Wrap up! Rams baseball team looking to regroup and reload

WSSU second baseman Randy Norris was a CIAA All-Tournament pick who finished his freshman season with a .351 batting average.

Wrap up! Rams baseball team looking to regroup and reload
May 19
06:45 2016

Photo by Craig T. Greenlee



Given Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) dominance in baseball in recent years, it would be easy to write this past season off as a disappointment.

That’s because over the past five seasons, the Rams have developed as a full-fledged national-caliber program. Along the way, WSSU bagged five CIAA championships and advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

This year, the Rams’ reign as CIAA diamond kings ended in a manner that was shocking and unexpected. WSSU (31-22) breezed through the first two rounds of the conference tournament, but had a crash landing in the final round. In losing twice to Chowan, the Rams surrendered the league crown.

In the title round, the usually resilient Rams came up empty when it mattered most. In both losses, WSSU managed to score a total of four runs.

There were also defensive letdowns, which set the table for the Hawks to score 13 unearned runs in two games. Those losses kept the Rams from securing an automatic bid to the playoffs. This year marks the first time since 2010 that WSSU was absent from the post-season scene.

“Some people might feel that we had an off-season,” said coach Kevin Ritsche of WSSU. “And a lot of that has to do with the high level of success that we’ve had year after year. But this is the sixth straight year that Winston-Salem State baseball has had 30 or more wins in a season.”

Looking back on the season, the Rams needed just one win against Chowan to get an automatic post-season bid. Although they had a high ranking in the Atlantic Region (ninth), it still wasn’t enough to go as an at-large entry. Only the top seven teams in each region can make the playoffs.

“At No. 9, we were among the top 20 percent in our region, which has about 40 teams,” Ritsche said. “This was not our best year, but we were still in position to compete for championships.  For us, it was a case of having a bad day at the office for the first time in five years.”

One of the major needs that Ritsche is looking to fill for next season is replacing starting pitchers Nathan Steger (6-3, 2.83 ERA) and Devin McLemore (5-4, 4.02 ERA), plus ace reliever Jordan Cummings (4-3, 2.08 ERA, 5 saves). Steger was voted the CIAA’s Player of the Year and Cummings was an all-conference pick.

“For next season, we’re trying to bring in as many arms as we can,” he said. “But we’re filling in at other positions, too. I feel like we’re ahead of schedule with our recruiting.”

One of the keys for WSSU in 2017, Ritsche explained, is developing and maintaining consistency from start to finish. Outside the CIAA, the Rams struggled in that department (they were 18-19 in non-conference games). “It’s important that we become more consistent in February and March,” he said. “If we can do that, we will avoid having to depend on staging a late-season rally to ensure that we have a successful finish to the season.”

The Rams figure to be prime factors again in Division II with the emergence of Randy Norris. The freshman second baseman who played high school ball at Greensboro Dudley, had a superlative season in his first college campaign.

Norris, 6-2, 210, made the CIAA’s All-Tournament team and was second team All-CIAA. Given his production as a rookie – .351 batting average with 5 home runs and 35 RBIs – there doesn’t seem to be any ceiling on how much more he can achieve as a collegian.

It didn’t take Norris long to make a favorable impression on Ritsche in WSSU’s season-opening series against Millersville, who was ranked No. 1 in Division II at that time. Playing second base for the first time in his career, Norris turned five double plays during that three-game set.

“Randy was overlooked by a lot of the smaller Division I schools when he came out of high school,” said Ritsche. “And he was a surprise to most people, including us.

“With his size and speed, he can play at first or second, or anywhere in the outfield. I’d have to say that he was our most consistent bat this season. Randy hits with power to all fields and he doesn’t chase pitches.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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