Craven Community College’s (Craven CC) baseball team, the Panthers, is set to start the season in full swing on Friday, Sept. 27.
The Panthers team is the official baseball club of Craven CC and is part of the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA), a national organization that governs club baseball at colleges and universities across the United States. The Craven CC Panthers are one of only two community college teams in the country that play in the NCBA. Up until earlier this year, they were the only community college team, making them true pioneers for the organization.
The current Panthers lineup is comprised of 12 students ranging from ages 18 to 23: Thomas May, Jared Hodges, Cameron Duncan, Jacob White, Tristan Nethercutt, Cabel McKinley, Samuel Safrit, Anthony Cape, Seth Broadway, Cole Spain, Armando Gonzalez and Jacob Wood.
The Panthers’ 2018-2019 season nearly struck out due to the destruction of Hurricane Florence. The season was pushed back, and several players had to leave the team due to relocating. However, the team was eager to get back to a sense of normalcy, and they salvaged the rest of the season by going 18-5, winning the independent level of the NCBA and clinching their seventh playoff berth in nine years.
“Hurricane Florence was devastating,” said Panthers head coach Jimmy Griffiths. “But our community came together and rebuilt even stronger than before. The boys were more than ready to take the field.”
The tightknit team has flourished under Griffiths’ guidance and mentorship, as well as his wife’s care and compassion. The students not only learn how to become better baseball players, but also how to be a reliable member among a team of players that supports one another.
“My motto has always been ‘one heart, one beat,’” said Griffiths. “We play for each other—without each other, we have nothing. We play for the team on the front of our jersey and honor the name we wear on our back.”
The team formed in 2003 under the direction of former Craven CC student Joe Caracci. Griffiths took over after former coach Kenny Connor retired in 2011. Griffiths, a New Jersey native, moved to the area to be near family, a decision he claims is one of the best he has made in his life.
He was a bullpen catcher for Rutgers University from 2004-05 and a community college player from 2005-06. He was also a baseball coach before moving to Eastern North Carolina. Once here, he discovered the Craven CC team and has been involved ever since. During his tenure, he has led the team to seven playoff berths and four district and division championships. The 2019-2020 season will mark his 10th year, and he is just nine wins away from reaching 100 wins, which would be a first in the program’s history.
Griffiths recognizes his wife, Ali-Dee, as a staunch supporter who has helped the team make it this far. She attends every home game and even accompanies them on trips for away games that range across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Griffiths is also joined by assistant coaches Doug Henderson and Toby O’Neal.
The Panthers return to the field this Friday, Sept. 27, for a three-game series against Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina. The first home game series will take place on Saturday, Oct. 5 and Sunday, Oct. 6 against UNC-Wilmington. The team has already been invited to the Greenville Fall Invitational, an invitation-only tournament for top NCBA teams in the country held in Greenville, South Carolina each November.
They are committed to a 30-game season against teams from schools such as Lander University, UNC-Wilmington, Longwood University, Duke University, Furman University and Old Dominion University. Sixteen games will take place this fall, with the remainder beginning the second weekend of Feb. 2020 and continuing each weekend through Easter.
All Craven CC home games are played at Creekside Park at 1821 Old Airport Road in New Bern. For anyone interested in catching a home game, all Saturday games will start at 11:30 a.m. and all Sunday games will start at 11:00 a.m. Admission is always free. The team welcomes any sponsorships, as they do not have any official sponsors at this time.
“This 2019-2020 season is going to be fun,” added Griffiths. “The experience and the young blood are going to be a good mixture. I hope we can make the playoffs and get over the hump and make the World Series for the first time—that’s our goal.”
Any eligible student is able to try out for the team at the beginning of each semester. To qualify, students must be enrolled in 6-12 credit hours and must have a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Students interested in joining the Panthers baseball team should contact Griffiths at 252-725-1508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published on Sept. 25, 2019 in the New Bern Sun Journal.