Meridian Star

Sports

May 8, 2014

ECCC ready for MACJC tourney

DECATUR — Coming off a 2013 MACJC State Tournament title, East Central Community College coach Neal Holliman and his squad find themselves able to defend that title despite having suffered through an injury-riddled and lackluster season.

Yet the Warriors (20-24) had fortune on their side as they managed to sneak into postseason play with a sub .500 record, serving as the No. 4 seed in the South Division.

ECCC began its postseason run last weekend with an upset over the North’s No. 1 seed, East Mississippi Community College, defeating the Lions in a best-of-three series, 2-1.

“We played really good defensively,” Holliman said. “We had timely hitting in Game 1 and a tremendous pitching performance from Kyle Fultz.”

After dropping Game 2, 7-1, the Warriors rebounded in capitalizing on a pair of six-run innings to knock off EMCC Game 3, 12-3.

“I told them (after Game 2) that if we don’t play any better than that, then there’s no chance of winning Game 3,” Holliman said.  “We obviously played a lot better and were able to swing the bats.”

And battling back from a disappointing outing is nothing new for Holliman and his squad.

“We’ve have had several opportunities this season to bounce back from a bad performance,” Holliman said. “It’s been an up-and-down year, and (we've been) trying to find the right lineup.”

Part of ECCC’s recent surge has been due in large part to the health of the middle infield, Hunter Thrower and Maxwell Harmon, both of whom missed a significant amount of time this season due to injury.

“We didn’t get our middle infield back and settled until 25 games into the season,” said Holliman.

Additionally, part of the Warriors’ early-season struggles stemmed from virtually an entire new squad from the 2013 campaign.

“I still don’t think we’ve peaked,” Holliman said. “We’ve battled some injuries early on. We had 22 new guys into our program, with 20 of them being freshman ... It took some time to make some things happen. We’ve lost some close games, but we’re a lot better than what some people have thought.”

ECCC will have the opportunity to continue to prove the doubters wrong at noon Thursday against Hinds Community College in the opening game of the double-elimination MACJC State Tournament.

The two teams previously squared off four times this season, with each winning two games in the season series.

“It’s two evenly matched teams,” Holliman said. I feel like we know the guy real well that’s probably going to be throwing for them, and they probably know the guy we’ll be pitching for us. They’ve got a very solid ball club. Whoever can play the best on that given day (will win).”

And while Holliman’s focus remains on the matchup against Hinds, the sixth year coach continues to do is due dilligence in order for his team to emerge as tournament champions.

“The bottom line is that you can only worry about the game that is right in front of you at the present time,” he said. “You have to win Game 1 to put you in the winner’s bracket, and that puts you in position to win the whole tournament. But I am also mapping out a game plan in order to win the tournament, and not just a single game. If you have absolutely nothing available after winning the game or two games, you’re not going to win the tournament.

“Whoever makes the crucial plays (will win), and it might even come down to getting some lucky breaks in determining who wins the tournament.”

While the tournament means a great deal to the Warriors, last week’s tragic storms inspired Holliman and his squad to take part in a community project for the city of Decatur.

“It was a great community project for us to take part of,” Holliman said. “To help Mike Anderson, who runs the country club and used to be an employee of (ECCC) to help him try to clean up. We have several players and former players from the Louisville area. They’ve got lives that are lost, and houses that are lost, and their lives have been really turned upside down.

“In the overall scheme of things, (baseball) is not nearly as important as we sometimes make it out to be.”

With the terrible weather behind them, and a chance at  serving as back-to-back state tournament champions, Holliman says it will come down to his hitters registering quality at bats each time at the plate.

“It’s being a tough and continuous out throughout the entire lineup," Holliman said. I feel like we’re going to play sound defensively, and we’ll pitch well, and that we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win. You have to have quality at-bats to compete at this time of the year.”

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