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Coppin State baseball turns promise into reality, winning first MEAC title since 1995 to earn automatic bid to NCAA Regional

When Sherman Reed sought to introduce new pitching coach Sean Repay to the pitchers on his Coppin State baseball team in July, the 12-year coach distributed a Zoom link with the heading, “Meeting: Road to the 2022 NCAA Regionals.”

That prediction seems prophetic now after the Eagles, the No. 2 seed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, upended top-seeded Delaware State two games to one at Norfolk State’s Marty L. Miller Field in Norfolk, Virginia, for the league championship over the weekend. They earned their first berth in an NCAA Regional and will learn the identity of their opponent during a selection show on May 30 at noon.

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“I’m going to need somebody to pinch me because it feels like I’m dreaming,” Reed said Saturday night as the team returned home after rallying for an 18-12 victory over the Hornets in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. “This has been a whirlwind couple of days, 72 hours. It’s surreal.”

Coppin State (24-28) captured its first MEAC championship since 1995, matched a program record for wins in a single season and collected the athletic department’s first conference title since 2008 when Fang Mitchell and the men’s basketball squad edged Morgan State.

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“It’s pretty amazing that we were able to do this special thing for the school, this team, and Baltimore,” redshirt junior third baseman Brian Nicolas said. “I think it’s great that we’re able to bring this back after such a long time.”

The Eagles appeared poised to sweep Delaware State (25-23) after cruising to a 15-5 romp in eight innings on Friday. But sophomore right-hander Evan Harris racked up 11 strikeouts in nine innings to power the Hornets to a 4-3 decision Saturday afternoon that delayed a coronation for Coppin State.

“We tried to do our best, but we tip our caps to that pitcher,” Eagles senior right fielder Marcos Castillo said. “He pitched one hell of a game. So into the next game, we kind of knew that we had to give it all we can, that we couldn’t let up. The energy was the main thing we had. We wanted to keep the vibes up.”

Coppin State opened Saturday’s finale by erupting for five runs in the top of the first inning. Delaware State responded with seven unanswered runs in a four-inning span to assume a 7-5 lead after the fifth. The Eagles plated three runs in the top of the seventh, but the Hornets returned the favor with four runs in their half of the inning.

Coppin State scored two more runs in the top of the eighth inning, but still trailed Delaware State, 11-10. In their final inning, the Eagles exploded for eight runs on the strength of two-run singles by freshman shortstop Josh Hankins and sophomore first baseman Sebastien Sarabia and a three-run double by redshirt sophomore catcher Mike Dorcean.

“Knowing that we could come back because we had seen it happen made us believe,” said sophomore designated hitter Jordan Hamberg, who scored on Dorcean’s double. “We all just had good at-bats, and no one really gave up. So we continued to work hard, and it ended up working out for us.”

Castillo said hitting coach Jovanny Zarzabal brought the players together before the final inning to encourage them and added that he told some of his teammates, “I smell five runs.”

“We kind of had faith and belief that we were going to scratch out two runs to get the lead,” said Nicolas, who was named the tournament MVP after batting .438 (7-of-16), driving in eight runs and scoring six times. “But we never expected to put up such a big amount. But we came through, and we got the bats hot at the right time.”

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Claiming the championship did not come off as a shock to Coppin State players and Reed — all of whom pointed out that they finished just .percentage points behind Delaware State after a season-ending four-game series at Norfolk State was canceled due to inclement weather.

Reed said he got an inkling of his team’s potential during the squad’s first practice of the fall on Sept. 19.

“All we talked about was, we must not underachieve because we had a [NCAA] Regional-type team,” he said. “We just felt it from the very beginning. It got tough after losing that first game [on Saturday], that one-run loss because Del State just played spectacular. But this team here, we have seen some of the biggest comebacks in our Coppin history, and you can never count them out.”

The title is especially meaningful for Castillo, who sat out the entire 2021 campaign after tearing his right ACL during a base-running drill in fall 2020. He said he is particularly grateful that he and his teammates were able to reward Reed, who molded championship quality squads in 2018 and 2019 that fell short in the MEAC Tournament.

“That’s why this championship means so much to me,” he said. “I could come back with the boys and pull this one off against Delaware State, our rival, and Coach Reed can finally hold that trophy up in the air and say that we are MEAC champions.”

The Eagles figure the selection committee might match them against No. 1 Tennessee (49-7), which is the top seed in the upcoming Southeastern Conference Tournament. Just don’t expect them to be cowed by their opponent just because this will mark their first NCAA Regional. The 1995 squad lost in a play-in game before the regional.

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“We’re excited, and we’re ready to go there and show them what we’ve got,” said Hamberg, who is the first Coppin State player to be named the MEAC’s Pitcher of the Year and was placed on the league’s first team at both starting pitcher and utility. “If we play our game, I feel like we have a chance against anyone.”

Reed said he and his players received some inspiration after Saturday’s title-cementing victory.

“Someone yelled from the stands after we clinched, ‘Now go make some noise in the regional!’ We’ve got that kind of team,” he said. “It would not surprise me at all if we go out there and compete and make some noise. It really wouldn’t.”


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