many voids, but he said he already knew a lot of the players he hoped would step into the roles, In most cases, those players have succeeded.

“We had some guys who were ready to play,” said Fox, a Beaufort County native. “We also had some guys who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to be on the team last year that practiced with us throughout the fall last year that were really hungry to be on the team because they feel like they missed out. Recruiting is easier when you win. People want to come play for you when you win.”

Among the first-year players to have an impact is former J.H. Rose standout Michael Crumpler (.463 batting average, home run, 24 RBIs), now a starting outfielder with the ECU club team. Returning starters Sholar (.521, six doubles, 26 RBIs) and Jake Merzigian (.429, three home runs, 28 RBIs) are natural leaders, but contributions at the plate have also come from Tyler Petersen (.453, two HRs, two 3Bs, 19 RBIs), Oakwood School product Gabe Tippett (.407, 30 RBIs), Jake Kleifges (.492, two HRs, 30 RBIs), Jordan Maye (five HRs, 24 RBIs) and Coleman Barnacascel (14 RBIs).

Helping to take the reins of the pitching staff has been Logan Walden (7-1 record, two complete games, 2.06 ERA), the team’s former closer who leads the NCBA with 84 strikeouts and who helped steer the Pirates through the regional round against fellow club powerhouse Maryland. Also surging is lefty Tyler Jack (8-0, 50 Ks, 2.41 ERA) in the No. 2 role.

Other Pitt County locals on the roster include Dylan Cunningham (South Central) and Hunter Cannon and John Winslow (Ayden-Grifton).

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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