Bulldogs ‘ready to play’

Barton to face Belmont Abbey in conference tourney Thursday

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For the first time since 2017, the Barton College baseball team is appearing in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas tournament.

Projected to finish seventh among 10 league members in the preseason poll of the head coaches, the Bulldogs travel to Tigerville, South Carolina, for the five-day event (Wednesday through Sunday) as the No. 2 regular-season finisher and riding a conference-best six-game winning streak.

Barton defeated all nine conference foes at least once in compiling a 17-9 worksheet and, with a 30-18 overall record, is just two wins away from equaling the program record for most wins in one season.

As the No. 2 seed behind regular-season king and tournament host North Greenville University, Barton begins play Thursday against No. 5 Belmont Abbey, the winner of  Wednesday’s one-and-gone clash against No. 8 Chowan, making its tournament debut.

“We feel good,” expressed second-year Bulldogs head coach Jim Chester. “It was nice to win our last five conference games and, I believe, win our last six games. Playing good down the stretch is a coach’s dream. We have a group ready to play.”

Chester credits a “team-first” approach in the turnaround from 12 wins his inaugural season.

“We talked way back in the beginning about getting better every day, and we have managed to do that,” he explained. “And the guy next to us is more important than ourselves. There’s a lot of team stuff going on.”

Still, the turning point in Chester’s opinion, was the manner in which the players handled adversity and rebounded when the team did not play well for a 10-game stretch.

The roster is huge with 30-plus players and the Bulldogs rely upon a bounty of position players and pitchers.

Emerging a leading all-conference candidate is freshman center fielder Jacob Marcos with a .366 batting average, 43 runs scored and 33 runs batted in. Marcos leads the club in runs and shares the top spot in RBIs.

Junior JoJo Allen is batting .306 and senior Juan Martinez is hitting .305. Allen leads with 15 doubles and Martinez is tops with seven home runs.

Senior Gatlin Pate and junior Noah Almond have each slugged five homers. Senior Hunter Pearre has also driven in 33 runs, followed by senior Troy Maslowski with 32, Martinez with 31 and sophomore Colby Warren with 30.

The winner of the Belmont Abbey-Chowan game will influence the starting pitcher in the Bulldogs’ opener, although Chester didn’t expound on that decision. However, juniors Jakob Ryan and Colby Schimmel, senior Dylan Ward and sophomores Alex Hart and Warren are candidates.

“We will lean on everybody,” Chester declared. “We’ve had a lot of different pitchers to do a lot of positive things. We will really break it down when we know who we’re playing, but they have all been tremendous. The team has a lot of confidence in whoever runs out there and takes the ball.”

Ward possesses a 4-0 record and 4.32 earned run average, while Ryan and Schimmel have each posted five wins. Warren has emerged the most effective closer with three saves and a 3.18 ERA.

Hart is the conference’s reigning pitcher of the week. In Barton’s 6-1 victory against Southern Wesleyan last weekend, Hart pitched five scoreless innings of relief, allowing one hit and striking out nine. He possesses a 3-2 record.

Chester mentions as weekend keys — throwing strikes, committing minimal defensive mistakes and scoring runs.

“It’s been my experience,” he remarked, “that the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually win these things. We hope to continue playing after this weekend.”