The gang’s all here for the Florida A&M baseball team.
After dealing with injuries to the middle of its lineup this season, the Rattlers (26-28 overall, 19-11 SWAC) are at full strength for the eight-team SWAC Tournament that starts Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama.
FAMU – the No. 2 seed from the Eastern Division – opens the double-elimination tourney against Prairie View A&M – the No. 3 seed from the Western Division – at Regions Field Wednesday morning.
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Alabama State clinched the Eastern Division No. 1 seed, while Southern claimed the No. 1 seed in the West. Bethune-Cookman. Jackson State, Grambling State and Texas Southern round out the tourney seeds.
The Rattlers’ offense returned a key piece to its lineup last weekend against visiting Bethune-Cookman as junior catcher / outfielder Ty Hanchey was cleared medically after missing four weeks with a broken right hand.
“I try to be a positive spirit in the dugout,” said Hanchey, who was utilized at designated hitter. “Being out for about four weeks really hurt me more than the team. Luckily we played well while I was out.”
Bethune-Cookman won the series at Moore-Kittles Field, but the Rattlers knocked off the Wildcats 6-1 behind 16 hits on Saturday’s Senior Day to secure the No. 2 seed in the SWAC East ahead of the SWAC Baseball Tournament.
“Finishing 19-11 is good for both us and Bethune in our first year in the SWAC while we were trying to figure out the league a little bit,” Rattlers coach Jamey Shouppe said.
After missing 33 days Hanchey returned as a designated hitter and contributed four hits, and one run and RBI against Bethune-Cookman.
While sidelined, Hanchey played the role of a mentor to less experienced players but not competing also took a toll on him mentally. But now he sees the light at the end of tunnel with the conference tournament on deck.
“We got a lot of young guys on the team that need guidance going into postseason play in a new conference,” Hanchey said. “The MEAC was nothing compared to the SWAC. We got to really come to play because anybody can win this. Nerves are kicking in a little bit but when we show up, it should get a little better. I’m excited.”
Hanchey suffered the hand injury in the April Jackson State series while attempting to beat a second baseman. Surgical repair was required.
After the Rattlers’ Assistant Athletic Trainer, Zhakori Lewis advised him to get his hand examined, Hanchey and his doctor made a compromise to get him back on the field as soon as they could.
“I broke it in the second game of the first series we had against JSU,” he said. “I was sliding into second base and sort of landed on it. I ended up breaking my scaphoid right below my thumb.
“I was trying to see if I could play through it because I went 2-4 in the following game with a broken hand. But our trainer, ‘Zee’ (Lewis) told me to get an x-ray on it and the doctor told me that they could put a screw in it and I said ‘why not?’ Luckily, I got to play (last) weekend and did well.
“Hopefully, we can carry that into the conference tournament.”
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His hand injury will keep him away from playing catcher, so Hanchey reverts to another way to assist his team – batting. He’s reliable at bat holding the highest batting average on the Rattlers at .336. Despite missing nearly 30 percent of the listed games he’s still top five in hits at 45.
“Hitting’s a very contagious thing in baseball especially when you got a good pitcher on the mound,” he said. “I really try to be more of a contact hitter than a power hitter. I’m trying to spark that contagious feel.
“We have a lot of good hitters on this team. 16 hits again would be nice and would win us some games in the tournament. Fielding is about solid but we won’t be on Moore-Kittles. We’ll be on a nice “pro-ball field so we shouldn’t get any bad hops in the infield. That’s no excuse so we just need to come and hit the ball.”
Snapping out of it
The Rattlers are now two games under .500 going into the SWAC tournament after an eight-game winning streak was ensued by five straight losses at the hands of Jackson State and Bethune-Cookman. The final victory over Bethune-Cookman put an end to the slide.
Just two weeks ago they were flying high after sweeping Alabama State to take the No. 1 spot in the division before dropping their final two regular-season series.
A skid in the closing moments of the regular season could be detrimental to their success come tournament week. Luckily, they were able to cease it to celebrate their senior’s last game at Moore-Kittles Field.
In wake of Hanchey’s return, Shouppe is delighted that his Rattlers are at full strength at the perfect time entering the conference tournament. This comes a month and a half after third baseman Jared Weber was reinstalled in the lineup after suffering a torn hamstring in the second game of the season.
“We’re there finally,” he said. “Ty (Hanchey) was the last cog to get healthy. Last weekend was the first time we’ve had our lineup the way we wanted the whole season.
“Grant Rowell was out to start the season and in the second game, ‘Web’ (Jared Weber) got hurt and was battling to get back from a major hamstring injury. Ty broke his hand as he established himself as our starting catcher but he “Won’t be able to do that no longer this year more than likely. I’ve been sick and I’m even feeling a little bit better. Wins always help and I like our chances.”
Awaiting them at Regions Field will be No. 3 Prairie View A&M (29-25, 19-11 SWAC).
Led by SWAC batting average leader Brayden Johnson, the Panthers are placed third in the category with a .303. They are also second in hits with 540 to give Rattlers’ lead pitcher Hunter Viets a run for his money.
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The SWAC Pitcher of the Year candidate is second in the conference in ERA (2.91), fourth in wins (seven), and sixth in strikeouts (80).
Prairie View’s pitcher Robert Maldonado is third behind Viets with a 3.42 ERA and third in strikeouts, totaling 97. As a collective, the Panthers are third in ERA (.303) and ninth on the conference leaderboard in strikeouts (366).
But instead of focusing on who’s on the schedule or what the stat sheet says, Shouppe is focused on his holding assembly entering their first-ever SWAC tournament.
“It’s going to take a team effort but I love these guys,” Shouppe said. “They hang out together on and off the field. I just like their approach.
“We just go and play the game – we can not worry about who we play. Everybody there is capable of winning the tournament – you could not always say that in the MEAC, but in the SWAC, you can. All eight teams “We have a good shot at winning. We’re good enough to beat anybody, but we’re not good enough that we can not get beaten by anybody. Hopefully, we come out on top.”
The SWAC Baseball Tournament will run from May 25-29.
FIRST PITCH: Wednesday, May 25, 2022
No. Florida A&M vs. 2 No. 3 Prairie View A&M, 10:00 am EST
HOW TO WATCH: SWAC Digital Network
FAMU ATHLETICS ROUNDUP
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- Former Safety Markquese Bell stands out at Dallas Cowboys’ rookie minicamp
- Former Guard MJ Randolph completes NBA G-League Elite Camp in Chicago
- FAMU Athletes team up with TPAL, Academy Sports + Outdoors to gift youth athletes a $ 3K shopping spree
Gerald Thomas III covers FAMU athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ 3peatgee.