What: MEAC Baseball Tournament

When: May 19-22

Where: Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – Salisbury, Maryland

The 2016 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Baseball Tournament begins this week and teams from the Southern Division have won the 17 conference tournament titles. However, this could be the year the streak ends.

Norfolk State, the No. 1 team in the Northern Division, could very easily be the squad that ends it. The Spartans (27-19, 19-5 MEAC) finished atop the Northern Division for the second consecutive year and have the best record in the conference while tying the school record for most conference and overall wins in a season.

“We certainly have a strong core of players,’’ Norfolk State coach Claudell Clark said. “By that, I mean guys who are stepping up on a daily basis and achieving to their fullest potential.”

The remainder of the tournament field consists of Delaware State (13-35, 13-10) and Coppin State (12-36, 8-16) from the Northern Division and defending tournament champion and top seed from the Southern Division Florida A&M (30-19, 19-5), Bethune-Cookman (25-25, 17-7) and North Carolina Central (24-28, 11-13).

The Spartans were sizzling hot as the season ended. They won 11 of their final 14 games and nine of their last 10 conference games.

Norfolk State’s success has resulted from quality pitching and timely hitting.

The Spartans lead the MEAC with a team ERA of 3.71 and have allowed 157 earned runs, 88 fewer than any other team in the conference, while holding opponents to a .255 batting average.

Jonathan Mauricio and Matt Outman anchor the Spartans’ pitching staff. Mauricio leads the conference with a 2.22 ERA. Outman, the 2015 and 2016 MEAC Pitcher of the Year, is second with a 2.62 ERA. Outman (7-2) is the conference leader in victories, while Mauricio (6-2) is second.

“I truly believe when our guys know our starting pitching and our rotation is lined and healthy for the weekend, they come to the ballpark with a lot of confidence,” Clark said.“They know those guys are going to get off to a good start. They’re going to throw strikes and be competitive. They know they have a chance to win every game those guys pitch.”

Norfolk State’s offense hasn’t been imposing, but it’s highly productive. The Spartans team batting average (.271) is tied for fourth in the conference, but they are second in runs scored (306).

“What we have every weekend and every game is somebody in the lineup always stepping up,” Clark said. “Guys are stepping up from so many different points in the lineup. It puts a lot of pressure on the other team.”

Four Spartans are hitting .300 or better, led by Kyle Vaas (.319).  No Spartan is among the conference RBI leaders, but seven have knocked home 24 or more runs.

Lead-off man Denathan Dukes is the Spartans’ offensive catalyst. He leads the conference with 25 stolen bases in 26 attempts. Brian Beard is second with 19 in 20 attempts.

“All nine of our starters have made great contributions during the season,” Clark said.

Clark says in order for the Spartans to be successful in the tournament, they must be stronger defensively than they were last year.

“We didn’t play defense as well as we wanted (last year),” he says. “As of late, we’ve been playing good defense. If we can keep it tight (defensively), if we can play a team game as it relates to defense, our pitching and hitting rivals anybody’s.”

Defending champion Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, which has won eight of the last 10 tournament championships, appear to be the Spartans’ biggest hurdles in the tournament.  Florida A&M held a half-game lead over the Wildcats for the No. 1 seed in the Southern Division going into this weekend’s games. The Rattlers play a three-game home series against North Carolina A&T State, while Bethune-Cookman has a three-game series at Savannah State.

Florida A&M (.326) and Bethune-Cookman (.284) are 1-2, respectively in hitting in the conference. The Wildcats are the best defensive team in the conference, having committed only 64 errors with a conference best .966 fielding percentage.

Nathan Bond leads the MEAC in hitting, with a .387 average, for Bethune-Cookman. Clay Middleton (.363) and Miguel Cruz (.341) are also hitting above .300 for the Wildcats.

Florida A&M has the Nos. 2-4 leading hitters in the conference in Ben Ellzey (.369), Brian Davis (.369) and Alec Wong (.364). Dylan Dillard, the 2016 MEAC Player of the Year, leads the MEAC with 51 RBIs for the Rattlers. Sawyer Betts (3-0, 2.29 ERA) and Ricky Page (4-3, .2.89) are the Rattlers’ top pitchers.

MEAC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Game

Matchup

Time

Coverage

Thursday, May 19

1

Bethune-Cookman (S2) 10, Coppin State (N3) 0

12 p.m.

2

Delaware State (N2) vs. North Carolina Central (S3)

3:30 p.m.

3

Coppin State (N3) vs. Loser of Game 2

7 p.m.
                                                    Friday, May 20

4

Florida A&M (S1) vs. Winner of Game 2

12 p.m.

5

Norfolk State (N1) vs. Bethune-Cookman (S2)

3:30 p.m.

6

Winner of Game 3 vs. Lower Seed Loser Game 4/5

7 p.m.

Saturday, May 21

7

Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 4

12 p.m.

8

Winner Game 6 vs. Higher Seed Loser Game 4/5

3:30 p.m.

9

Winner of Game 8 vs. Loser of Game 7

7 p.m.

Saturday, May 14

10

Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 9

1 p.m.

11

(If Necessary)

5 p.m.

meacsports.com



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