March 22, 2014 11:42:14 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
With East Mississippi Community College having established itself as a national championship in contender in football and men's basketball, baseball coach Chris Rose is excited to see his program join that elite level.
If early season success is any indication, the Lions are well on their way.
EMCC is 18-6 and 5-1 in Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division play. In the latest National Junior College Athletic Association national rankings, EMCC is ranked No. 6. After a rare weekend off, EMCC will return to action Wednesday at Northwest Mississippi C.C.
"You want to coach at a place that expects to win championships," said Rose, who is in his fourth season. "We have the facilities and we have the leadership in place. It is just a matter of signing the right players and placing themselves in a position to be successful.
"We thought we were really close to turning the corner last season, but we had some injuries. Going into this season, we had the same high goals and expectations. Fortunately, we have stayed healthy and have played well."
The EMCC football team has won two of the past three national championships. The men's basketball team saw a string of four-straight appearances in the NJCAA national championship tournament snapped this season with a loss in the NJCAA Region XXIII tournament.
The football team has been ranked first nationally at some stretch in each of the past three seasons. The men's basketball team has been ranked among the nation's top 10 in that time, too. This season, the squad was ranked as high as No. 11.
Rose was enjoying success at Meridian C.C, one of the state's premier baseball programs, when EMCC President Dr. Rick Young hired him to help the EMCC baseball team have similar success.
"When you saw the commitment the school was willing to have a championship program, you knew this would be possible," Rose said. "Dr. Young has the type of vision that is always long range. He is always thinking three steps ahead. You want to be a part of a process like that. The goal is to be the best you can be in the classroom, but also the best you can be in the field of competition."
In Rose's first season in 2011, EMCC returned to the postseason for the first time since 2004. EMCC followed that up with a 19-24 record in 2012 and a 21-23 record in 2013.
"This is a really close team," said EMCC sophomore outfielder Chase Reeves, who is from Hamilton. "I think the biggest thing is we work really well together. We know each other very well. We know how players are going to react in certain situations. It's a lot of fun to come to the park every day."
Rose also beefed up the schedule to make EMCC ready for its 24-game division schedule. The season started with a 2-2 ledger in the prestigious Carl McInnis Classic in Niceville, Fla. EMCC split four games against Meridian and swept a pair at MACJC South Division power Pearl River C.C.
"We can hit one through nine, and not a lot of junior college teams can do that," EMCC sophomore outfielder LeDarious Clark said. "Even though we have won some games, we are staying humble and hungry because we really haven't accomplished anything yet.
"We know what it takes to get to the next level. We just have to keep working hard in practice and we have to take every game seriously. Now that we are ranked this high, it puts a little more pressure on us. But we are excited by that challenge."
Pascagoula's Chase Nyman leads the team with a .336 average, 26 runs scored, and 27 hits. Clark is second on the team with a .324 average, 24 runs, and 24 hits. Trent Waddell, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., leads the team with four home runs.
After missing the end of last season due to injury, Reeves has bounced back strong with a .267 average and a team-high 16 RBIs. He also has four doubles, two triples, two home runs, and eight stolen bases. Former East Webster standout Codie Silver has caught two games and batted three times this season. Former West Lowndes High standout Fredrico Moody also is on the team.
Pacing the pitching staff is Kyle Liberto (4-1, 1.10 ERA) and J'Daylin Jackson (5-0, 3.14). Former Caledonia pitcher Cody Allsup has appeared in three games and thrown four innings.
"The work ethic is really good for this team," Rose said. "I think they know their potential. We just have to stay focused and continue to work hard. We want to be playing our best baseball when it matters most."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter