PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball head coach Paul O’Neil is confident in his team’s abilities as the Braves head to the Peach Belt Conference Tournament this weekend in St. Augustine, Fla.
“I like where we’re at,” O’Neil said. “We’re playing very well going in to this break we have. We’ve won eight games in a row. We’ve been practicing really hard this last week that we’ve had exams.”
The Braves (36-12) are looking to replicate their run in last year’s tournament, where they advanced to the championship game before falling to Georgia College.
This year, the road to the championship round is different. The tournament will use a pool play format, doing away with the traditional bracket format used in the past.
The conference is divided into two pools labeled A and B. Fourth-seeded UNCP is in Pool A along with No. 1 Georgia College, No. 5 North Georgia and No. 8 Lander.
No. 2 USC Aiken, No. 3 Columbus State, No. 6 Flagler and No. 7 Young Harris will compete in Pool B.
“We know who we are going to play and the times we are going to play at,” O’Neil said. “That’s kind of nice.”
The winners of the two pools will face off on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the conference championship.
Games will take place at Drysdale Field, Flagler’s home field, as well as Tindall Field at St. John’s River State College in Palatka, Fla.
The Braves kick off pool play against North Georgia at Drysdale Field on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
UNCP will then travel to Tindall Field for a pair of games on Saturday. It will play Lander at 1:30 p.m. and Georgia College at 8:30.
The championship game will be held at Drysdale Field.
Offensive production has been widespread for the Braves this year. Luke Jackson and Trey Jacobs are leading the charge with matching batting averages of .417, putting them in a tie for the second-highest mark in the conference. The Braves are the second-best hitting team in the country based on batting average, and are in the top 10 in many other offensive categories.
That consistency at the plate has translated into runs for the duo. Jackson leads the league in RBIs with 67, with Jacobs following closely behind at 66.
Jacobs broke the program record for doubles in a season and currently has 25 heading into the tournament.
Roberto Rivera is also a reliable offensive weapon for the Braves. He is hitting .383 and has 22 stolen bases, one away from tying the conference leader.
Anthony Burke is having a solid senior campaign on the mound for the Braves, posting a 2.91 ERA in 96 innings. He has also tallied 79 strikeouts.
“A lot of guys have stood out. For Anthony, his second half of the season has been phenomenal,” O’Neil said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve stood out offensively the whole year. I feel really good about it.”
Defending champion Georgia College (39-10) finished 26-4 in conference play this season. The Bobcats have two of the league’s best pitchers in Charlie Hecht, who has 10 wins and a 2.03 ERA, and Bradly Cammack, who has 11 wins and a 2.44 ERA.
“I think the kids are in good spirits. They’re excited about playing,” O’Neil said. “They’re motivated and driven to win a PBC championship and play in the regional.”
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.