Monday, February 2, 2009

By Kaleb Smith

The citizens of United States voted to bring change to the White House last year, and North Greenville University is hoping new head baseball coach, Travis Henson, can bring an X Factor-like system of change to the Crusader diamond in 2009.
Henson, who came to NGU from Landrum High School, has been a major success at every level he’s coached at, and his energy, experience, and enthusiasm should carry over to the Crusader programthis season.  Henson led his Landrum teams to three state championships, six regional titles, four district titles, and now plans to carry that success to the intercollegiate level.  Coming off a  successful fall season, and through the early weeks of spring practice, Henson has seen good progress, but admits his task will be a challenge. 

“We know it will be difficult at first, but we’ve got to get our players to buy into the new system we’re installing at NGU.  We asked the players what they thought our ‘trademark’ should be, and they came up with, ‘fundamentally sound on defense, not making many mistakes, being aggressive on offense, capitalize on our opponents’ mistakes, and competing intensely.’”
Thus, Henson’s “X Factor."
The keys to a winning first season for Henson and the Crusaders will be consistent pitching, solid defense, and manufacturing runs. “I’m kind of in an unusual situation because, being a new college coach, I do not know the opponents.  I’m used to scouting the other team and knowing ways to take advantage of their weaknesses, but since I’ve never seen any of these teams, the best thing we can do is focus on our team and be the best we can be.  The opposition will take care of itself.”
“We have a tremendous group of young men who enjoy coming to practice every day,” Henson added.  “I like their work attitude and we have developed good intensity, team chemistry, and cohesiveness in a short period of time.  We should be very sound defensively and have good depth, which should give us a lot of flexibility with our lineup.” 

Our first task has been to inventory our roster to find leadership that will carry us through the year.  The leadership on the team begins with Grayson Smith (SR York, SC).  “Grayson is not only a talent on the mound, but he is the spiritual leader of this ball
club,” Henson noted.  “You can’t put a price on that.  Our other two seniors are also key contributors.  Devin Vance (SR Taylors, SC) is a player who is going to give his best every time out, and John Porter (SR Blacksburg, SC) brings intangibles to the team which are invaluable.”
Junior shortstop Cory Hinton (Rock Hill, SC) said that the Crusaders have bought in to Coach Henson’s ‘X Factor’ coaching style, because he has brought competitiveness to every practice, which in turn draws out the best from each player.  “It is exciting to practice because of the passion Coach Henson builds in every day,” Hinton added.  “We just have to find a way to present a united front that will motivate us to compete hard through a grueling 2009 NCAA Division II schedule.”  “Our pitching staff will be anchored by Vance and Smith,” Henson noted. 

“Our pitchers must focus on getting ahead in the count and being intelligent pitchers.  If they are ahead in the count, and have good control and command of their pitches, we’ll be successful.  Tyler Moore, our pitching coach, has done a remarkable job getting our staff ready, so we should be in good position this year.”  Henson also has a triple threat on the mound with the “Benjies” as he calls them.  “The Benjamin triplets, Mark, Matthew, and Michael Benjamin (SO Greenwood, SC) all are very capable, and can you imagine the look on a batter’s face when three of the same tough pitcher face him?” Henson said.

As priceless as senior leadership is, NGU’s roster will be loaded with youngsters, and Henson is quick to note that the ‘X Factor’ really will be how fast the 13 freshmen and 14 sophomores grow into their roles.  “Our young guys are going to have to step in early and make a significant contribution,” Henson stated.  “Cory Hinton, Randy Stegall (JR Pauline, SC) and Justin Walters (SO Laurel Hill, NC) all are very good players and should be at the heart of our lineup.  Derek Fulmer (Fr Pelion, SC) is a big-time hitter and should provide a lot of power.  Chris Harbit (SO Charleston, SC) is also a spark plug type of player in the outfield.  Other players to watch for include Dylan Fulk (FR Mt. Pleasant, NC), Corey Cline (FR Shelby, NC), and Drew Provence (FR Fayetteville, GA).
“Our primary goals are very simple,” Henson explained.  “We want to make both the NCCAA regionals and the World Series.  However, we primarily want to work hard to stay true to developing our trademark, which should make us a competitive baseball team.” North Greenville’s 2009 slate will feature 20 games against teams that won 30 or more games and will also have 20 games against several top 25 teams in Division II.  NGU opens its home schedule Wednesday, Feb. 11, against Limestone College.
Change has indeed come to the North Greenville University baseball program, and Crusader fans will be anxious to find out just how much Travis Henson and his staff will be able to achieve during the 2009 season.