By Craig Ramey
Last night’s opening game of the World Series means baseball season is winding down in the Major Leagues, but for Craven Community College (Craven CC) the 2017-18 season is just getting started. Formed in 2003 as a club team, the Craven CC Panthers opened their 14th season with the National Club Baseball Association’s (NCBA) Division II Dixie North Conference on Sept. 29 against Virginia Commonwealth University.
Now, with a record of 5-1, the Panthers went into last weekend’s three-game series against the Radford Highlanders on top of the conference.
“We play together as one heart, one beat,” said head coach Jimmy Griffiths. “You can’t do anything without helping each other out.”
Comprised of students ranging in ages from 17-24, the Panthers are committed to a 30-game season in the National Club Baseball Association against teams from High Point University, Radford, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNCG, Georgia Southern and other large universities. Positioned among a series of national schools, Craven CC continues to possess one unique distinction.
“We are the only community college in the country that plays in the NCBA,” said Griffiths. “We play a wide variety of club teams at universities. Their players are often ones who are on injury rehab so they can get back to the D1 (Division 1) team, which makes for a tough competition for us. We are the underdog.”
One team member who has seen the team go against several larger schools is veteran shortstop Trey Winstead, a student enrolled in the physical therapy assistant program who just began his third year with the team.
“We are the only community college team out there and sometimes I wish we could move up,” added Winstead. “Sometimes if the players at the D1 schools don’t play enough, they’ll bring them down and they’ll pitch against us.”
Despite the team’s underdog status, they are off to a strong start with help from players like Gabriel Henderson. The NCBA named Henderson the team’s player of the week during Week Five for his impressive three-game showing against Lynchburg, where he went 5-for-7 at the plate with two doubles and three RBI. Teammate Toby Oneal was also named pitcher of the week for his work on the mound, where he gave up two hits, no runs and earned three strikeouts during five innings of work.
The NCBA shuffled its schedule for 2017. Teams played spring and fall seasons in the past years, but the 2017-18 season will be a continuous season from September 2017 through April 2018. The teams play with aluminum bats and adhere to NCAA rules.
The Craven CC team was formed in 2003 by former student Joe Caracci and has since earned 11 division titles, five of which were under Griffiths’ leadership.
“It’s too early to see how this year is going to be,” said Griffiths. “But these guys all strive to give 100 percent.
The Panthers return to the field this weekend by hosting a three-game series against Duke University. Games begin with a double header Saturday at noon and 2:30 p.m., and then a third game Sunday at noon. Admission is free and all Craven CC games are played at Creekside Park off Old Airport Road in New Bern.
Be sure to follow the Panthers on Facebook to stay up to date on the last games. Find them at https://www.facebook.com/CravenCC.Baseball/