Updated: Dec 28, 2019
We're taking a look back and a look ahead at college baseball teams from around the country. Next up are the UNCW Seahawks!
The Seahawks are one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country. In 2020, they will look to make their third straight Regional.
A Look Back at 2019
Heading into the Colonial Tournament at an even .500, 28-28 (12-12), the Seahawks knew that a tournament win would be necessary to secure a Regional bid. UNCW entered the Colonial Tournament with confidence, as they had won three of their last four conference series, including series wins over the top two teams in the conference (Elon and Charleston).
After a dramatic 11-inning win over Northeastern in the first round of the conference tournament, UNCW knocked off two more wins, one against top seed, Elon, and another against William & Mary (avenging a series sweep from earlier in the season). A 4-1 loss to Elon set up a winner-take-all game on Sunday morning. The Seahawks clinched the conference championship and a Regional berth with a 6-5 win in ten innings.
UNCW earned a trip to Chapel Hill where they opened up the Regional against host North Carolina. The Tar Heels walked off UNCW, and ultimately, the Seahawks were eliminated by Tennessee. The Regional appearance marked the tenth time in the last 17 seasons that UNCW had earned that honor.
UNCW's roster was littered with talent in 2019, highlighted by shortstop phenom, Greg Jones, who was honored as an All-American by multiple sources. Jones was one of four Seahawks that was drafted in the 2019 MLB Draft. He was joined by LHP Zarion Sharpe, RHP Justin Crump, and INF Cole Weiss. Sharpe and Weiss elected to return to UNCW in 2020.
A Look Ahead at 2020
The most notable change for UNCW in 2020 is the departure of their long-time head coach, Mark Scalf. Scalf retired after the 2019 season, ending his career as the winningest coach in both UNCW and Colonial history. Stepping up from his associate head coaching role in 2019, Randy Hood was named the 2020 head coach. Hood is entering his 19th year with the program.
The Seahawks bring back several key arms from a very good pitching staff, including RHP Luke Gesell, RHP Landen Roupp, and the aforementioned Sharpe. These three pitchers hold 76 combined career starts at UNCW and help form one of the most experienced starting rotations in all of college baseball.
Coach Hood has high hopes for his 2020 pitching rotation. "Sharpe, Roupp, and Gesell give us one of the best rotations returning in the country. [I'm] really excited to see their body of work this coming spring."
Jones' departure to professional baseball leaves a hole in the middle of the infield. Two-way player Adam Smith will look to fill that role. Smith enters the year as one of the most intriguing two-way players in the country. In limited work in 2019 (11.0 IP), Smith notched a 1.64 ERA. Coach Hood believes that Smith will both be important for his defense but "could also have a vital role on the mound."
The Seahawks bring in two fascinating transfers that will be eligible for the 2020 season, Kip Brandenburg and Tanner Wells, who Coach Hood think will be a "big boost" to the team. Brandenburg batted .298 at North Carolina two season ago, and Wells, a transfer from High Point, batted .329 with good power as a freshman. Both will likely have an immediate impact on the lineup.
UNCW has scheduled ambitiously for the 2020 season. After hosting the annual Hughes Bros. Challenge in mid-February, the Seahawks will hit the road for a four-game stretch against NC State and Kentucky. (Check out a full list of 2020 College Baseball Tournaments here)
An eight-game home stand will follow, including a series with Memphis and a midweek against ECU. The Seahawks will then go back on the road on a stretch that includes a midweek at North Carolina, their first conference series at William & Mary, and a midweek at Campbell.
UNCW has the benefit of hosting Elon and Charleston beginning in late April. These two conference series may go a long way in determining the regular season champion in the Colonial. The Seahawks will finish conference play on the road with back-to-back series at Northeastern and at James Madison.
John’s (@johnny_omaha_) 2020 Prediction: UNCW will be improved from 2019 and will finish in the top three of the Colonial standings.
Of course, losing one of the best players in the country and in program history in Greg Jones will be tough to replace, but I like the experience coming back on the pitching staff. I'm curious if guys like Weiss, OF Kep Brown, and OF Noah Bridges will continue to produce and develop. With four, eight, and four home runs respectively, this trio was all in the top five on team in home runs in 2019. They'll want to see an improvement in power as a team if they hope to be a major offensive threat.
The good news for the Seahawks is that after a sluggish freshman year, sophomore catcher Matt Suggs may be a major offensive factor in 2020. Said Coach Hood, "Suggs has made big strides and has been our best bat this fall." Hood identified several freshmen to watch as well. "Freshmen Trevor Marsh, Jac Croom, Ronald Evans, Kevin Pitarra, and Matt Yip have a great chance to contribute early."
All-in-all, I like this squad to compete for a conference title and have a shot at winning a few games in a Regional.
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