Story published in Herald-Mail Media Roundup, Friday, February 27, 2020
Story by Brayden Leather, Sports Staff Writer, Herald-Mail
Every so often, a sports team enjoys a preseason that gets it even more eager for the regular season to arrive.
The baseball team at Hagerstown Community College is wrapping up one of those preseasons right now, and the chatter around the batting cage is optimistic.
"We've had really good practices up to this point and I think the guys are anxious to get going. We just have to get out and play games so we can work out all the kinks and play for real," Hawks coach Scott Jennings said. "On paper, we look pretty good this year. Hopefully it transfers to the field."
HCC is coming off a 37-18 campaign in 2019 and a third-place finish in the NJCAA Division I Region XX tournament, but the Hawks were slowed down by Potomac State twice in the three-team tournament in their quest to go deeper in the postseason.
This year, HCC has reloaded its pitching staff and has depth at virtually every position, giving the Hawks confidence they can win the Region XX crown for the first time since 2008.
"We can win a lot of games. Our expectation is to win a lot of games," sophomore infielder Josh Menders said. "I see our whole lineup as a strength, our whole pitching staff as a strength. We got a lot of upgrades from last year and the talent is there. We just don't have weaknesses."
The Hawks have the luxury of having six two-way players on the roster this season, who will pitch when not playing in the field. One of those two-way players in particular has Jennings excited.
"Kam Mays-Hunt is a transfer from Arkansas State who has an electric arm. He's been in the low 90s in the gym," Jennings said. "We haven't had an arm like that here in a while. His big thing is learning how to pitch. He's a little raw yet, but he can throw it."
The roster lists 16 options on the mound for HCC, with seven of them returning sophomores.
"We're a lot deeper than we were last year," sophomore pitcher Brock Smith (Boonsboro) said. "We just have a lot better pitching staff than last year. We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things."
Offense is another strength the Hawks seem destined to enjoy again this spring. Last year as a team, HCC hit .296, producing 372 runs in 54 games (6.8 runs per game).
"We're going to have some young hitters in the lineup and you're never quite sure how long it's going to take for them to adjust to hitting against college pitching," Jennings said. "We're returning a few guys who had a good year at the plate last year, so offensively I think we'll be fine."
Menders is the top returning hitter after leading the Hawks in hits (69), average (.381), RBIs (42) and stolen bases (26) to earn All-Region XX honors in 2019.
"I don't really look at all that (the awards). I mean, I do because it makes me feel good, but I just want to win," Menders said.
Two-way player Branden Lynch (Southern Fulton) is another returning All-Region XX pick who provided some left-handed power near the middle of the lineup last year. Lynch finished second on the team in average (.375) and hits (57), and was third in RBIs (38).
In addition to pitching, Lynch will see time at first base and may DH on occassion. When Lynch is not manning first base, Corey Walters (Williamsport) will see time there.
Like Lynch, Walters adds another solid left-handed bat to the lineup. He hit .373 with 11 of his 25 hits going for extra bases as a senior for the Wildcats last spring, when he was in the running for Herald-Mail hitter of the year honors.
With a schedule almost entirely featuring doubleheaders, the Hawks have the luxury of carrying three catchers this year — Brenden Moshos, Dillon Sunnquist and Riley Jackson (Grace Academy). All three are freshmen, so there is no front-runner for starting duties.
Moshos is listed as a switch-hitter, something HCC did not have last season, and Sunnquist played for Scotland Campus last spring. Jackson is set to become the Hawks' super-utility player as one of the six two-way players on the roster. He will give Jennings another option in the outfield when he is not pitching or catching.
The middle infield will feature Menders leading the way at shortstop with Rhoan Bromfield (South Hagerstown) behind him, and Adam Mathias (Boonsboro) at second base along with Spencer Martin (North Hagerstown). TJ Kalagher (Boonsboro) will handle duties at third base along with Brayden Quirple, who is coming off a solid senior season at Grace Academy.
The outfield was a bit thin depth-wise last year. This year, the Hawks have a few more options in Ryan Delorbe, Ollie Reddick, Bryan DeCarlo, Chris Jennings (Smithsburg), Raffy Baumgardner and Mays-Hunt.
"All of our outfielders are freshmen, but they're all interchangeable as far as where they can play, which gives us some flexibility," Jennings said. "We have a lot of speed in the outfield. All of those guys can run well, so our outfield is definitely talented."
Delorbe, Reddick and DeCarlo are all two-way players.
As previously mentioned, the HCC pitching staff has plenty of reliable arms. Smith, Will Grove (North Hagerstown), Seth Hartman (North Hagerstown), Dylan Reid, Zach Depoy (Washington) and Steven Ricketts (South Hagerstown) are returning arms.
Reid pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year, but did make eight starts. He looks to pair with Ricketts to round out the bullpen this year. Ricketts was a starter in high school but has enjoyed a successful transition to the bullpen in college.
On paper, this HCC team looks to be well on its way to being the 20th consecutive team to finish with a winning record under Jennings, who enters just two wins shy of 1,000 in his coaching career.
A large chunk of this team has enjoyed success together in the past. Hawbaker, Clark, Grove, Hartman, Smith, Ricketts and Walters were all big parts of Funkstown Legion's state championship team last summer.
"What excites me is the amount of games we can win this year with all the talent we have," Smith said. "We just come out here every day and try to get better. I think everyone is feeling good going into this year with the amount of talent we have. We can definitely do some damage."
The Hawks will open the season with a home doubleheader against NCAA Division III Shenandoah University's JV team on Sunday at noon before making their annual trip to the Jackie Robinson Training Complex (formerly known as Dodgertown) in Vero Beach, Fla., from March 6-14, where they are scheduled to play 14 games over two weeks.