May 21, 2013

Fayetteville Observer: Four Campbell seniors endure bad before success

Fayetteville Observer Sports

By Sonny Jones
joness@fayobserver.com
Reprinted with permission

Thirteen seniors were honored Saturday by Campbell University after playing their final baseball game at Jim Perry Stadium.

For four players, it was an extra special day.

Blake Boyce, Ben Fish, Ryan Mattes and Logan Self were the only seniors who have played for the Camels for four years. They are the ones who have been through the best of times by contributing to back-to-back 40-win seasons and the worst of times of a 17-37 season in 2011.

"It's always a little sad knowing it's coming to an end," said Self, a right-handed pitcher from Kernersville. "The idea of not taking anything for granted because it truly does fly."

The program certainly wasn't flying when the four arrived in Buies Creek in the fall of 2009. The baseball team hadn't won as many as 30 games in a season since 2001 and was coming off its first winning season (27-24) since that 2001 campaign. The Camels were 28-27 in 2010 in the foursome's freshmen year and 17-37 in 2011.

But it turned around in 2012 as head coach Greg Goff and his staff brought in several junior college transfers. Campbell was 41-18 in 2012 and are 46-9 heading into this week's Big South Conference tournament.

"The leadership has gotten better," said Mattes, a right-handed pitcher from Virginia Beach, Va.. "The skill level hasn't changed that much. It's just the intangibles. Things you can't really measure. Confidence. Team chemistry. There's so many intangibles on this team. We never used to have that my freshman and sophomore years. Once bad stuff happened, we just folded as a team. This team really has a lot of fight in them."

Campbell showed its fight Saturday by scoring a come-from-behind 9-6 win over woeful New Orleans, a team which has a 7-44 record and had been outscored by the Camels 20-0 in the first two games of the series.

Perhaps Senior Day festivities took away some of the focus early in the game, but the Camels struck for eight runs late in the game to win.

"Coming here as a freshman, you're thinking that Senior Day is so far away," said Fish, a catcher from Rocky Mount. "Next thing you know it's right up on you. Emotions were high. Everyone was excited. It wasn't our last game, but it was a great day for all of us."

Boyce, a catcher from Virginia Beach, Va., who played with Mattes in middle school, said, "All four years at Campbell have been great. Just to watch this grow from the time I came in as a freshman. For me, to be a part of that and help put Campbell on the map is something that I'm really proud of and happy about. Finally, Campbell baseball is something that every team fears instead of coming in here and thinking it's another win."

There's still some baseball to be played. Campbell is the top seed in this week's Big South Conference tournament in Lynchburg, Va. And, perhaps, an NCAA regional tournament bid awaits next week.

"In the past Senior Day has really been an upsetting day, a lot of tears," Mattes said. "But everyone out here has the feeling that it's not really close to being over. We have so much more to accomplish. Some of our goals haven't been reached. It's been a great year, but we're not done yet."

But when Blake Boyce, Ben Fish, Ryan Mattes and Logan Self are done playing baseball for Campbell University, Greg Goff knows who to credit for helping the Camels build their program.

"We owe so much to those guys for coming in here and believing that we could win a championship and sticking it out the first couple of years," said Goff, now in his sixth season at Campbell, "These guys never waivered. More than anything, they were loyal in what I was asking them to do, and they just kept believing in what we were asking them to do. (Senior Day) is a reward for all of the things they've done for the last four years. It's a commitment from those guys that has been a tremendous asset.

"They're good baseball players, but they're going to be even better men when they walk out of here," Goff said.