Ben Delgado’s first look at his team in a competitive setting didn’t produce any victories, but that didn’t bother Thomas Nelson’s new baseball coach.
“After the first game, I thought we played well the next three,” he said of the Gators’ showing in the Hampton Roads Cup, a four-game exhibition series held at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton on Feb. 6-9.
Ben Delgado first joined Thomas Nelson in 2017 as a volunteer coach.
The Gators opened with a 17-4 loss to Bryant Stratton College, followed by defeats to Paul D. Camp (2-1), Stratford University (6-4) and the Apprentice School (9-4).
“Honestly, we could have easily won those three games after Bryant Stratton,” said Delgado, who joined Thomas Nelson as a volunteer assistant coach in spring 2017 and was named the interim coach in January after Mike Moore stepped down.
He said miscommunication in the outfield led to three runs against Stratford, and six errors contributed to the loss to Apprentice.
“Things like that, little details, if you can correct, you’ve got a chance to win ballgames, or at least be in the ballgame,” he said.
The Gators officially open the season March 3 with a doubleheader at Bethel High School against New Jersey's Rowan-Gloucester College. Their schedule includes 16 conference games, with the regular season ending May 7.
Delgado said the team’s pitching impressed him the most in the four exhibition games.
“I thought they did a very good job,” he said, adding the Gators hit well, but struggled on defense.
“It’s early so nothing to really stress too much or sweat too much about,” he said. “I think we have a very solid team, and I could see us doing some good things.”
Tyler Knapp, who played at Longwood last year, and Jared Davis are expected to lead the way on the mound. Delgado said Knapp’s fastball has been clocked about 90-91 mph. Davis got the start in the exhibition against Paul D. Camp (a 2-1 loss) and did very well in his five innings.
“I expect good things out of both those guys,” said Delgado, whose assistant is a former Norfolk State teammate, Roger Hall.
The key returning player is second baseman Luis Badillo. He hit .389 last year (fifth in the region) and was named to the all-region second team. At shortstop is Javery Alvin, who has impressed Delgado already.
“Some of the plays he’s making, I was like, ‘Wow,’” Delgado said. “With those two guys up the middle, you can sleep well at night.”
Behind them in center field is Tre Terry.
“He’s like a gazelle out there,” the coach said. “He can catch a fly ball no matter where it’s at.”
Also expected to play key roles are three transfers from Danville Community College, Wayne Butler, Mitch Jackson and Zach Lewallen.
“We’ve got guys that have experience in college baseball,” Delgado said.
They also have numbers, which they haven’t had in the past. This year’s roster lists 18 players. In the past three or four years, the Gators usually have had 12-15 on the roster.
“In the past, we’ve struggled with that,” Delgado said.
The coach added depth is even more important this year because of a change in the schedule. With Danville no longer fielding a team, that leaves just three members in the conference – Thomas Nelson and a pair of North Carolina schools (Surry Community College and Rockingham Community College). Weekend series used to consist of a Saturday doubleheader followed by a single game on Sunday. Now, there will be doubleheaders both days.
“It’s going to be a long season, especially on the weekends,” Delgado said. “Having depth helps a lot.”
Conference play will be a challenge, as both of Thomas Nelson’s opponents have had great success recently with appearances in the national tournament. But Delgado says he and his team are ready for the challenge.
“With Surry going in 2017, and Rockingham in ’18, why not us in 2019?” he said.