Friday night, June 10, 2022, an NCAA Division II national championship trophy was held high in the air as the North Greenville University Crusaders celebrated their first-ever national title. The team woke up the next morning as champions. Yet will they remain champions in the 2023 baseball season?
This season the North Greenville baseball team has a current record of 36-5. Head coach Landon Powell, in his eighth year of coaching at NGU, said they have been number one on the polls for 30 weeks straight. The Crusaders have yet to give up their championship aspirations.
Powell said, “I think this team has an opportunity to be as good as, if not better than, last year’s team.”
He said last year’s team won because players had a never-give-up mentality and were relentless. They just refused to lose.
Jan McDonald, NGU’s athletic director, agreed.
“It was a team that, no matter what the score was, they believed they would come back and win,” she said.
The Crusaders began this season in Houston, Texas where they won all three of their non-conference games against the University of Central Missouri, Arkansas Tech University, and Chico State. Their winning streak continued as they started their season 31-2, the best start in program history.
The Crusaders’ first home game was against Emory and Henry College. NGU came out on top, overcoming the initial lead of the Wasps, to win 12-7. The Crusaders went on to beat Mississippi College, Barton College, and Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Their first loss came against Francis Marion during a three-game set in which NGU won the first two games and lost the third. Two games later, they lost to Augusta University. Yet, NGU heated up again, beating Emmanuel College, Erskine College, and King University.
Powell said a highlight of the season was the team’s sweep against UNC-Pembroke. They beat the team 7-0 in the first game and 6-3 in the second game. UNC had been neck and neck with them in the conference. UNC-Pembroke is currently ranked second in the conference behind NGU.
Powell said the team has also faced some adversity, recently losing three straight games — including two to the University of Mount Olive and one to Lenoir-Rhyne University. According to Powell, last year’s team did not fear adversity and always bounced back and improved.
This year’s team has proven similarly resilient. The Crusaders followed the three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak, beating Young Harris College on April 5 and the next day sweeping Chowan University.
Multiple players have contributed to the Crusaders’ strong run of recent years.
Two seasoned players — Marek Chlup and John Michael Faile II — have been consistent hitters. Chlup, a first-team All-American and conference player last year, is batting .411.
Faile, a three-time All-American athlete and offensive record holder at NGU, batted .418 last season, stands at .299 this season and has driven in 38 runs.
Sophomore Bryce Roddey is a first-year starter and is batting .383.
Pitchers Reece Fields and Noah Takac have led on the mound. Fields’ ERA stands at 3.74. Takac, who led the country in ERA last season with a 1.60, is currently at 1.86.
The team also has some young talent, which has Powell excited.
The team has been helped by transfer players from Division I schools such as Clemson and the University of South Carolina. This year they’ve had transfers, but the team also includes some good high school players that can be developed.
One freshman player, Carter Dierdorf, a first baseman and pitcher, has seen significant playing time. Dierdorf hopes to see more playing time and wants to become a player the team can trust crucial situations.
“They (the freshmen) bring a lot of energy,” Faile said.
The team has appeared unstoppable the past two seasons, yet Faile said the most talented team doesn’t always win; it all comes down to who comes together at the end.
Powell took the NGU coaching job in 2015 with the goal of turning the program into a winner — and ultimately to win the national championship. Now that’s the goal every year.
“And once we did it last year, now the goal is to win more, just to keep it going,” he said.
How does Christ make a difference for the baseball team? Powell said he thinks it’s perspective.
Players understand they’re trying to be great at baseball, pursue excellence, and win, he said — but that’s not their ultimate purpose. Rather, God has a bigger plan, and has gifted players with these abilities. God is molding them during this time, making them into godly men for His glory.
Shortstop Cory Bivins, a fifth-year senior and team captain, spoke of the values Coach Powell has taught him.
“We’re here for baseball, but that’s not the main reason that we’re here,” Bivins said. “We’re here to glorify God, and we do it because God gave us the gifts to be out here and play.”
— Mary Margaret Flook is a senior communication major at North Greenville University.