The East Central Community College Warriors were looking good in early March of 2020 as the team won three of the last four games before the season was abruptly cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That desire to be back on the diamond has pushed the returning sophomores, and incoming freshmen whose senior seasons ended early, to be even more prepared for an upcoming season of MACCC baseball.
"There have been obstacles for everyone," said ECCC head baseball coach Neal Holliman. "It's been as close to routine as it can be with everything we are tackling, but our guys understand the situation and have been taking the necessary protocol to be able to play."
The 2021 season will see some differences from years past including the ability for players to not lose a year of eligibility from 2020. The result of that is four "third-year" sophomores in Jesse Boydstun, Roper Ball, Eli Harrison, and Walker Johnson that look to be the leaders of this squad.
"Having these guys back of course brings good experience," said Holliman. "But more than anything it provides leadership...especially with these four young men, they are high-quality individuals as well as players."
Boydstun leads returning players at the plate as he posted a staggering .475 batting average through a team-high 59 at-bats last season, while Ball and Harrison were solid bats in the line up as well. Joining these players in a leadership role is Amani Larry who drove in 12 runs as a freshman while posting a .373 batting average.
Coach Holliman and the Warriors look to continue the high-octane offensive play with a diverse lineup that can hit for power and provide speed on the basepaths. The lineup, filled with returning players and a group of talented incoming freshmen, looks to continually put pressure on opposing teams and is sure to provide exciting baseball at the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex.
"We have several guys that are coming back that haven't been through a full season of play, but have been a part of our system and know what's going on," said Holliman. "I like our chemistry and comradery and that's what can separate us from other teams. Championship teams have to have that."
The pitching staff has three players returning in Johnson, Jeremy Martin, and Calvin McClendon. Martin leads the way in innings pitched as a returner as he threw 20.1 in the abbreviated season a year ago. Johnson saw action in 17.1 innings and posted a team-high 28 strikeouts on the year. These guys will be joined by several new arms that fill out the staff and provide the East Central coaching staff some depth in the bullpen.
"Leading up to the season we have really made some strides in implementing the things we are trying to do from a pitching standpoint," said Holliman. "Our ability to locate from the mound is key for us, our defense collectively as a unit will be solid, and we have a staff that can all throw for us in a lot of different roles."
"Our goal every year is to compete on a national level...that takes a lot of commitment and effort and our guys have bought-in to that idea," said Holliman. "As coaches, our other goal is to take every team that comes through East Central and maximize their potential. We want to get everything out of these players on the field, in the classroom, and as young men."
With a lineup filled with experience, a solid pitching staff that provides depth and options, and sound defense in the field, the East Central Warriors are prone for yet another stellar year of baseball at the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex.
The season is scheduled to start on Wednesday, February 3 as the Warriors travel to Poplarville to face the Pearl River Wildcats in a doubleheader slated for 2 and 5 p.m. start times with the first home matchup on Saturday, February 6 versus Jones College, also at 2 and 5 p.m.