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Camp baseball begins season navigating COVID-19

It’s normal over the course of a baseball season for teams to have to navigate through injuries and rainouts.

What’s not normal is having to weave their way through a pandemic.

But that’s precisely what the Paul D. Camp Community College baseball team is already having to work through this season. It hardly makes them unique, but as a small, relatively young junior college program, it makes it all the more challenging.

Second-year Camp baseball coach Daniel Rollins said the program has had its run-ins with COVID-19 protocols since they returned from winter break, but added players are mostly making good decisions.

“They have followed our protocols, and we’ve asked a lot out of them,” Rollins said. “The protocols for them aren’t easy, and they’ve followed them and done what’s necessary. … They don’t want to miss time because they have to quarantine. They tend to make good decisions so they don’t have to miss things that they want to really be a part of.”

Camp, which plays in Division II, Region X of the National Junior College Athletic Association,  has already seen its scheduled opener against Thomas Nelson Community College Feb. 6 canceled due to weather, and another five games canceled due to COVID-19 – three against Bryant and Stratton Wisconsin scheduled for Feb. 13-14 and another two against Delaware County Community College March 16.
The Hurricanes were scheduled to play at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, N.C. Feb. 9, but that was postponed to Feb. 10, when the two teams were set to play a seven-inning doubleheader, but ended up playing a single, nine-inning game, with the host school topping Camp 11-7.

Even with the potential for pandemic pauses to the season, Camp, by its nature of being a junior college program, would have uncertainty baked in anyway, with all of its players freshmen or sophomores. Though again, with the uniqueness of this season, 21 players on the roster gained an extra year of eligibility with the National Junior College Athletic Association deciding that with the spring 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19, it would not count for eligibility purposes. The same will go for sports seasons in the 2020-2021 school year.

“None of these guys are burning up a year of eligibility this year,” Rollins said. “So it’s crazy to think you’ll have some guys that, literally and theoretically, they could spend four years at Camp Community College as a junior college baseball player and still have two years of eligibility left at a four-year school.

“That being said, my goal is to get these guys in, graduated and out of here in two years.”

Because this season is also being affected by the virus, college players will again have the option to add a year of eligibility.

As a result, depth will be key, and Rollins believes he has it with the team he and his assistants have assembled.

“Outside of a couple of injuries, I’m really excited about the depth of where we are, especially on the mound,” Rollins said. “I think last year, my biggest concern was how we were going to get through the year, pitching-depth-wise, and this year, I feel really good about … where our front-end arms are and what kind of ability they have.”

Among those he’ll be counting on is left-handed pitcher Tristan Williams, a standout from Nansemond River High School who saw time in the team’s season-opener at Mid-Atlantic Christian, striking out six in 2-⅔ innings.

“He’s a great young man, he’s a huge competitor and you talk about a kid who’s got a ton of upside, I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of over the next couple of years for us,” Rollins said. “So I’m excited about him and his ability.”

On the mound, Rollins is also high on Dylan Beck, a graduate of Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, along with out-of-state transfers Jared Showalter and Nick Martins, and he likes the depth he has there. Micah Fox is expected to be an option out of the bullpen and contribute as a designated hitter.

Offensively, Rollins likes to take an aggressive posture.

“We play fast, we play fearless and we play aggressive,” Rollins said. “And we try and put as much pressure on the defense as we possibly can.”

In the infield, Rollins will have to do without Rob Arakel to a season-ending injury, but the team returns shortstop Thomas Fox, who has the flexibility to play other infield positions and can provide power at the plate.

Richie Dudley will likely see time at second base and shortstop, and second baseman Davis Powell from Wake Forest, N.C., who Rollins said has earned an opportunity.

Joe Lathrop, in his third year at Camp and second-year captain, is expected to provide power in the middle of the batting order after being granted an extra year at the junior college level due to COVID-19.

Of Camp’s outfielders, Rollins calls freshman centerfielder Quincy Sippio of Prince George above-average defensively and has the potential to be a great hitter.

“Quincy is a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete who’s got some serious ability,” Rollins said, “and he’s going to hold a bunch of records and he’s going to make his mark on the program before he leaves.”

Rollins also expects Carlos Bland, a transfer from Virginia Military Institute, to provide power, as well as speed on the bases.

Another player, Braydon Charlton, is making the move from catcher to the outfield due to an injury and is expected to be one of the team leaders.

At catcher, Camp expects transfer Luke Miller and freshman Chris Fredette to compete for time.

Rollins said that along with his assistants, and the use of baseball-specific technology not often found at the junior college level, their focus is on the program and player development.

“We want to win championships, we want to win games, don’t get me wrong,” Rollins said. “But our biggest responsibility and goal is to make sure that these guys develop as individuals, develop as baseball players and get the most out of the individual development side so they’re prepared to leave and to step into a really good, four-year program.”

And with COVID-19 already having an impact on the season, Rollins is going to need the depth he says he has.

“You never know what COVID might throw our way, so it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Rollins said, “but we’re going to face it head-on and put our best foot forward and give ourselves, hopefully, the best opportunity to be consistent and win some baseball games.”