WENTWORTH — Two-straight NJCAA Div. III World Series appearances and back-to-back District D championships, following conference tournament championships against Region X foes in the Carolinas Virginia Conference — not too bad for a small program in rural North Carolina.
Several individual and team records have been shattered by the Rockingham County Community College baseball team over the last two seasons.
While the light has shined on the Eagles’ success on the diamond, hidden behind the scene is what may be the programs’ biggest accomplishment under two-time ABCA/Diamond NCJAA Div. III Regional Coach of the Year Reece Honeycutt.
At the start of next year’s college baseball season, 38 former RCC eagles will don uniforms of four-year programs across the country.
This off-season alone, 11 former Eagles have either committed or plan to commit to other four-year programs across the country.
Honeycutt, who enters his fifth season as head baseball coach, said that since interviewing for the job, he’s wanted to make sure that his players’ careers didn’t end after playing two years of junior college baseball.
“Our goal for every kid that comes in here, regardless if they are starters, relievers, bench players, role players — it doesn’t matter what position or what role they played for us, my goal is to get them all to a four-year school and push them to get degrees, said Honeycutt, who became RCC’s winningest coach last season.
“I’m proud of them and I want to see them succeed and be able to say they are proud to come from Rockingham Community College,” Honeycutt said.
The 2019 Eagle class follows a strong a 2018 group that helped put RCC baseball on the regional map and placed 10 players on four-year rosters — including Division I talent Walker Joyce, who transferred to East Tennessee State after setting RCC single-season records for innings pitched (85.2), strikeouts (96), and ERA (2.00).
This year’s group doesn’t feature a commitment to a division I school, but does include a strong talent-base with strong potential for immediate playing time.
Here’s a breakdown of RCC’s 2019 Transfer Class:
Kelsey Weems, INF/OF Tabor College (Hillsboro, Kansas)
The Andrew College transfer ripped the cover off the baseball in his one year at RCC, setting the single-season RBI (53) record and tying the home run record of 11, set by Chris Marks in 2004.
Weems, who tallied 47 hits in 41 games last season, garnered a monstrous .722 slugging percentage, with nearly 32% of his hits going out of the ball park or for extra bases.
His 1.192 OPS, a statistic that measures overall hitting effectiveness, is comparable to MLB league leaders.
Of course, the pitching he faced isn’t anywhere near the same level, but the stat does show the value he brought to the team.
“He was on some (MLB) draft boards,” said Honeycutt about the skilled athlete that played several different positions in 2019. “He had up to five teams come out and take a look at him and watch him.”
Honeycutt said he has some positive conversations with scouts about Weems, who was listed on MLB Pipeline’s draft board, despite being unselected.
Weems received several offers before settling on NAIA Tabor College last week.
The Blue Jays, of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, finished 37-19 last season, with a strong 23-10 conference record.
They are coached by Mark Standiford, who led his program to the NAIA World series in 2014 and 2015.
The Outfield Trio
Whether in the field, on the base-path, or at the plate, the trio of Gavin Taylor, Ausar Rankin and Chayce Aldridge forever sealed their place in RCC history in 2019.
A trio that manager Honeycutt says will be hard to replace in the near future.
“It’s probably one of the best outfield combo in RCC history,” said Honeycutt who said all three have the ability of a center fielder. “Obviously, I don’t know from all of the past years, but those three guys being in the outfield is probably the best combo we’ve ever seen at Pat Gilliland Field.”
The trio made up for more than 30 percent of the Eagles’ run production last season, all while hitting a collective .375 and swiping 85 bags.
Ausar Rankin, Bryan College
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where RCC’s talented outfielder walks on the Lions campus in Dayton, Tennessee and doesn’t have an immediate impact.
Rankin, who joined the Eagles program after taking two years off from baseball, led the team with a .399 average and 46 stolen bases — which was second in Div. III, behind Camden County’s Robin Santos.
Rankin, spent a season at North Carolina Central in 2016, after hitting .477 during his senior year at West Iredell High School.
The catcher and outfielder showed zero rust last season after returning to the game and tallying 46 RBIs — which was second on the team behind Weems.
Rankin’s .509 on-base percentage was also second-best amongst RCC’s starters.
“He is probably more of a lead-off or two-hole hitter but for us he ended up batting in the three-hole,” Honeycutt said. “He had to turn himself into more of an RBI guy when he would probably be more of a setup hitter in most lineups.”
When Rankin reached base last season, it created nightmares for opposing catchers, who only threw him out once in 47 swipe attempts.
Hi 98 percent succession rate topped that of Santos, who was caught stealing six times in 67 attempts.
Gavin Taylor, William Peace University (Raleigh)
The team captain with a rocket of an arm in right field, will be joining RCC alums Nick Tilley and Noah Carter in Raleigh next season.
Taylor, who swiped 31 bags this season, posted a .478 on-base percentage while scoring 57 runs in just 43 games played.
The do-it-all team leader posted above a 3.8 GPA during his time on campus and plans to pursue a career in law enforcement.
The former RCHS Cougar returned home last season after red shirting a year at Wingate University.
Taylor’s 73 total bases were third-best on the team, behind Weems and Rankin.
Chayce Aldridge, Erksine College
One of RCC’s most patient hitters in 2019, Aldridge will join teammate Weston Kerley at Erskine, a Division II college in Due West, South Carolina.
The three-year letterman at Southern Alamance joined RCC last season and immediately had in impact, hitting .343 and 49 hits in 45 games played.
In year two, Aldridge upped his averaged to .362 — which ranked third among the team’s regulars.
Even more impressive was Aldridge’s 53 walks, a total that upped his on-base percentage to .544 — over 100 points higher than his freshman season.
Aldridge and Kerley will join the Fleet, who went 29-25 last season, as members of the Conference Carolinas Athletic Conference
Timmy Smith, Montreat College (Montreat, NC)
A mainstay in the middle of the RCC order the last two seasons, Smith will join former Eagles Caleb Henderson and Chase Revier as a member of the NAIA Cavaliers.
The two-year starter has had a knack for coming up big in clutch games for the Eagles during his time in Wentworth.
Last May, during the postseason, he swatted three of his four home runs on the season and drove in nearly a third of his 30 RBIs.
The first baseman put up a .335/.512/.677 line during the nine-game stretch.
A career .298 hitter at RCC, Smith also raked during the end of the year during his redshirt freshman campaign, hitting .333 and smashing five doubles in 13 games.
“He’s been a leader, said Honeycutt. “The last two years he was more of a slow starter off the gates and then whenever it clicks, he’s a tough out. … He’s had 9 or 10 home runs in the two years that he’s been here. At Rockingham that’s a big feat, it’s hard to hit home runs here because the ball doesn’t travel very well.”
The Cavaliers went 25-28 last year, behind the strong offensive play of Henderson. The RCC single-season record holder for average (.444), hit a team-leading .359 for Montreat last season.
Zack Mcginnis (Queens College, Charlotte)
A stalwart infielder for the Eagles over the last two seasons, Mcginess was a doubles-machine for the Eagles last season, leading the squad with 19 double-baggers.
Always finding a way on base, Mcginnis hit .367 in his sophomore campaign, tallying 87 total bases — both statistics were second-best on the team.
A consistent player Honeycutt could count on, Mcginnis hit .361 as a freshman in 2018, which trailed only Caleb Henderson.
McGinnis, who scored 103 runs in 88 games played, set the single-season scoring record in 2018, by crossing the plate 60 times.
Blake Cleverley, Undecided
The third baseman had an impact right away at RCC, after transferring from Winston-Salem State.
Despite hitting just .195 during his freshman campaign, Cleverley contributed with 22 RBIs and an impeccable .929 fielding percentage — good enough for a NJCAA Div. III ABCA/Rawlings 2018 Gold Glove Award.
During his sophomore season, the Wake Forest Native massive improvement at the plate, hitting .311 and upping his on-base percentage over 200 points to .455.
“When the ball is hit to third, you never really had anything to worry about,” said Honeycutt. Every ball that was hit that way it seems like he was always making the play. It’s going to be hard to find someone that you find that kind of confidence in.”
Cleverley hasn’t made a decision on where to continue his playing career, but has several options on the table, according to Honeycutt.
The Eagles had several other contributors accept offers to continue their baseball careers:
Catcher Christian Ruff will attend Division II Emmanuel College in Georgia. Pitchers Clayton Day and Dominic Colosimo will continue pitching at Ferrum College and Greensboro College respectively.
The Eagles will look to make their third-straight appearance in the NJCAA Div. III series next season.
In total, 12 players return from last season, including ace pitcher Drew Colvin, who had a 2.85 ERA as a freshman, in 14 appearances.