Montreat skipper brings success to Newell Field

Tom Flynn
Special to The Black Mountain News

Last June, Montreat College announced Jason Beck as the new head coach of the Cavaliers’ baseball team. Before arriving in Montreat, Beck led the Southeastern University Fire in Lakeland, Florida, a perennial NAIA power. In his career prior to 2017, he compiled 625 career wins, good for an average of 36 per season.

The Cavs ply their trade at Newell Field, perched on the southwestern edge of the school’s campus. Unless traveling along Chapman Road high above the outfield fences, it can be easiest to locate the ballpark by following the resonating pings of metal on baseball that are a welcome harbinger of spring each year.

The dimensions at Newell Field can be snug, particularly to right field. In that regard they resemble the famous “friendly confines” of Chicago’s storied Wrigley Field. Also like Wrigley, Newell is one of the more picturesque parks in the nation at its level.

The size of the field plays some role in the head coach’s recruiting efforts.

“The park won’t necessarily dictate what we do, but I would be crazy to say I’m not going to look at the ballpark at all. We’re a little short to right field, so we’re going to load up on some big lefty bats,” said Beck.

The coach inherited one of the best big lefty bats in senior, Tray Hill. In 2016, the first baseman was named first-team all-Appalachian Athletic Conference. He launched 15 home runs, many of them at Newell, where the accompanying roar of the fans echoed off the steep hill that delineates the right field side of the ballpark.

Among those trying to keep the ball in the park this year will be sophomore pitcher Daniel Collins. Collins made the conference’s “Champions of Character” team last year and is 2-1 with 14 strikeouts to date in 2017.

Beck was effusive in his praise of the righty. “He’s a big lanky pitcher, and he throws hard and has great off-speed,” said Beck. “I honestly feel, from what I’ve seen in Florida and in all my years of coaching, he’s got a chance, if he works hard, to be a draft pick. It’s going to depend on him.”

Arriving from Southeastern along with Beck were a handful of transfers, including Andres Cancio. On the hill, Cancio leads the team with three wins. He’s boasting a slim 2.61 ERA and has fanned 20 opposing batters. He also plays shortstop for Montreat and was batting .382 through 13 games.

“He’s a dynamic player. He was 11-1 for me at Southeastern. He’s been a huge addition here,” said Beck of the Orlando, Florida native.

Shortstop may be the most physically challenging position on the field, which makes it especially impressive that Cancio can see double duty on the mound. “He’s a kid, so he wants to play every game. He’s been a solid pitcher for us.”

Ricardo deArmas is another player that accompanied Beck from Southeastern to Montreat.

“He’s leading the team in hitting and also leads the team in doubles, so those two guys have been pretty dynamic,” said Beck.

Beck is precise in his approach to the game – get runners on base, steal, and score on the strength of a lineup card optimized for hitting prowess.

“Our goal is to put the nine best hitters out there,” Beck added. “And we’re going to run – we run a lot. I think last year as a team they had 32 stolen bases. We already have 42, and we’re only 13 games in.”

Beck’s approach is working. The team is now 8-6 after falling in extras to number 4 Tennessee Wesleyan, 8-7. With at least 26 games remaining, the team is poised to handily eclipse its 2016 total of 15 wins.

Under Beck, Montreat is also reviving a junior varsity program that played only four games last year. The squad is currently scheduled to play 16 this spring.

The head coach made a point of structuring his JVs as a distinct squad from varsity, with its own head coach and separate practices. “They’re held in my eyes as a separate program, which is huge. Our goal is to have one-third of those players eventually playing varsity,” said Beck.

The Cavs, after playing their first 16 games on the road while newly replanted outfield grass took hold, return home on March 17 to open a three-game game series against Milligan College. The first pitch on Friday is at 2 p.m., while a Saturday twin bill begins at 11 a.m.