Seahawk Spectacular: CAA champs reload after talent loss


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

No. 36 Kep Brown

Brian Carpenter, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: UNCW baseball opens the 2019 season on Friday against Saint Joseph’s. The Seahawks are fresh off their second Colonial Athletic Association championship in three years and seek their sixth conference title in program history. In anticipation of this season, The Seahawk is diving into different storylines to follow over the next few months.

UNC Wilmington baseball is back once again. Starting this Friday against Saint Joseph’s, UNCW will be looking to defend their fifth CAA Championship and make another regional appearance in the NCAA tournament.

With six players from last year’s team being drafted to the MLB draft, including offensive standouts catcher Ryan Jeffers while another in first baseman Mason Berne signed with the Atlanta Braves, the Seahawks will be looking for players to step into new roles and fill the void that these former players leave.

Kep Brown, who was an outfielder last year for the Seahawks, will be moving to first base to replace Berne. Brown is coming off a 2018 season in which he was named to the NCAA Greenville All-Regional team. At catcher, the Seahawks will carry four catchers on their roster, including two freshmen in Matt Suggs and Josh Harvey.

In terms of the starting pitching staff, the Seahawks will look to fill the void of ace Alex Royalty, who made a career-high 17 starts in 2018 and pitched a complete game against Northeastern on May 24 in the CAA tournament. Junior Luke Gesell, who pitched a lot out of the bullpen last season for the Seahawks, will step into Royalty’s Friday night role.

“I worked hard for it, I’m just ready to go out there and compete,” said Gesell on what it means to get the Friday night role. “I’ve been ready since the end of last year with the regional at East Carolina. I started working right after that just to prepare for this moment and I feel like I’ll be ready come this Friday.”

Junior Zarion Sharpe is also expected to fill the void in the rotation, who missed most of 2018 due to injury and was limited to just five starts.

In the bullpen, the Seahawks have to fill the void of closer Clark Cota, who was drafted in the tenth round by the Oakland Athletics. They will also need to fill two of their better bullpen options from last year in Austin Warren and Austin Easter. Cota finished with 13 saves, which tied a UNCW single-season record, while Warren and Easter both had very solid 2018 seasons. Warren finished with a 1.75 ERA in 28 appearances while Easter had a 3.05 ERA in 26 appearances.

With plenty of bullpen depth for the Seahawks returning from last year, including redshirt sophomore Nick Bruno, senior Justin Walke and redshirt senior Blake Morgan, new pitching coach Matt Myers sees a lot of potential in his pitching staff.

“I love the pieces that we have, we just got to put them in their new roles. They can do a great job,” said Myers. “I’m not asking them to be those guys (Cota and Warren) because I think that is unfair, but I like the way the pieces are. We have the talent to do really good things.”