Young BHC Braves roll to 40-win season

team of baseball players seated and standing at first base on field in new BHC athletic complexMay 3, 2024
Article from The Dispatch/The Rock Island Argus/Quad-City Times –

COLLEGE BASEBALL:
Young BHC Braves roll to 40-win season

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An Arrowhead Conference championship.

A 40-win season that has led to a national ranking.

Enjoying the comforts of a new facility.

It has been a memorable season so far for the Black Hawk College baseball team that has checked off those accomplishments during the 2024 campaign.

Making it even more satisfying is that the expectations were somewhat tempered for the young Braves this season.

“The odds have been stacked against them being a young group,” BHC coach Josh Keim admitted.

The Braves have only seven sophomores on the 31-man roster, but Keim points to three of those upperclassmen for being key cornerstones of the program that has rolled to a 40-12 record, won the Arrowhead Conference title with a 17-3 record and achieved a No. 18 national ranking.

According to the coach, pitchers Payton Barton (Alleman High School) and Quinn Hoftender (Orion) along with center fielder Thomas DeBrower, a transfer from St. Ambrose University, have been instrumental in getting the Braves to where they are.

“We have a core of really strong leaders on this club,” Keim said, rattling off those three standouts. “Those guys just live our standard ‘The Brave Way.’ They do it, they believe in it, they believe in our system and they hold the guys around them to that standard at all times.”

Barton and Hoftender are in their second seasons with the Braves, and DeBrower, a resident of Ankeny, Iowa, is in his first BHC season.

“To sum up our team outside of having great leadership would be to say that we’re really young,” Keim admitted.

Which is usually the case at the junior college level where turnover is expected. Despite that, Keim has found a recipe that works. The former Braves player from Rock Island, in his fourth season at the helm, already has amassed a .726 winning percentage (156-59).

He has utilized his baseball connections to find some quality recruits — both in and around the Quad-Cities as well as nationally and even internationally to build a solid roster.

“When I bring these kids in, it’s not about finding the most talented or best players,” Keim admitted. “It’s more about finding the right guys that fit the mold of what we do.

“These guys have shown that they are all in on what we do.”

And Keim has not been shy to give guys opportunities. He admits that like most teams, he has his core group of players who are in the lineup on almost a daily basis. But others have seized their chances to make an impact.

Keim’s core lineup is comprised of center fielder DeBrower, Jean Cortes (freshman shortstop, Puerto Rico), Matt Mateo (sophomore outfielder, Florida), Colton Musgrave (freshman first baseman/outfielder/DH, Tuscola, Illinois), Elmer Figueroa (freshman first baseman/DH, Florida), Adrian Selles (sophomore catcher, Florida) and Jorge Nieves (freshman catcher/outfielder/DH, Puerto Rico).

“Those guys are typically in the lineup more times than not,” Keim said.

But the Braves’ success hasn’t been limited to them.

“We have really pitched it well this year,” the coach said. “This is the best defense that I’ve had in my four years here, and we’re really strong up the middle of the field, which typically helps.

“We’ve also been able to have some timely hitting and really good situational hitting and a great two-strike approach that has helped us extend some big innings and put pressure on opposing teams, and we’ve done that pretty consistently.”

BHC boasts a .315 team batting average that ranks sixth among NJCAA Division II region competition and is third in stolen bases with 96 (while being caught only 18 times). The Braves rank 10th in runs but have made that work thanks to a pitching staff that carries a solid 4.20 ERA and 1.45 WHIP and a defense that has committed less than an error a game.

It has all added up to a solid regular season that comes to a close with Saturday’s home doubleheader against region rival Elgin. The Braves are scheduled to open sectional play the following weekend — potentially hosting a three-team gathering at home in their new facility — as they hope to add even more accomplishments to a fantastic 2024 season.

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