Neal Holliman is set to begin his 14th season at the helm of the East Central Community College baseball program, and his Warrior teams have been to the postseason the past 10 straight years. If the Warriors are going to make it 11 in a row they will do so with an inexperienced lineup that features just two returning starters.
ECCC has the longest consecutive postseason streak of any program in the 15-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
The Warriors scored a pair of 10-2 wins to open the 2020 baseball season with a sweep over the Mississippi Delta Trojans Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Clark-Gay Baseball Complex on the campus in Decatur.
East Central will have to replace a talented group of departing sophomores, including National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region 23 and MACJC First-Team All-State outfielder Ken Scott, who signed with Mississippi College; Second Team All-State players infielder Anderson Shelley (Delta State University) and catcher Alex Hay (Austin Peay State University); pitcher Thomas Boothe (University of Alabama-Birmingham); outfielder Ryan Cupit (University of Louisiana Monroe); infielder George Farid (Mississippi College); and infielder Jay Johnston (William Carey University).
Sophomore right-hander Tanner Knight (Eupora) and sophomore outfielder Dakota Kennedy (Choctaw) will be the only full-time starters from a year ago to take the field for the Warriors.
Knight, who has signed to play at Louisiana Tech next year, was 5-5 on the mound last season with 51 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched. He was a Second Team All-State selection following the 2019 campaign. Kennedy, who will play at Mississippi College next season, played in all 46 games and hit .287 with 33 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
East Central won’t be completely without experienced players this spring. Sophomore catcher/infielder Eli Harrison (Newton County) played in 26 games as a freshman last season and will be an impact hitter in the middle of the lineup according to Holliman. Right-handed pitcher Walker Johnson (East Webster) appeared in 14 games and struck out 35 batters in 30 and a third innings. Johnson was a conference starter who Holliman said has had a “tremendous pre-season.”
Holliman said Roper Ball (Nanih Waiya) is one of the better athletes on the team after appearing in 26 games as both a middle infielder and pitcher. Other returners who saw limited action in 2019 are catcher/first baseman Gavin Bailey (Newton County) and right-handed pitcher Braxton Rose (Newton County Academy).
“Braxton will provide quality innings in many different roles on the mound as he possesses the potential to pitch in many different situations,” said Holliman. “Gavin has made significant improvement at the plate and on defense, and has worked at first base as well.”
Joining the Warriors are 19 first-year players in the program, several of whom will be counted on to contribute early.
Among them are Amani Larry (Bossier, La., Parkway), an infielder who can also hit for power; redshirt freshman Jesse Boydstun (Winston Academy), a right-handed pitcher who can also play all three outfield positions; R.J. Fletcher (St. Martin), a solid defender and communicator behind the plate who can also provide quality at-bats; Dylan Bond (Lewisburg), who can play both third and first base and is developing as a power hitter; Courtland Posey (Port Gibson/Hinds Community College), who will add relief depth on the mound and as a left-handed hitter; Stephen Wolf (Madison, St. Joseph Catholic), an infielder/outfielder with speed who is growing in confidence at the plate; Clayton Cook (Mize), an outfielder who is competing to be the leadoff batter; Grant Johnson (Hernando), a right-handed relief pitcher who Holliman expects to play an important role on the mound; Jeremy Martin (Slidell, La., Northshore); a left-hander battling to make the starting rotation; and Tri Vaughan (Benoit, Washington School), another left-hander who is in the mix for a starting role.
Holliman says despite the inexperience of the 2020 edition of the East Central Warrior baseball team, the expectations are for another postseason run.
“We don’t take anything for granted, but our expectation every year is to be in the postseason,” he said. “The inexperience will be a challenge, but if we have done our job as a coaching staff in the fall, that inexperience should be diminished.
“The key for us will be continual growth through the season. We have always been a program that strives to improve throughout the season and reach our maximum potential. If we do that, then success will come.”
Assisting Holliman this spring are former Warrior standout and Lake native Matt Mitchell, who is working with the pitchers, and newcomer Adam Chamblee, a native of Winona and former University of West Alabama player.
Holliman has built a difficult preseason schedule for the 2020 Warriors to prepare them for MACJC play, which features six opponents ranked in the NJCAA Division II Top 20 to start the season.
A complete roster and schedule can be found at www.ecccathletics.com.
Members of the 2020 East Central Community College baseball team, pictured, and their respective high schools include (front row, from left) sophomore catcher Gavin Bailey, Newton County; sophomore pitcher Braxton Rose, Newton County Academy; freshman infielder Kiel Reed, Brandon, Hartfield Academy; freshman outfielder/pitcher Tri Vaughan, Benoit, Washington School; sophomore catcher/infielder Eli Harrison, Newton County; freshman infielder Ian Barjam, Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic; freshman pitcher Grant Johnson, Hernando; freshman pitcher Calvin McClendon, Leake Central; freshman pitcher/infielder Hunter Barrett, Sumrall; and freshman outfielder/pitcher Robert Sanford, Seminary; (middle row, from left) head coach Neal Holliman; assistant coach Matt Mitchell; freshman infielder Benjamin Luckett, Yazoo County; freshman outfielder Clayton Cook, Mize; freshman utility player Branson Sharpley, Taylorsville; sophomore infielder/pitcher Roper Ball, Nanih Waiya; freshman infielder Amani Larry, Bossier, La., Parkway; freshman catcher R.J. Fletcher, St. Martin; redshirt freshman outfielder/pitcher Courtland Posey, Port Gibson/Hinds Community College; and assistant coach Adam Chamblee; and (back row, from left) freshman pitcher Gates Pee, Clinton; sophomore pitcher Walker Johnson, East Webster; freshman outfielder/pitcher Jesse Boydstun, Winston Academy; freshman pitcher Jeremy Martin, Slidell, La., Northshore; sophomore pitcher Tanner Knight, Eupora; freshman outfielder/pitcher Conner Hicks, Stringer; freshman infielder Dylan Bond, Lewisburg; sophomore outfielder Dakota Kennedy, Choctaw Central; and freshman infielder/outfielder Stephen Wolf, Madison, St. Joseph Catholic. (EC Photo)