Scott Jennings knows what it takes to win. In his 18 seasons as head baseball coach at Hagerstown Community College, each of his teams has finished with a winning record.
Jennings enters his 19th season at HCC 39 wins shy of 1,000 for his career and 31 away from 600 with the Hawks.
But JUCO coaches like Jennings know as seasons come and go, so do the players. Although his team consists almost entirely of freshmen this season, Jennings said very little has changed.
"We have a good group of kids who have worked hard since the fall," Jennings said. "With a lot of new guys you're never quite sure what you're going to get. The expectations are still the same even though we're young. We've been fortunate enough to have 18 straight winning seasons here and I don't expect anything different this year."
Last season, the Hawks finished with a 27-24 record and third in NJCAA Division I Region XX. The five returning sophomores from last season's team are pitcher Josh Colliflower (Clear Spring), catchers Austin Moser (Smithsburg) and Enrique Morales (Ridgewood, N.Y.) and infielders Nate Cotton (Nassau, N.Y.) and Robbie Houck (Middletown).
Jennings will look to Colliflower to be the leader of the pitching staff.
"It puts a lot of pressure on me because I feel like a lot of them are looking up to me, so I have to set a good example," said Colliflower, whose 92 MPH fastball during a fall bullpen session was the highest on the pitching staff. "Personally, I would like to have less walks this year. I had a lot of walks last year and walks really killed us."
The Hawks' young staff will be tested early during the annual trip to Vero Beach, Fla., March 1-9 that features daily doubleheaders against talented Canadian and American teams. One of the teams HCC will face is Canadian Baseball Academy, a 22U elite team from Quebec with a history of producing professional players.
"It's very important that we hit the ground running because we have a very tough schedule there," Jennings said. "From going to Florida over the years, you kind of know what you're up against.
"The biggest thing is going to baseball weather, which is exciting," Jennings said. "It's a nice complex with nice fields, and it's much warmer than what it is around here. We have to be ready to play coming out of the gate and come out strong."
Players such as freshman pitcher Dylan Reid (Catoctin) are also eager to head south and play in warm weather.
"Getting the opportunity to get outside and play is exciting to me," Reid said. "Fifty games is a big schedule. I've never played one that big before and being able to go down to Florida and play 14 games is awesome."
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After enjoying a week in the Florida sunshine, the Hawks will return home to begin Maryland JUCO Conference play against Allegany College of Maryland on March 14, followed by a weekend doubleheader against powerhouse Harford Community College.
Joining Colliflower and Reid on the pitching staff this year are Will Grove (North Hagerstown), 2018 Herald-Mail pitcher of the year Ryan Greene (Williamsport), Connor Schildt (Hauppague, N.Y.), Seth Hartman (North Hagerstown), Mitch Potter (Southern Fulton), Brock Smith (Boonsboro), Steven Ricketts (South Hagerstown), Zach Depoy (Charles Town, W.Va.), and Cole Bernier (Bellefonte, Pa).
Moser and Morales will split time behind the plate for the Hawks. Moser, a catcher in high school, also will give HCC options at first base and designated hitter like last season.
Having sophomores Moser and Morales behind the plate will be important to help the freshmen pitchers progress.
"The catchers who have been through the league last year should help calm the nerves of the young pitching staff," Jennings said. "Morales caught a good bit last year, and we just moved Moser back behind the plate and he's looking good there so far."
The middle infield will feature Belmont Abbey transfer Andrew Mathias (Boonsboro), Spencer Martin (North) and Drew Carline (Spring Mills) at second base, and Josh Menders (Fredericksburg, Va.) at shortstop.
Third base duties will be rotated between Cotton and Houck. Houck was an honorable mention on the All-Region XX team last season.
The outfield is one spot where the Hawks are thin.
"Outfield depth could really be a concern right now," Jennings said. "We really need to stay healthy there."
Jennings' options in the outfield this spring will be Jayden Weida, (Emmaus, Pa.), Rob Cable (Fairfax Station, Va.), Evan Marushak (Emmaus, Pa.), and Potter, another dual player who will see time on the mound in addition to the field.
The Hawks were scheduled to open the season Saturday at Penn State Mont Alto, but the doubleheader has been postponed until April 10 due to weather.