Baseball NEWS

Top-seeded Patriots look for offensive breakout in Region X tournament

May 13, 2016

BURLINGTON, N.C. — By the numbers, the Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) baseball team’s offense is a potent one.

The key: balance.

The Patriots (40-14), ranked No. 5 in NJCAA Division II, put their Region X-leading offense to the test tonight (May 13) when they open up tournament play as the No. 1 seed. PHCC takes on No. 8 seed New River Community College at 7 p.m. in its opening game at Burlington Athletic Stadium. The teams recently met Apr. 30 with the Patriots earning a doubleheader sweep in their final road series of the season.

Coming off a 40-win regular season, the PHCC offense has been tough to limit. The Patriots hope the recent power surge continues over the weekend with a berth to the Division II Junior College World Series at stake. Region X Coach of the Year Frank Jagoda said the pressure gets turned up a little more during the postseason.

“Any time you get into a tournament you have to play a complete game of baseball from start to finish, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Jagoda said. “It doesn’t matter who the 1 seed is or the 8 or the 2 or the 7, you still have to play the games and win the same amount of games regardless … This group has shown the ability to get a lead and sustain a lead; get a lead, lose a lead and fight back; start from behind and come back. We’ve had a wide variety of baseball games this year, and there’s no doubt about it that the tournament is something a little bigger, but we can’t make it out to be more than what it is.”

With a 15-5 victory over Southeastern Community College to cap the regular season, the win not only was the 17th straight conference victory for the Patriots, but also marked the 10th time they scored 10 or more runs during Region X play. PHCC scored 186 runs in 20 conference games — clearing No. 2 seed Brunswick Community College by six runs for most in the conference.

The No. 5 Patriots like to strike quick, scoring in the first inning in half of their conference games for a total of 35 runs — 19 percent of the team’s Region X total. PHCC scored a season-high nine runs in the first inning of a 14-0 win Apr. 16 at Lenoir Community College.

Few starting pitchers have been able to work late into games and handle the Patriots a third time through the lineup. Mainly, it’s been PHCC getting to opponents’ bullpen by the fourth inning.

“I think when we score runs early we’re a hard team to beat,” said Patriots designated hitter Brandon Nania, a second-team All-Region X selection. “Rashad (Stewart) starting things is a big key for us and I think it gets everyone rolling and we stay focused,” “This is probably the best lineup I’ve been a part of. Our whole lineup, if one guy doesn’t do it then the next guy is there to pick him up.”

Stewart is the engine starter, as the first-team All-Region X infielder leads the Patriot offense in six offensive categories, notably his team-leading eight home runs and single-season program record 35 stolen bases, while boasting a .419 batting average and team-high 78 hits out of the lead off spot.

But again, balance is the key, and the lineup hit .318 collectively in conference play. First-team All-Region X catcher Ryan Coale leads with a .431 average and second-team All-Region X infielder Aaron Nanney has a team-high 37 walks, while Nania rounds out the top four in the lineup with a team-high 55 RBI. The quartet finished the regular season with at least seven homers each.

Twenty-nine of the team’s 46 homers this season came from its first four hitters, but still had 11 players go deep during the season. It also had a third of their 513 hits go for extra bases, aiding to a series of big innings throughout the 54 games.

“Sometimes when we hit the ball I’m like ‘whoa, where did that come from’?” Stewart said. “It’s trusting our coaches and the approach.”

The 9.3 runs per game in Region X play was a product of the team’s .448 on base and .507 slugging percentages. Six players hit better than .300 and seven others had at least 30 RBI. Even in the three-game sweep at the hands of Wake Tech to open Region X play, PHCC still scored 16 runs in the series. It scored 21 runs this season against Brunswick and 31 more in three games against Catawba Valley, the other top seeds in the tournament.

“We have guys putting together good at bats and that’s what it’s all about; staying within ourselves, staying with the approach and grinding out at bats,” Jagoda added. “We’re getting pitches to hit and we just need to stay with the right approach.”

The run support has only helped ease the pressure on a pitching staff that has shown its own dominance. The staff accumulated a 3.87 ERA with 430 strikeouts in 383 innings of work this season, allowing less than a hit per inning.

The winner of tonight’s game plays Saturday at the same time against the winner of No. 4 Catawba Valley and No. 5 Wake Tech. The loser of that game will then be forced into a doubleheader scenario Sunday and Monday with the hopes forcing an if necessary championship game Tuesday afternoon.

Filed under: Baseball