NORFOLK, Va. (NSUSpartans.com) – Norfolk State head baseball coach Keith Shumate has always been great about keeping things in perspective.
So while the Spartans made history last year by winning their first-ever MEAC baseball championship, Shumate is insistent on one thing: this is a new year and the current Spartans must forge their own identity.
That process starts Friday, when NSU opens the 2022 campaign by hosting Marist for a three-game series at Marty L. Miller Field. Friday’s game starts at 3 p.m., while Saturday begins at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon, kicking off a nine-game homestand to open the year for NSU.
“We don’t talk too much about last year,” Shumate said. “We’re 0 and 0 right now just like everyone else.”
Part of that identity, at least to begin the season, is a solid pitching nucleus returning. The Spartans will be led on the hill by redshirt junior James Deloatch. A third-team All-MEAC pick last year, Deloatch was recently named the preseason MEAC Pitcher of the Year. He pitched like an ace down the stretch, finishing with a 7-3 record and 2.88 ERA. That included a shutout in the MEAC tournament winner’s bracket final and pitching deep into the NCAA Regional opener at nationally ranked East Carolina.
“JD does what he does well,” Shumate said. “And he’s worked hard to strengthen his game in a couple areas that weren’t strengths before. He’s also developed a good rapport with our new pitching coach (Matt Rein).”
Left hander Dalton Barham returns after pitching out of the weekend rotation last year, when he won a pair of games and fanned 33 batters. Coaches say Barham is physically stronger this year.
North Carolina Central transfer Matt Stanley is one of the newcomers to watch for on the mound. Shumate calls him a “complete” right-handed pitcher.
Shumate is also high on his bullpen options. Sophomore Nolan Manzer was a revelation as a true freshman last year, finishing six games and tallying a 0.73 ERA. Manzer, who allowed just 10 hits in 24.2 innings pitched, was a preseason All-MEAC pick.
Justin Walton, another redshirt junior, has shown the ability to pitch well in relief or as a starter, giving the Spartans a flexible, hard-throwing option to deploy at various stages of the game.
NSU will also regain the services of Jackson Sanchez, a righty sidearm specialist who missed last year due to injury. Other right-handed options include junior college transfer Zac Capps, sophomore Noah Wiggins (eight appearances in 2021), converted fielder Dylan Flint and freshman Steven Shaffer. Junior Mike Pyers is a lefty strikeout specialist out of the bullpen.
The Spartans lost some key pieces from their offense last year, notably MEAC Player of the Year Danny Hosley and MEAC Tournament MVP Alsander Womack. Junior outfielder Dionte Brown, a first-team All-MEAC performer last year after leading the conference with 19 stolen bases, will again be one of the table setters. He also played errorless ball in centerfield.
Jacob Council, will be another key figure at the top of the lineup. He batted .311 in his first year with NSU last season and will see more time at first base this year.
Sophomore Raphy Rodriguez claimed the starting shortstop position by the end of his freshman campaign and coaches are expecting even bigger things from him this year. Senior Korey Singh hit seven homers last year and will help anchor the middle of the lineup at DH or first base. Coaches also look for outfielder Phillip Boykin, infielder Cody Donnell, and utilitymen Minjae Hong and Rhay Street to assume expanded roles this year.
The Spartans added a large recruiting class which also features several players who could have an early impact on the lineup. Bluefield State transfer Tanner Brandon was the HBCU Small School Player of the Year last season and should compete for immediate time in the outfield. Junior college transfer Tommy Woods hit five home runs and drove in 27 at John A. Logan College last season and should see time at third base. Another JC transfer, Brandon Cleveland, stole 52 bases in two seasons at Patrick Henry and will compete for time in the middle infield.
The Spartans will be young but talented behind the plate. Shumate welcomes in four freshmen – Robert Beatty, Kaleikaumaka Grebin, Brandon Guerra and Dominic Joseph – who will help man the dish for NSU for years to come. Outfielders Seven Roach, Keshun Nelson and Malcolm Perry add depth and athleticism to the outfield. Freshman Camrin Sturgeon swings a big bat from the right-handed side and is another Spartan to keep an eye on, while Kam Walker brings offensive and position versatility to the infield.
While the 2021 championship is still fresh in the minds of NSU’s players and fans, this year’s Spartans are eager to start writing their own legacy.
“I really like our team we have right now,” Shumate said. “But I’m even more excited about what this group can become as the year progresses.”