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2022 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference College Baseball Preview

No conference has gone through more change in the last year than the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, as realignment hit the league hard. Only half of the eight baseball-playing members that were in the league in 2021 remain now, giving the MEAC a brand-new look.

Norfolk State is the reigning champion, finally breaking through in the 2021 MEAC Tournament after a string of near misses over the years. The Spartans will be favored to repeat in 2022.

The MEAC is going through a difficult transition and what the conference’s future will look like remains unclear. But there’s plenty to watch on the field this spring.

What’s the fallout from realignment?

The MEAC has undergone a dramatic change since this time last year. North Carolina A&T left for the Big South Conference and Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M exited for the Southwestern Athletic Conference. North Carolina Central, meanwhile, eliminated its baseball program. Those moves leave just four-baseball playing members in the MEAC – Coppin State, Delaware State, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Norfolk State.

The NCAA requires a conference to have at least six baseball-playing members for an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. A waiver is automatically applied for any conference that falls to five members, but it doesn’t apply when leagues drop below that number. Still, the MEAC applied for a waiver, and one was granted for this season, in part because NC Central’s decision to cut baseball came as a result of the pandemic. That waiver won’t apply past this season, however, so the MEAC must add another baseball program – either through expansion or reinstatement – to retain its auto-bid.

The MEAC has reportedly been exploring expansion because it is in a precarious position for football, with just six members for that sport. But nothing has come to pass in the last year, leaving baseball in a tough spot.

The departures of BCU, FAMU and NC A&T not only leave the conference undermanned for an auto-bid, they also drastically changed the MEAC’s baseball profile. The MEAC has awarded 43 baseball championships in its history. The four baseball-playing members that remain in the conference account for only three – 2021 Norfolk State, 1989 Delaware State and 1995 Coppin State.

Can Norfolk State repeat as champion?

Norfolk State had long been the bridesmaid of the MEAC, reaching the championship game of the conference tournament nine times without winning the title. But last season the Spartans broke through with the 10th time being the charm. They defeated NC Central in walk-off fashion to win the title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, NSU will be aiming for a return to regionals and is the clear favorite to do so. It last season won the Northern Division by six games over Delaware State – and with all the Southern Division teams gone, that leaves a big gap for the rest of the conference to close.

The Spartans must replace two-way star Danny Hosley, the 2021 MEAC player of the year, and Alsander Womack, their leading hitter. Center fielder Dionte Brown (.307/.384/.398, 19 SB) will lead the lineup along with slugger Jacob Council (.311/.362/.422). NSU is hyper-aggressive on the base paths and last season stole 110 bases, the sixth most nationally.

NSU will also have to replace Hosley on the mound, where he was one of the best starters in the MEAC, but lefthander James Deloatch (7-3, 2.88) returns to give the Spartans the best pitcher in the conference. Righthander Nolan Manzer (1-1, 0.73) last year was NSU’s top reliever, and he again will take on a significant role on the staff.

Can Delaware State challenge for the title?

The Hornets finished second to Norfolk State in the division standings and this year will be aiming for more. They will be led by outfielder Trey Paige (.366/.475/.592), who last season led the team in batting and was named first-team all-MEAC. Second baseman Miguel Rivera (.304/.421/.453, 10 SB) gives DSU another strong hitter in the lineup.

On the mound, DSU lost closer Chandler Fitzgerald but returns righthander Jordan Haddaway (4-4, 5.63) to lead the pitching staff. After finishing last season last in the MEAC in team ERA (7.97), however, the Hornets will need to find some answers on the mound.

DSU last season finished 6.5 games behind NSU in the standings and went 4-8 against the Spartans. If the Hornets are going to challenge for first place, they’ll need to find a way to cut that gap.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

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How far can Coppin State’s offense carry it?

Coppin State last season went 7-20 in the MEAC to finish in last place and miss the conference tournament. Its lineup, however, averaged more than six runs per game and led the MEAC in batting (.288).

Outfielder/lefthander Jordan Hamberg (.382/.460/.474) is back after an impressive freshman season. Outfielder Wellington Balsley (.406/.539/.420) and catcher Mike Dorcean (.377/.524/.610, 5 HR) are also back, making for a strong core of returners. Coppin State also gets a boost from outfielder Marcos Castillo, who is back after missing last season due to injury, and the addition of second baseman Corey Miller (Saint Mary’s).

The Eagles have a new pitching coach in Sean Repay and he will aim to improve a pitching staff that posted a 7.29 team ERA in 2021. Righthander Giovanni Canales (0-5, 10.88) and lefthander Tim Ruffino (1-5, 8.66) will take the reins at the front of the rotation. If Coppin State can find some answers on the mound, it has upside thanks to its offense.

What can be expected as UMES returns to the diamond in 2022?

Maryland-Eastern Shore last season did not participate in athletics as a result of the pandemic. Now, after that pause, the Hawks will return to action in 2022.

UMES has an older roster with 13 players who are in at least their fourth year of college but with the 2020 season so limited and 2021 cancelled, the roster is light on experience. Outfielder Brian Cordell led the team in batting in both 2019 and 2020 and returns to anchor the lineup along with shortstop Dillon Oxyer. On the mound, the Hawks lost their whole rotation and their closer from the 2020 season. Righthanders Cameron Bratton and Noah Covington are now the pitchers to watch.

UMES faces a difficult season after a year away from competition, but it still has some solid players it can lean on.

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