By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
SEVERAL Bahamian student athletes are set to begin their NCAA Division I baseball seasons this month as programmes in various divisions return to the field under strict COVID-19 protocols.
BJ Murray and the Florida Atlantic Owls will open the 2021 campaign Friday, February 19 on the road against Central Florida. They will return to FAU Baseball Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida for the final two games of the three-game series.
Conference USA released its preseason team rankings and the league’s coaches voted the Owls to finish first in the C-USA East Division.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back on the field and playing. It’s a similar type of schedule in terms of RPI, we’re in good shape there.
“I think it’s a really competitive schedule, and we’re going to have to be ready to go on February 19th,” said Owls head coach McCormack. “The schedule will certainly be a lot different than it has in the past,” said McCormack. “We’re going to play Central Florida on the weekend, which we haven’t done in probably 15 years, and South Florida on a weekend, which I don’t think we’ve ever done. The way we’re scheduling games, to stay out of hotels, is going to be unique.
“Fans are going to have to really pay attention to the schedule to make sure they get to the games (with the split series), but it’s going to be nice just to be back playing.”
Murray started each of the 15 games of his sophomore season before the pandemic brought a halt to the 2020 season.
He hit .203 with 12 hits, 10 RBI, a team-leading three home runs, 11 runs scored and a .299 on base percentage.
Defensively he had a .958 fielding percentage with 30 assists, 16 putouts and just two errors.
For the second straight year, he supplied FAU’s first homer of the season against Delaware.
He had an RBI single in his first at-bat, a two-run double the next inning, and two at bats later, blasted a two-run home run to left. The five RBI that night marked the most by an Owl on the season. He went on to add three more multi-hit games on the year.
In the PAC-12, Allbry Major will join an Arizona State programme that brings in the second ranked transfer class in the nation according to Baseball America. The Sun Devils will also open their season February 19 at home in the first of a four-game series against Sacramento State.
The Sun Devils will be scheduled to play 55 total contests, including a 30-game conference slate and 25 non-conference matchups. ASU is slated to play 34 games in the confines of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The programme will look to add a 56th game over the course of the season.
The current schedule is subject to any number of date and time changes due to the volatility of circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis and in keeping with both local and national health recommendations and guidelines.
Major comes to the Sun Devils after two productive years with the Xavier Musketeers.
As a freshman in 2018, Major won BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, was Second Team All-BIG EAST and was also named Baseball America’s Preseason BIG EAST Freshman of the Year. He hit .291 with a pair of home runs and 21 RBI. Defensively in centrefield, he did not make an error in the outfield all season. On the mound he posted a 4.96 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 16 appearances, including eight starts.
As a sophomore, he started 51 games and hit .281 with seven home runs and 34 RBI.
Major told SB Nation that he wants to build closer ties with baseball in the Bahamas by participating in the Don’t Blink Home Run Derby In Paradise or participating on a national team.
“Yes, I’m always trying to go back,” Major said. “I haven’t been back since baseball took off, I think I was eight or nine. I was planning on playing for their national team in the Pan American Games (in 2018).”
In the Southland Conference, Duante Stuart and his Northwestern State University Demons are slated to open their season February 19 in a three-game series.
The Demons were picked to finish fifth in the league’s preseason poll. They went 12-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season and were 2-1 in their lone Southland Conference series, taking two of three from Abilene Christian.
Stuart started all 16 games at second base as a true freshman. He was one of three Demons to swipe three bases and finished third on the team in batting average with .281. He went on a nine-game hit streak from February 16 to March 1 and doubled in three straight games February 26-29.