By Morris Wright
Claflin Sports Information
Winning a baseball championship, regardless of the level of competition, is special. What makes the feat more amazing is accomplishing it for the first time.
The Claflin University baseball team recently experienced that felling. The Panthers brought home the program's first-ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Championship. Claflin swept through the double-elimination tournament, winning four straight games.
Reginald Rogers' two-out single drove in Jeturi Brown with the winning run as the Panthers upended overall #1 seed Stillman College 8-7 in 10 innings.
The championship was nine years in the making for Claflin Coach James Randall, who inherited only nine players when he took over the program. The former collegiate standout and head coach at Grambling University, was drafted and played in the Minor League with the California Angles. He also spent time in the minors and major leagues with Chicago White Sox.
Under Randall's guidance, the Panthers improved each season, claiming a division title and several divisional runner-up finishes. All that hard work came to past this season, according to Randall.
"It was a long time coming, but we accomplished it this season, meaning an SIAC championship," Randall said. "It was a combination of several things, starting with peaking at the right time."
"As a coach, it's what you prepare for during the regular season. We played a tough non-conference schedule, taking our bumps and bruises along the way. It made our team more productive down the stretch, especially in the SIAC tournament."
In the tournament, Randall's team exemplified the four important tools of the game: pitching, hitting, scoring opportunities and playing solid defense.
The Panthers pitching were superior as Randall used nine in the tournament. The group gave up 32 hits that resulted in 24 runs, of which 19 were earned.
Lyndale Morley pitched a complete game in Claflin 9-6 win over Stillman in the semifinals. The tournament's most outstanding player, allowed 11 hits, but held the high-powered Stillman offense to just five earned runs while fanning eight batters.
Offensively, the Panthers produced 44 runs off 53 hits and batted .351 as a team during the tournament. They also drew 29 base-on-balls.
Rogers led the way, going seven-for-18 with 6 RBI's. Morley was six-for-12 with 4 RBI's, while Elliott Melton had seven hits.
As for defense, Claflin committed only seven errors.
Now that the SIAC championship trophy is displayed in the athletic department case, it's back to business for Randall. The focus is on the upcoming NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament.
"It's back to business for us," Randall said. "I gave them [our players] some time off, but it's time to start preparing for the NCAA Tournament. We will work on the basics and fundamentals of the game."
Claflin will represent the SIAC in the upcoming national tournament. Pairings will be announced Sunday (May 15) during the selection show via NCAA.com at 10 p.m.