By Sonny Jones
The Fayetteville Observer
To a man, the Campbell baseball team felt it would be much improved this season and certainly better than the predicted ninth place pick in the Big South Conference preseason poll.
Of course, on the heels of a 17-37 record last season, the program's 10th worst winning percentage dating back to 1963, which included a 3-27 Atlantic Sun record, it wasn't going to take much for things to improve.
But no one expected what's happening in Buies Creek this season. With Saturday's doubleheader sweep of Longwood by scores of 9-5 and 5-2, the Camels have won a school record 13 consecutive games en route to an 18-3 start.
"I knew we would be a good team," said Frank Zier, a senior from Frederick, Md., who was the winning pitcher in Saturday's first game, "but I'd be lying if I told you we would be on this type of streak. There's got to be some people surprised. We were disrespected in preseason so we've been playing with a chip on our shoulder."
One of the sparks for Campbell has been second baseman Michael Felton, a transfer from Gateway Community College in Arizona. After going 3-for-5 in Saturday's first game, his season batting average was .506. He went hitless in four at bats in the second game as his average "dropped" to .483.
"It's obvious we're stronger than last year," Felton said. "We brought in some new guys. Some of the guys were returning. We're a solid team, but no one expected 13 straight wins."
There were some tense moments in Saturday's second game as the Camels tried to break the school record of 12 wins set in 1986. Trailing 2-1, Campbell tied the score with a run in the sixth inning, then combined two singles, a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to take a 4-2 lead.
In the opening game, a two-run triple by Jimmy Brenneman highlighted a four-run fourth inning for the Camels. Zier pitched 7 innings, scattered 9 hits and struck out 8 to improve his record to 3-0.
"It feels great. It's a great accomplishment," said Campbell head coach Greg Goff, who is in his fifth season at the school.
"Only God got me through last year," Goff said. "It was my toughest season. We had a lot of injuries. I felt if we got everybody healthy it would be a good year. It's a big relief."
Campbell opens Big South Conference play Friday at Winthrop. Goff says the team isn't using its low pick in the preseason poll as motivation.
"We're the new guys in the league," he said. "The Campbell program has been down so we're not using (the preseason poll) as motivation. The biggest motivation is the guys just want to win. We want to get the program to the level where we are expected to win."
Campbell returned to the Big South Conference this season after leaving the conference in the mid-1990s.