Harold Coggins: Boll Weevils Diamond of State Baseball


For the second time in the past three years, the No. 24 University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils baseball team is making a trip to the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament, one step away from the D2 College World series. Saturday, the now 36-14 Boll Weevils tied the school record for victories established two seasons ago, earning the first conference championship in baseball since 1993 (back in the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference days)—and sixth in program history—by easily defeating Henderson State University 14-2 in the championship game of the Great American Conference Baseball Championships at the Reddies’ own Clyde Berry Field in Arkadelphia.

John Harvey’s 2016 squad joins Alvy Early’s 2012 Cotton Blossom softball team as the only UAM units to capture GAC postseason championships. The 2012 softball team also won the regular-season crown; the 2016 baseball team came up one game short of duplicating that feat.

The win over Henderson, and the 5-0 run through an expanded GAC baseball tournament, earned the Weevils the league’s automatic bid to the Central Region Tournament in St. Cloud, Minn. Thursday through next Monday. Fourth-seeded UAM will face No. 5 seed Missouri Western State University (38-18), a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association team which earned an at-large bid, at 1:30 p.m. in the first round Thursday.

A win over Missouri Western will send the Weevils into the winbers’ bracket semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday. A loss to the Griffons drops UAM into an elimination contest at 10 a.m. Friday.

The rest of the Thursday’s first round will pit No. 1 seed and tournament host St. Cloud State University (35-8),  the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference champion, against No. 8 Minnesota State University at Mankato (33-16), an NSIC at-large entry, at 10 a.m.; the second-seeded University of Central Missouri (38-13), champions of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, against No. 7 Southwestern Oklahoma State University (29-14), a GAC at-large—and the league’s regular-season champion, at 5 p.m.; and No. 3 University of Minnesota at Duluth (39-14), which received an at-large bid from the NSIC, against sixth-seeded Emporia State (Kan.) University (27-17), an MIAA at-large entry, at 8:30 p.m.

The double-elimination tournament will continue through Monday’s regional championship at 11 a.m.; maybe through an if-necessary second championship contest at 2:30 p.m. Monday. The surviving club will join seven other regional winners at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. May 28-June 4 for the Division II national championship. Should UAM advance to the East Coast, the Weevils would replace Henderson as the Central Region champions. The Reddies had quite a run in 2015, making it to the final four before being eliminated.

UAM has had a lot of stellar performances this spring—like senior shortstop Evan Comeau’s monster GAC tournament (13-for-20 at the plate, 7 runs scored, three runs batted in and a .731 on-base percentage from his leadoff position)—but the players who’s carried UAM to the position in which it finds itself now is undoubtedbly senior right fielder Corey Wood.

Before the season got underway back in February, Harvey discussed his team’s 2016 chances in general and Wood in particular.

Wood was named second-team All-GAC a year ago after posting a .326 batting average. He led the UAM offense in six categories in 2015—hits (43), runs (32), runs batted in (33), triples (three), slugging percentage (.561) and total bases (74). Wood’s six home runs were second on the team and his seven doubles were tied for third.

“Corey had a really good first half of the season last year but kind of slumped off toward the end,” the sixth-year head Weevil said at that time. “He’s a lot more mature now. He had a good year last year, if you look at the numbers, but he’s the kind of guy who expects to hit .380 with eight or 10 home runs—and we expect that out of him, too.”

Not even Harvey, though, could have expected this line: a .355 batting average (not .380 but both Wood and his skipper will take it), a team-leading 66 hits, 54 runs scored, 15 doubles (tied with Travis Steinke), 22 home runs, 79 RBI, 151 total bases and an .812 slugging percentage. His .463 on-base percentage, two triples, 38 walks and 10 stolen bases currently ranks him second on the team, too.

Coming off his second seven-RBI performance in the last five games (all part of the GAC postseason tournament), he showed why the league’s coaches voted him Player of the Year before the conference tournament and why he was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player during it. He was 8-for-21 (a .381 average) with eight runs scored, four home runs (including a grand slam to get UAM started on its 14-2 manhandling of Henderson in the championship game) and 19 RBI.

This spring, Wood has:

• Demolished both UAM single-season home run and RBI records. With the NCAA Central Regional Tournament—at the very least—still remaining to be played, Wood’s 22 round-trippers and 79 RBI have shattered the old marks of 15 and 60, both set by UAM Sports Hall of Famer Jamie Tucker in the 1999 season;

• Broken the GAC single-season home run record of 16 set by Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s Jonathan Freemyer in 2014;

• Broken the GAC career homer record of 30 set by Southern Arkansas University’s Billy Germaine in 2015-16;

• Broken the GAC single-season RBI record of 66 set by Germaine in 2015;

• Broken the GAC career RBI record of 107 set by SAU’s Brady Upshaw in 2012-13 and tied by Ouachita Baptist University’s Keegan Ghidotti in 2012-14—Wood has 136 and counting;

• Broken the GAC career total base record of 239 set by Harding’s Matt Calhoun in 2012-14—Wood has 275 and counting;

• Tied the UAM single-season record for runs scored—54 by Denver Thompson in 2001.

Wood currently has the best GAC career slugging percentage and is also in the conference career top 10 in runs scored, total bases, home runs, RBI, walks, at-bats, games played and on-base percentage. And he’s just a hair away from the UAM career record for home runs of 34 hit by Tucker from 1996-99.

One look at his statistics for 2016 will show fans it took him a month to get started, too. Wood was just 1-for-9 in UAM’s season-opening trip to the Houston Astros Winter Invitational, played at Minute Maid Park in Houston, and wasn’t consistently over .300 until March 4—14 games into the season (and had only four homers). If you look at it that way, the Frederickton, N.B. native has done what he’s done in basically 36 outings.

Two words come immediately to mind: “simply amazing.”

“I’ve never seen a year like this,” Harvey said. “You understand he’s having a great year but it’s not going to sink in until all this is over and we look back on it. I’ve seen a couple guys put together All-American type years but nothing compares to what Corey’s done.”

Harvey said before the season Major League Baseball scouts were interested in all three of his outfielders—Wood, redshirt sophomore center fielder Brian Ray, who is eligible for the MLB First-Year Player Draft because this is his third year in college, and senior left fielder Kevin Fitzpatrick. Actually, he discussed the three in the reverse order, with Wood seemingly an afterthought when it came to draft potential.

Now, scouts would be crazy not to at least look at Wood. It’s a good bet UAM’s Central Region opponents will be looking long and hard.

Boll Weevils baseball


Tags: , , ,