By Daniel Smith
Athletics Media Services Assistant
The move back to the Big South Conference has seemed to reinvigorate many Campbell athletic teams during 2011-12, and the baseball squad is one that has seen marked improvement. The Fighting Camels were plagued with injuries during the 2011 campaign, suffering through a 17-37 overall and 3-24 league mark in the club's last year of competition in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
However, with eleven regular season games to play this spring, the team has already matched the program record of wins in a single season with 33 victories.
The Fighting Camels have consistently been in the top-10 nationally in several offensive categories, including batting average, hits, runs, scoring and hit by pitches in 2012. That continues a trend of maintaining a high-octane offense that has been a staple of Campbell Baseball since head coach Greg Goff took over five years ago.
While 17 newcomers have all made an impact on the team's success this year (a 23-3 start to the season that included a program-best 18-game winning streak), the greatest area of improvement has been the pitching staff.
CU pitchers have posted a team ERA of 3.71 and limited opponents to a .257 batting average through the end of April. Many of the key contributors to this year's staff are returners from the 2011 squad and have battled back from injuries during their time in Buies Creek.
Under the direction of second-year pitching coach Rick McCarty, the Campbell pitchers have vastly improved after carrying a team ERA of 7.11 while allowing opponents to hit at a .319 clip just one year ago.
Matt Sergey has filled the role of Campbell's number one starter after missing all of last season while recuperating from Tommy John surgery. A product of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sergey suffered the injury during his first year in the orange and black, in which he finished with a 2-4 record and 8.62 ERA during 2010.
Sergey showed glimpses of his dominating repertoire, striking out 35 batters in 39 2/3 innings pitched after transferring from Broward College (Fla.).
After having surgery on July 1, 2010, Sergey has returned to the Camel rotation stronger than ever this season. He has paced the CU staff with a 6-0 record and been in the top-five in the Big South in strikeouts throughout the season, finishing April with 65 over 73 1/3 innings.
The right-hander was named the conference Pitcher of the Week after tossing a complete game shutout at Winthrop in the league opener, leading the Camels to the team's first BSC victory since the program left the conference after the 1994 season.
"We have a very motivated sense about us this year as a team," said Sergey. "I've just tried to stay in the moment and give my team a chance to win every time I pitch."
For a team that lost 15 A-Sun games by more than five runs last season, the Camels have been in every game they've played this year. The club's 9-6 Big South mark through the end of April includes five of the six losses by a one-run margin. The other loss was a two-run setback at Liberty, a team that has wins over Virginia and North Carolina on its 2012 slate.
Frank Zier, another senior right-hander, is in his third season at Campbell after transferring from Frederick (Md.) Community College. After going 6-13 with a 5.68 ERA his first two seasons for the Camels, Zier has lowered his ERA to 3.29 this season and leads the team with seven quality starts (6+ innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs).
Zier missed the first two weeks of the 2011 season after undergoing surgery on opening day for a bone spur injury. With a complete game, 12-strikeout performance in which he gave up one run in a 3-1 win against Kennesaw State on his career resume, Zier had also shown shades of great potential prior to this year.
During his senior season, however, Zier has put together a consistency that was not seen earlier in his career. Over three starts during the first month of the campaign, Zier put together a scoreless streak that lasted 20 innings, spanning parts of three separate games. The streak included a complete game shutout against Holy Cross.
"I think the difference this season has just been continuing to work on what coach McCarty is teaching and believing in the system," said Zier, who hails from Frederick, Md. "Our entire team has had a renewed sense of confidence about us this season."
Matt Marksberry has provided Campbell with an electric left-handed arm out of the bullpen and has also returned from his own injury problems. Marksberry was heavily recruited out of Glen Este High School in Ohio until he injured his throwing arm and had to have Tommy John surgery as a senior.
"Coach Goff was one of the few coaches who stood by his word and honored his scholarship offer," Marksberry said. After arriving in Buies Creek, the Batavia, Ohio native sat out as a medical red-shirt during his freshman season while rehabilitating his elbow.
As a red-shirt freshman in 2011, Marksberry was 1-6 with a 7.17 ERA in 54 innings on the mound. Seeing action in 24 games a year ago, Marksberry averaged over two innings per appearance.
Only two of his 15 appearances this season have been longer than two innings, allowing the red-shirt sophomore to improve his effectiveness and post a 4-2 record and 2.05 ERA through the end of April with the help of his mid-nineties fastball.
Marksberry has struck out 26 batters with only six walks in 26.l innings this year and picked up the save in Campbell's 8-6 home win over nationally-ranked N.C. State.
"Last year we just hoped we could win on any given day, but this year we all expect to win every time we take the field," said Marksberry.
The Fighting Camels finished April in third place in the Big South standings, and all three pitchers listed a conference championship as the primary goal of this year's team.
The Campbell Baseball program has only one conference tournament championship on its resume, the 1990 Big South title that sent CU to its only NCAA regional postseason appearance.
One of the biggest keys to success in tournament play has always been effective pitching. Thanks to the recovery and improvement of Matt Sergey, Frank Zier and Matt Marksberry, the Fighting Camels are in as good of a position to make a run in the postseason as the club has been in the last decade.
Campbell will have its eye on the NCAA automatic bid available from the Big South Conference, which will be on the line May 22-26 at the league tournament in High Point.