A trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II College World Series is something that has yet to be accomplished in ECCC’s long baseball history, but Head Coach Neal Holliman wants his players to believe that the 720-mile trip to Enid, Okla., site of the World Series, is always a possibility if they achieve their potential as players and individuals.
“Our program goal always is to get to the state tournament,” explained Holliman, who is entering his 10th season as East Central’s head baseball coach. “But while winning the state tournament is good, we want to do that while also winning our region and getting to the College World Series in Oklahoma.
“More importantly, as a program, we want each of our players to play to the best of their ability every day. Everything else will take care of itself. We want to maximize the potential of each and every young man on our team. We may have a second place team and finish second, and I will be happy. But if we have a World Series quality team and not get there, then we haven’t done our job as coaches.”
The Diamond Warriors will put their ability to test as they take to the diamond to begin the 2016 season Tuesday, Feb. 9, hosting Bishop State Community College out of Mobile, Ala., in doubleheader action that begins at 2 p.m. at the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex on the Decatur campus.
Holliman’s 2015 Diamond Warrior squad finished 26-18 overall and 18-10 in Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges league play, good enough for fifth place among the 15 teams. East Central’s season came to an end in the quarterfinals of the MACJC State Playoffs at Meridian.
A strong nucleus of players returns for the Diamond Warriors heading into the 2016 season, including five sophomores who have signed to continue their college careers next year at NCAA Division I and II universities.
Anchoring the infield will be shortstop Dylan Snypes, who will play at Oral Roberts University next season. The Wayne County High School product, who hit .275 last spring with four doubles and 11 RBI, is known for his defensive skills.
“Dylan is one of the best, if not the best, shortstop in our league when you take into account the whole package,” said Holliman, who guided East Central to the 2007 and 2013 MACJC State Tournament titles. “He is a good runner, left-handed hitter, and possesses a true shortstop arm. He’s also gotten a lot stronger and we expect more production this season with the bat as well.”
Michael Davis, a product of Clinton High School and an MACJC Second Team All-State selection last season, returns behind the plate. The Southern Arkansas University signee hit .323 with 20 RBI in 40 games last season and only committed four errors in 276 chances behind the plate for a .986 fielding percentage.
“Michael is as good a catcher as there is in our league,” noted Holliman. “But the best part about Michael is his competitive nature. He also provides a lot versatility in that he can catch and play in the outfield if needed.”
Back to provide experience in the outfield is Reagan Warren, who can play both left and right field. The former Newton County High School standout played in only 24 games last season due to injury, but hit .329 in limited action.
“Reagan played well last year, but we believe he’ll play better this season,” explained Holliman. “He played in a wooden bat league this summer to improve his offense and will bat in the middle of the order for us this season.”
The strength of this year’s East Central baseball team could be the pitching staff, with several quality arms returning to the mound for the Diamond Warriors.
Right-hander Josh Carpenter out of Winona High School returns after pitching 41 innings last season, mostly in middle relief. Holliman said that if he can keep the 6-5, 240-pound Carpenter in the bullpen and out of the starting lineup, it is a bonus for ECCC.
“If we can get the ball to Josh in the fourth or fifth inning we think we’ll win the game,” said Holliman. “So we hope our starters will produce and we can keep him coming in out of the bullpen this year.”
Also returning on the mound are University of Tennessee Martin signee Peyton Cain, a right-hander from Newton County High School who pitched in 12 games last season and who will be in the starting rotation; Taylor Creighton, a 6-3, 225-pound right-handed pitcher out of Quitman High School, who is coming off Tommy John surgery and will be a conference starter; right-hander Channing Wall, a University of North Alabama signee out of Louisville High School who is slated to be a closer out of the bullpen; and Matt Mitchell, a left-hander out of Lake High School and a Delta State University signee.
Wall pitched in 13 games in 2015 with a 2-2 record and 20 strikeouts in 27 and two third innings. Mitchell pitched 23 innings in nine games, including three starts. He also played in 18 games in the outfield, batting .316 with eight RBI.
“Taylor’s arm is doing great after the surgery and he gives us some versatility,” said Holliman. “He can play first and third base as well as pitch and he has a strong bat. Matt is a two-way guy who is just a winner. He’s as remarkable a young an as I’ve been around and also gives us options since he can play left and right field.”
Also back is right-hander Mason Wooldridge out of West Lauderdale High School, a side-arm pitcher expected to throw a lot of innings during different times of the game.
Holliman will depend on several newcomers to fill the gap left by four starters who are now playing for four-year universities. Last year’s first baseman Cody Daigle is slated to be the opening day first baseman for Louisiana Tech this spring. Last year’s No. 1 pitcher and First Team All-State selection Will Myers is now on the mound for the University of Alabama Huntsville. Last season’s third baseman Dylan Little now plays for the University of West Alabama. Ben Cooley, who was named to the NJCAA Rawlings Gold Glove Team in 2015 for his defensive play in center field, is playing for the University of North Alabama. Relief pitcher and backup catcher Lane Fazende took his talents to William Carey University.
Among the new players expected to contribute on the mound include right-handed pitcher Brock Morris of West Jones High School and left-hander Luke Yancey, who pitched for East Rankin Academy last spring.
“These men will fill vital roles whether starters or long relief guys,” said Holliman. “The will throw vital innings for us.”
Billy Cameron, a product of Mendenhall High School, is competing for the third base job for the Diamond Warriors this year after redshirting last season. Cole Prestegard, a 6-3, 223-pound product of Huntsville High School (Ala.) who bats from the left side, is in the running for the job at first base. Blake Paben out of Madison Central High School will see playing time in the outfield.
East Central’s schedule includes a doubleheader against each of the other 14 MACJC teams. The top eight teams in league play will advance to the state playoffs for four, best-of-three series. Those four winners advance to the state tournament.
The Diamond Warriors pre-conference schedule will include a tournament in Niceville, Fla., including a matchup against Northwest Florida Community College, the defending National Junior College Athletic Association Division I World Series Champion.
East Central will also host the EC Invitational at the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex on Campus Feb. 19-21.