The Claflin University baseball team will open the 2018 season this weekend in Miami Gardens, Fla., against Saint Thomas University of the Sun Conference.
The three-game series gets underway Friday at 6 p.m. with a single contest followed by a doubleheader on Saturday at noon. All games will be played at Paul Demie Mainieri Field.
Claflin will make its home debut on Monday, taking on Lincoln Memorial University of the South Atlantic Conference at historic Mirmow Field.
The four games are part of the Panthers’ 51-game schedule.
Claflin Coach James Randall will embark on the upcoming season with high hopes of a more productive season in the win column than 2017.
After capturing the program’s first-ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and a ticket into the NCAA Division II Regionals two years ago, the Panthers hit a tailspin last season. Claflin ended the regular season at 16-33 and 9-11 in the SIAC.
The Panthers did make the conference tournament and eliminated Benedict College before being ousted by Albany State.
“Last season, we lost a lot of games that we had chances of winning,” Randall said. “We struggled offensively and defensively.
“Our goal this season is to be a little more consistence in both of those areas and play good fundamental baseball. If we can do that, I think we can accomplish a lot of good things this season.”
Last season as a team, Claflin hit only 18 home runs, batted .272 and struck out 358 times. The Panther offense did manage to collect 420 hits, second best in the SIAC, and averaged six runs per game.
Claflin smacked out a season-high 15 hits twice in games with Armstrong Atlantic University and Bluefield State College. The Panthers also produced the most runs scored in the season against Bluefield State.
Three of top offensive weapons return for Claflin. The trio is led by senior outfielder Darrell Langston, the team leader in just about every offensive category. Langston led the team in hitting percentage at .368, hits with 67, home runs at seven and 34 RBIs. He also had 20 multihit games and four with three hits. Langston was named to the 2017 SIAC Second Team All-Conference.
Infielder Johnathan Parnell II, a senior All-SIAC First Team performer, was equally as tough at the plate for the Panthers with a .347 batting averaging. He accumulated 59 hits, 13 doubles and 29 RBIs. He had 14 multihit games, including seven with three hits.
Parnell II and Langston also tied for team honors in consecutive game hitting streak with 11.
Junior outfielder Elliott Melton, the starting centerfielder, batted .315 with 39 hits for Claflin.
Coupling those starters with other returnees and a good group of newcomers, Randall is ready for the new season.
“I’m excited about the upcoming season and this team,” Randall said. “We have a good mixture of veterans, first-time players and transfers. I like the attitudes during our practices and scrimmages and the work habits of this team. It’s been great during preseason.”
In the pitching department, Randall has high expectations for key returnees such as juniors Torriun Tower, Eric Dubose and Jamal Devine; and senior Elijah Mckinnis, who was the 2017 SIAC Relief Pitcher of the Year. Freshmen Makai Holloway and Alfie Carter should see plenty of action on the mound.
In preparing his team for SIAC play, Randall hopes to utilize another tough non-conference schedule. The list includes Saint Thomas, Lincoln Memorial, Virginia State, Eckerd College, Coker College, Bluefield College, Augusta University, the College of Saint Rose, Saginaw Valley State, St. Augustine’s, Saint Thomas Aquinas College, North Greenville and Francis Marion.
Claflin will play a 21-game SIAC schedule. The SIAC Tournament is slated for May3-5 in Albany, Ala.