Starting pitchers Anthony Maldonado and Tyler Norris were big parts of a wildly successful 2017 season for Bethune-Cookman.
The pair helped lead the Wildcats to yet another MEAC Tournament title, putting them in familiar territory, an NCAA Regional for the tenth time in 12 seasons. But this time, they went where no other Bethune-Cookman team has gone, pushing the host team, eventual national champion Florida, all the way to a decisive seventh game.
Maldonado, just a freshman at the time, was the most effective pitcher on this historic Wildcats team. In 16 appearances, 15 of which were starts, he threw 86.1 innings. He had a 3.02 ERA, 61 strikeouts, and a .222 opponent batting average.
Norris, for his part, wasn’t far behind. A junior in 2017, he threw 84.1 innings across 15 starts. He had a 3.42 ERA, 64 strikeouts, and a .216 opponent batting average.
That actually made the third season in a row that Norris was a big part of Bethune-Cookman’s staff. In 2015, he had a 4.31 ERA, 58 strikeouts, and a .222 opponent batting average in 64.2 innings across 15 appearances, 13 of them starts. Then, in 2016, he had a 4.52 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and a .252 opponent batting average in 69.2 innings over 15 more appearances, including 14 starts.
There’s little reason, from a roster standpoint, to doubt that 2018 will be another quality season for the Wildcats. Maldonado and Norris give them a dynamite one-two punch in the rotation, and that duo will be joined by other productive returning pitchers like Ivan Coutinho (3.30 ERA, 7 SV), Tyler Krull (5-2, 3.74 ERA), T.J. Densmore (3.76 ERA, 38.1 IP) and Isaak Gutierrez (4.33 ERA, 27 IP). Offensively, the program will welcome back Adonis Lao (.366/.390/.421), Danny Rodriguez (.330/.382/.555, 18 2B, 11 HR), Nate Sterijevski (.310/.376/.458), and Jameel Edney (.309/.404/.500, 21 2B).
But they will have to deal with one previously-unforeseen challenge, a new head coach. In late November, head coach Jason Beverlin left the program to join the Toronto Blue Jays’ scouting department, with assistant Barrett Shaft moving into the role of acting head coach for the 2018 season.
That’s quite the challenge, to be sure, but it’s not as if the program hasn’t been through this type of thing before. After Mervyl Melendez led the Wildcats to great heights as their head coach, it looked like the fun might end once he left for FIU and Beverlin took over. But we see now that those worries were unfounded, and with the talent still on this roster, led by Maldonado and Norris, and the consistency this program has established under multiple head coaches, perhaps we’ll soon find that to be the case once again.