By Connor Iapoce
Coming off a season that saw them rocket up the standings to second place in the region and eighth in the nation, the County College of Morris baseball team is looking to continue that hot streak when its 2018 campaign kicks off on Saturday, March 3.
Titans men’s baseball is one of the more storied athletic programs at County College of Morris with three trips to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series and more than 50 former players reaching the professional leagues. A successful 2017 season resulted in being crowned as the Garden State Athletic Conference Champions.
Head coach Brian Eberly said it is realistic the team will be able to win the region once more, possibly even heading to the NJCAA Division II College World Series.
“Our goal is to win the region and get to the College World Series,” said Eberly, who has been with CCM for the past eight seasons. “I think it’s very realistic. We won the conference last year. We’ve put more players into the big leagues than any other New Jersey junior college. We’ve been to the College World Series on three different occasions here and it’s got a strong history and we’ve done well recently as well.”
The makeup of the team has changed from last year, and this is reflected in the Titans being unranked by the NJCAA coming into this season, according to Eberly.
“We have a lot of new faces this year,” Eberly said. “We lost a lot of sophomores after last year. But I think we’re a little underappreciated going into this year. We went 41-8, finished eighth in the nation last year, and we are unranked to start the season this year. We’ve got a lot of proving ourselves to do.”
Eberly said he has placed an emphasis on strengthening the bullpen this year. The Titans lost a majority of their pitchers as last year’s sophomore pitchers graduated and moved on to four-year programs.
“We lost a large majority of our pitching staff, so we’ve been working hard at molding a lot of young guys and new guys,” Eberly said. “I think we’ll hit well. It’s just a matter of throwing strikes.”
Titans have begun preseason conditioning to get ready at the start of the season in March. The team exercises in the weight room together and pitchers are beginning to throw bullpen.
“Since I’m a pitcher, we lift four days a week and throw bullpen at least twice a week,” said John Lynch, sophomore right hand pitcher. “We get a lot of conditioning in … Last year, it was really good because we had a very successful season and this year, I’m just looking forward to being a leader and having another successful year.”
Sophomore infielder Jose Severino said he is pleased with last year’s results and hopes the success will follow into this season.
“We are pushing forward and trying to make it another strong year,” Severino said.
The baseball season consists of 40 plus games in the span of March to the beginning of May unless the team reaches the playoffs and more games are played later in May. Titans players must remain consistent, according to Eberly, in order to not lose focus on the end goal of reaching the playoffs.
“We play a pretty strong schedule which I think will help prepare us for our conference games,” Eberly said. “We’ve got a pretty good group as far as the way we practice and support each other and motivate each other. I think it helps to push guys to not slack off or go into deep slumps because there’s other guys around them available if needed.”
According to Eberly, many of the Titans sophomore players from last season were placed into four-year universities to further their career playing college baseball.
“I think we placed every one of our sophomores last year,” Eberly said. “We’ve got kids, not Division I in New Jersey, but DI elsewhere in the country and other schools in New Jersey.”
Eberly placed importance on his role as coach in the decision process for the players especially regarding the difference in support that occurs between players and two-year coaches versus a coach at a higher, four-year level.
“It’s sort of an even mix between college coaching where I’m recruiting and bringing talent in but also doing a lot to help promote kids to the next level and help kids pursue careers and college choices when they leave here,” Eberly said. “It kind of gives me more to do and more ways to help and influence.”
The Titans are members of the Garden State Athletic Conference and NJCAA Region XIX at the Division II level. Students can catch their home opener against Union County College Wednesday, March 21 at the CCM baseball field near Parking Lot 9.