Season opens Saturday for Clifton, Bishops


N.C. Wesleyan’s Alec Titmus throws the ball to first base during a game in 2018. Titmus is one of 29 returning players this season for the Bishops.


Sports Writer

Friday, February 8, 2019

With 11 seniors and 29 players returning overall to the N.C. Wesleyan men’s baseball team this season, the faces on the diamond will largely look the same.

The biggest difference for the Bishops will be in the dugout, with Greg Clifton, the former Faith Christian coach coming off two straight state titles, who took over for longtime coach Charlie Long this summer.

From sifting through and collecting compliance forms, to sitting down with his inherited senior class this past fall, to looking after the ball field, Clifton’s been hard at work since taking the job over in June.

“Writing the lineup’s going to be the easy part,” he said on Thursday.

But at long last, he’ll be able to ink his first lineup card this Saturday, with the Bishops hosting Eastern Mennonite at Bauer Field in a doubleheader. The first pitch of the first game of the 2019 season will come at 11 a.m.

The Bishops last season finished at 22-23, with their season coming to an end with a 12-7 loss in the USA-South tournament against LaGrange.

Close to home

As NCWC’s roster stands right now, there are two Nash Central players — Cameron Taylor and Noah Shrock — and one from Faith Christian, in Luke Mills.

The roster next season will have more than double the amount of local players.

So far, Clifton and the Bishops have received commitments for the 2020 season from three players from Nash Central (Trey Whitley and Drifton and Chandler Padgett), one from Rocky Mount High (Sam Mills), another from Faith Christian (Trysten Edwards) and, finally, one more from Ben Lewis, who played last year for Louisburg College and was a Patriot before that.

“I wouldn’t say it was a priority,” said Clifton on the infusion of local players coming next season. “I know these guys. I’ve watched them play their whole high school careers, and it just so happened all those guys were a need-based recruit for us. It felt like it was a pretty easy choice; it didn’t hurt that we know a little more about them.”

History lesson

Mike Fox, N.C. Wesleyan’s coach from 1983 to 1998, who’s now in charge at UNC Chapel Hill, won the Bishops their first NCAA Division III title in 1989.

Charlie Long, who took over for Fox and coached NCWC for 21 years, added another national title in 1999.

With Long retiring this summer, Clifton became just the third coach for the Bishops in the last 36 years, with the previous two reaching the mountain top. No pressure.

“Following Coach Fox and Coach Long, it’s some big shoes to fill,” Clifton said. “To win some conference champions, some regional titles, those are some of our goals. Winning the whole thing is one of the priorities as well.”

Growing up in Roanoke Rapids, Clifton admired those successful Bishops teams of the late 1980s and ‘90s from afar.

“When I was growing up Wesleyan was big time,” Clifton said. “I wished I was good enough for them to recruit me.”

Key date

In all, the Bishops will play Eastern Mennonite three times this weekend, with the third game scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.

From there, USA-South play won’t be far off. The first conference action of the season for NCWC comes Feb. 23, when the Bishops host LaGrange at home.