Hurricanes produce breakthrough season

Published 6:52 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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Paul D. Camp Community College’s baseball program has been competing since only 2018 and has experienced an impressive amount of success in a short amount of time.

But the 2023 Hurricanes squad took things to another level, recording a breakthrough season that rewrote much of the program’s record books and that also penned the first chapter of its history as a postseason participant. And Camp did far more than simply participate.

The Hurricanes opened their inaugural postseason run by winning the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Region 10 Championship. They clinched the title by routing Surry Community College 31-7 on May 7.

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Then Camp hosted Prince George’s Community College on May 19 in the NJCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic District Championship series and swept the Owls via 11-3 and 25-10 victories.

Winning the regional and district titles put the Hurricanes among the eight best teams in the country, and those teams competed for the national championship May 27-31 at the NJCAA Division III World Series in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Camp went 0-2 in the double-elimination event but was notably competitive in both games — the stage was not too big for the Hurricanes.

“We were just as good as a lot of the other teams, we just didn’t play well enough to walk away with any wins on our side,” Camp Head Coach Daniel Rollins said. “But I did feel confident that it was a situation where we definitely deserved to be there. We were competitive, and we tried to do the best we could to represent not only Franklin and the surrounding communities but the region as a whole.”

The Hurricanes finished the season with an overall record of 33-19.

Hollins described Camp’s year as “an amazing ride.”

“We struggled early, but we also played the ninth-hardest schedule in the country,” he said. “I made the schedule difficult because I wanted us to be prepared at the end of the year to hopefully be playing our best baseball, to have played really good competition and to have been prepared to make the kind of run that we did.”

He admitted that when the team opened the season 1-6, he was asking himself if he did the right thing.

“Come April and May, I had no doubts that I did,” he said. “It was just an amazing ride.” 

He noted that the year was an experience that he, the players, the school and the community can be proud of.

“To be the first to do anything is always special, and these guys were a special group, and they’ll never be forgotten for doing what they did and for coming together and playing as well as they did and for earning that opportunity to go play for a national championship,” he said.

Camp Community College President Dr. Corey McCray said he was excited but not caught off guard by the baseball team’s historic season.

“I have witnessed the baseball team and the coaches work so hard on and off the field that the wins were not a surprise,” he said. “They are a committed group of athletes that are second to none!”

He noted that the key ingredients to the Hurricanes’ success were “great coaching, the tenacity and commitment to the team by all the players, and their athleticism.”

Rollins, who just completed his fourth year as Camp’s head coach, expanded on some of the concepts McCray highlighted as he accounted for why the Hurricanes were able to achieve such unprecedented success.

“In all honesty, it’s all a part of the process,” Rollins said. “In my mind, to me, when I took over, I told the president and the athletic director I didn’t come here to be mediocre and that I had a goal of us being able to compete for regional titles and Mid-Atlantic championships and to get to a World Series.

“And in that process, as far as how we develop our players and having really good kids who buy in and want to work hard and also jell together as a family, that process all played out this year,” he continued. “And it may have played out a little earlier than maybe I even thought it could, but that’s been the goal all along was to make something like this possible from day one.”

The coach highlighted leaders on the diamond that made it possible in 2023.

“We were really an offensive team, and the three guys that started with really were Ben Williams, Joseph Eichelberger and Tyler Cotten,” he said. “Those three guys really set the stage for us to be very explosive offensively.”

At the NJCAA Division III level, the Hurricanes were fifth in the nation in home runs, with 55.

“We finished No. 1 in the country in stolen bases,” Rollins said.

Camp piled up 227 stolen bases this season.

“We also had some big-time guys who stepped up who performed in a way that I don’t even know if maybe they thought they were (capable) of at times,” Rollins said.

He pointed to sophomore infielder Misael Garcia.

“He ended up at the end of the year hitting in the four hole for us every day, and it wasn’t because he hit a bunch of home runs,” Rollins said. “It was because he drove the ball gap to gap and constantly drove in runs, and that was a huge key to our success.”

Assessing Camp’s batters, Rollins said, “I just feel like our lineup, one through nine, was very, very difficult, and we didn’t have very many holes in it, that’s for sure.”

He went through the list.

Sophomore Ben Williams led off and played center field, freshman Tucker Genovesi hit second and was a designated hitter, redshirt sophomore Joseph Eichelberger hit third and played right field, Garcia hit fourth and played third base, sophomore Tyler Cotten hit fifth and played catcher, sophomore Cole Mallory hit sixth and played first base, freshman Trent Holland hit seventh and played shortstop, freshman John Stansbury hit eighth and played second base, and freshman Luke Schwartz hit ninth and played left field.

“What was crazy was, Luke was a guy who wasn’t even in the lineup starting the year,” Rollins said. “He was a guy who earned his way into the lineup, and once I put him in there one day, I couldn’t take him back out just because he kept performing.”

The coach said it was a similar story with Genovesi.

“I put him in the lineup one day because he had been swinging well in practice, and down the stretch, he played every single day for us and hit in the two hole,” Rollins said. “So having those guys step up and perform on a regular basis was huge.”

Eichelberger and Genovesi were named to the NJCAA Division III All-Region 10 first team. Cotten, Holland, Schwartz and Williams made the second team, and Schwartz and freshman Codey Batten made the Region 10 All-Defensive Team.

Rollins then turned his attention to the mound.

“On the flip side, I don’t want to take anything away from our pitching staff,” he said.

That staff was headlined by sophomore right-hander Gavin Tomlin, of Southampton County. The former Southampton High School student-athlete was also named to the NJCAA Division III All-Region 10 first team.

“Gavin was a team captain, Gavin was a leader on and off the field, and he’s the young man who came into this program as somebody that we didn’t know how much he would actually pitch for us, and two years later, he’s starting game one of the World Series for us,” Rollins said. “And he worked his tail off to earn that opportunity, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Tomlin put into words what it was like for him to be part of Camp’s unprecedented run this year.

“For me being from this area and such a small town, it was amazing to be part of the history of the school,” he said. “Our team has worked hard day after day, practice after practice. We’ve had to take one moment at a time. We also had to understand failure as a team and individually. This made our brotherhood stronger, we all had positive attitudes and were focused on the games and eager to win.”

Tomlin will now move on to a four-year school, Randolph-Macon College, but he said he is looking forward to coming back and helping Rollins with camps and clinics.

“Giving back to our community has been important to my family especially,” Tomlin said.

This expression of character was one that could also be found in his Hurricanes teammates, and their collective example helped serve as a major highlight for Rollins.

The coach went through the aspects of the year that stood out to him most.

“Obviously going to the World Series is huge, but us having 27 guys get academic all-region during the spring semester when it’s so hard to juggle academics and baseball, I couldn’t be prouder of that accomplishment,” he said. “I can’t think of a year we’ve been anywhere close to that number.”

It was a record-breaking season on many fronts.

“We broke just about every school record, offensively, that had ever been set, and that’s a testament to our hitting coach, Will Flanders, and his time and effort,” Rollins said.

“And again, the stolen bases — last year we ended the year with 195 stolen bases,” he said, which put Camp second in the nation at the NJCAA Division II level the team belonged to then. “We had a goal this year of stealing 200, and we worked very hard on the base running, so that was a big deal to me, too, was to finish No. 1 in the country in stolen bases, and to steal over 200 was huge.

“But outside of those things that occurred on the field, I’m so proud of this group off the field,” he continued. “I think we had 15 guys graduate. We completed four or five community service events. We fundraised over $55,000 to support the program so we can pay for things and be able to support our guys in the developmental side of things.”

He indicated that achievements in education and character development are his main focus as he works with his players.

“Because it’s important for me to know that these guys walk away understanding how to grow as young men,” he said. “And by completing community service, by learning how to fundraise, by learning how to get their work done in the classroom at a high level, those things are telling me that these young men are growing up.

“And my ultimate goal is for these guys to become the best future employees, employers, husbands, fathers, all those things,” he said. “They mean more to me than any win or any championship we’ll ever win, and this group did an amazing job off the field proving to me and to our coaching staff and to our administration that they’re going to grow into really good human beings when they leave Camp Community College and when they go out into the real world.”