Chester weathers storm in 1st season

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Barton College head baseball coach Jim Chester can reminisce about the top of the college baseball spectrum with 316 career wins and six United States Collegiate Athletic Association World Series appearances in seven seasons while directing the Penn State University Greater Allegheny program.

But neither is Chester a stranger to life at the bottom.

He’s there now in his first season with the Bulldogs of the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas.

Not only will Barton be fortunate if it does not finish in the basement of the nine-team conference but it is in peril of the dubious record of the fewest wins in one season during the school’s Division II era that began in 1990.

With seven games remaining, the Bulldogs stand 11-30 and the record for fewest wins is 16.

Remaining are just a pair of three-game conference series and providing the opposition with be second-place Belmont Abbey and front-running North Greenville (South Carolina) University. In the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, Belmont Abbey was ranked No. 2

Likely, the fewest wins during the Division II era will equate to the most losses.

“I came in late (in November) and was handed a team,” explained Chester following Barton’s splt of a conference doubleheader against visiting Emmanuel (Georgia) College last Friday. “I am doing the best I can and the boys are doing the best they can.

“It has definitely been a challenge. It’s a young team and it continues to work hard.”

Youth prevails to the extent the big roster includes 16 freshmen and six sophomores as compared to five juniors and three seniors _ one of whom did not play this season.

“It’s been a youth movement from day 1,” Chester declared.

Thus, the result has been nearly three losses to every win and being outscored 361-211 in 40 games. An average of nine runs per contest has resulted in a 6.68 overall earned run average and a 7.20 ERA in conference games. The Bulldogs have allowed 10 or more runs in nine games.

Understandably, the junior harbor anything but secure emotions about their final year of college baseball.

The fact he has just one year remaining leaves junior Chase Long, a right-handed pitcher from Hunt High, downcast.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet that I have only one year left,” Long said. “But I plan to stick it out. I love this team and I love the school.”

Long, a converted catcher, sees frequent relief duty for a struggling staff and needed just three pitches to post his first career save in the first game of last Friday’s doubleheader.

He accepts responsibility for his role of being expected to come in and shut down opposing bats.

“I hope my role will still be the same next season,” Long continued. “I hope to continue to shut it down, have success and help us win games.”

Success, however, has been the exception in 2018.

“We are trying to win and we come to the park thinking we can win,” Long declared. “We are playing better but, sometimes, it doesn’t show.

“We know our record and we know how we’re playing.”

Long is confident Chester can turn around still another program.

Barton’s new coach confirms he has already signed several players for next season and expects to bring in as many as 30 for the 2019 season. He reveals Barton will field a junior varsity team next season.

“We are going to have a little bit of everything,” Chester commented with a grin, “high school players, junior college players, returning players and Division I transfers.”

Chester contends the large freshman contingent includes promising performers.

“We just have to fill in the spots,” he reasoned.

Will there be room for the returnees?

Long isn’t certain, but he assures: “I plan to stick it out and, hopefully, see where it goes.”