NORFOLK, Neb. – Consistent pitching and timely hitting will be the keys to success for the Northeast Community College baseball team as it enters its second year under Head Coach Marcus Clapp.
With the first season in the rearview mirror, the Hawks will rely heavily on 16 sophomores to compete day-in and day-out in arguably one of the toughest NJCAA conferences.
"I am excited for the 2019 season," Clapp said. "Year One of Northeast baseball is behind us and we have a good group of guys this year that want to be here and want to work. I expect us to be very competitive this year with a better understanding of conference play and what out strengths and weaknesses are as a group."
One of the strengths for the Hawks this season will be its potent batting order, consisting of former Elkhorn High School standout Drew Smith and future Houston Baptist University commit Christian Dumont.
In his first season as a Hawk, Smith hit .383 to go along with a dominant .704 slugging percentage. He tallied 17 doubles, 11 home runs and six stolen bases. He was named All-Region Second Team and First Team All-Academic for his efforts.
Dumont filled every offensive category during his first season. He notched a .366 batting average, with nine homers, 30 RBI, 16 doubles, three triples, 63 runs and 19 stolen bases. He finished in the top-50 at the NJCAA DII level in runs, doubles, total bases and total games played. He was named All-Conference Honorable Mention and All-Academic Second Team.
"We have a lot of key sophomores at key positions, which is always a plus," Clapp added. We return many of our starting hitters from last year and I expect them to be more disciplined at the plate in Year Two as well as being difficult outs."
Along with Dumont and Smith, Tanner Hunt (Elkhorn, Neb.), Donovan Warren (Omaha, Neb.) and Cale Hlavac (Omaha, Neb.) will be mainstays in the Hawks' lineup. Warren will be relied on to anchor the outfield after hitting .296 in 159 at-bats with four triples and eight home runs. Warren also cruised around the base paths, collecting 20 stolen bases. Hunt logged 166 at-bats as a freshman and flexed his power-hitting dominance with 14 doubles 13 home runs, including 46 RBI. Hlavec made the most of his opportunities in 64 at-bats, hitting .344 with eight doubles and two home runs, while also making 10 appearances on the mound.
"We have guys that continue to get better and want to get better," Clapp said. "I expect our sophomore class to be leaders and help guide the freshmen."
On the mound, the Hawks will turn to a mix of sophomores and freshmen that have garnered many accolades throughout their career. Lefty Andrew Shaw (Dillon, Colo.), a transfer from NCAA DII Adams State University, and freshman Cam Taylor (Bellevue, Neb.) will give the Hawks stability as starting pitchers.
Hunter Kelchner (Grand Junction, Colo.), Lane Koetter (Grand Junction, Colo.), MacLain Wilson (Perth, Australia) and Andrew Altstadt (Columbus, Neb.) add depth and experience to the Hawks' pitching staff.
"I feel our strength of the program will be having those sophomores with experience leading us in the right direction both on and off the field," Clapp added.
Many newcomers will also factor into the starting mix for Northeast at various positions. In the outfield Jayden Sinju (Murray, Utah) hopes to crack the starting lineup in his first year. As a senior, he hit .504 with 31 RBI and was ranked the 10th-best player in the state of Utah by Beehive Sports.
Assisting Clapp again on the diamond will be former Middle Tennessee State University outfielder Brad Jarreau and Nebraska City, Neb., native Bladen Bales. There will be one new face in the dugout this season with the Hawks in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada native, Landon Briscoe. Briscoe brings a wide range of catching experience to Northeast.
The Hawks hit the road on Saturday to square off with No. 5 Northern Oklahoma College-Enid for two doubleheaders beginning on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Enid, Okla.
For all news related to Northeast Community College athletics, visit northeasthawks.com for complete coverage. Fans can also follow the Hawks on Twitter @NortheastHawks for game-day coverage.