Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
After four seasons of holding a high standard for conference play, members of Berry’s baseball team begin their season in less than a week, once again facing tough conference competition in their battle to make it to post-season national competition.
The Vikings begin their season this Saturday, Feb. 18, with a home opener with a home opener against Pfieffer University. At the start of the 2023 season, Berry is predicted to finish fourth in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) regular season schedule, although they have not finished lower than second since 2018.
Berry won the SAA’s regular season in 2018 and had another first-place finish in 2021. That means that the current seniors have always competed for, if not won, the top spot.
However, the program is yet to win the SAA’s championship tournament and compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III post-season tournaments, including the World Series composed of the final eight teams.
According to Associate Athletic Director David Beasley, who is starting his 26th year as head baseball coach, the Vikings have finished second in the conference tournament approximately three times thus far in their 10-year association with the SAA.
Beasley said that his teams over the past five season, including the 2020 season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, have done a good job at putting themselves in a position to win the conference regular season, which speaks to their ability to win the championship tournament. Taking the top spot and sealing the deal, and securing their ticket to the national tournaments, is his team’s goal this year.
“We’re right there competing, we just have to take the next step,” Beasley said. “That’s something that we acknowledge and is something that is on everybody’s radar on our club.”
Last season, the team did not win the SAA regular season, falling to rival Birmingham Southern College (BSC), with whom they were tied for first in conference standing, during their final weekend of regular season play. Beasley said that the outcome of the BSC series was the only difference between the conference season rankings in 2022 and 2021.
BSC also knocked Berry out of the 2021 conference tournament, at the end of the Vikings most successful of the past four seasons.
Charles Stephenson, a senior team member who plays pitcher, said that his team consistently performs well during the year but seems to lose steam before the championship tournament.
Stephenson hopes to see himself and his fellow teammates continue to play hard all throughout the 2023 season so that their energy does not dip before the tournament or highly anticipated back-to-back regular season weekends against BSC and another key conference opponent, Rhodes College.
“We’ve just got to go out there and do our thing, not let the situation take control, and we will be fine,” Stephenson said.
Birmingham Southern is ranked no. 16 in D-III baseball nationwide this year. Lowered expectations for Berry could be due to other teams having a large number of returning talent, according to Joey Garcia, a second-year shortstop. Garcia does not expect the ranking to phase himself or his fellow team members, however.
“We know we’ve put in the hard work, and we’re confident we’ve worked harder than any other team, so we’re ready to go out there and take what’s ours,” Garcia said.
In addition to persistence, Garcia said that the team has spent many hours together off the field and believes this tight team bond, such as the one he shares with the two other players in the team’s sophomore class, will also lead to success this year.
“I really think, when it comes to winning, [that it] is just getting as close as I can with these guys and investing everything I’ve got into our team work and the nature of this team,” Garcia said. “I think that will carry us far.”
Beasley said that consistency of effort and execution will be key to the Vikings success in 2023 more so than in years past.
“I think our guys are super solid, they do a great job in the classroom, and they do a great job on the field,” Beasley said. “If we’re consistent and we execute, we’ll be fine. it’s my job to make sure we are consistent and execute, so that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Senior member Stephenson said that the lower ranking will also serve as motivation for the team to improve, particular for the senior team members who have held up a high standard of performance for three seasons and desire to see it carried on.
“We’ve always been on the verge of doing something really great,” Stephenson said.
First-year team member Riley Uhls is one of 12 freshmen team members, a class that is both talented and eager to learn, according to Stephenson.
Uhls recognized the upperclassmen’s high standard of execution over his few months on the team, and especially during scrimmage matches over the last few weeks.
“You can just tell they know when to come play and when it’s time to do that, and they perform to their ability,” Uhls said.
Uhls said that the team enjoys a good dynamic this year, including senior leadership that is both outspoken and leading by example. Sophomore Garcia said that the seniors this year are adamant that their three seasons of holding of the standard will be fulfilled with post-season play.
“[The] seniors just kinda put down their foot that this is gonna be the year for us,” Garcia said. “We’re doing everything we can to support them, to support each other.”