Focus on Sports
Former Skipjacks thriving at four-year institutions

Posted on Wednesday, July 07, 2004

It’s no surprise three of Chesapeake College’s four sophomore baseball players are headed to four-year colleges and universities to continue their academic and athletic careers. It just continues a trend that has placed former Skipjacks at four-year institutions up and down the Atlantic coast.

A dozen players who have played under Chesapeake College head coach Frank Szymanski during his five years with the Skipjacks have gone on to play at four-year colleges and universities. That is one of the achievements that most pleases Szymanski.

"We emphasize with our players the opportunity they have to further their education and their baseball career after leaving Chesapeake," said Szymanski. "Chesapeake is a great place to get a solid education and get a chance to play a lot of baseball before moving on to the next level."

Two former Skipjacks who played at four-year schools – Jason Bramble at Frostburg State University and Chris Ridenour at Greensboro College – graduated this spring. Bramble, in fact, returned to the Skipjacks as an assistant coach this spring as part of an internship required to complete his bachelor’s degree.

"I definitely learned a lot of baseball skills my freshman and sophomore years at Chesapeake that helped me move on," said Bramble, who earned a degree in Parks and Recreation Management. "I just wish Chesapeake had been a four-year school. Community colleges have a reputation as being easy, but they definitely are not. My classes at Chesapeake were just as hard as the ones I took at the university."

Bramble, a Kent County High School graduate, said his coaching internship with the Skipjacks was particularly fulfilling.

"It was the right decision choosing to do that as my internship," said Bramble. "I loved working again with Coach (Szymanski). I just wish our season could have gone on a little longer."

"Jason really did an excellent job as an assistant coach and as an intern in the athletic department," said Szymanski. "He was very reliable and an extremely hard worker."

Three of this year’s Skipjacks will make the jump to four-year programs this fall. Tim St. Clair is transferring to Division I Virginia Commonwealth University while Jed Vess and Mike Loetz are moving on to York (Pa.) College after helping the Skipjacks to a school-record 26 wins this spring. And they are just the latest in the line of Skipjacks who have moved on.

Five former Skipjacks were also playing college baseball this spring – including three who played for Elizabeth City State University, which reached the Central Collegiate Athletic Association tournament finals while going 21-13.

Infielder Brian Boles missed significant injury-related time, but still saw the most action of the former Skipjacks playing at ECSU. Boles batted .262 with one home run and 10 runs batted in while playing 22 games. Junior pitcher Jeff Taylor had six starts in his first year with Elizabeth City, going 4-2 with a 4.17 earned-run average.

"I felt like whenever my off-speed pitches were working we were going to win," said Taylor, who said the run support he received made his job easier. "I never had a problem with my offense putting up numbers. Every game we put up numbers, but we lacked some on defense."

Like Bramble, Taylor said his two years at Chesapeake prepared him for moving on to a four-year university.

"I felt like Chesapeake was the best experience of my life," said Taylor. "I learned a lot. I would have been lost – academically and on the field – if I hadn’t gone to Chesapeake."

Junior infielder Jay Parker only had 21 at bats in seven games played, but did well when he got the chance with a .381 batting average to go along with six runs scored and six RBI.

Brad Cannon, another former Skipjack, compiled a 1-0 record with a 4.50 earned-run average playing his first season with Frostburg State University this spring. Cannon had the experience of playing on a championship team as the Bobcats went 26-18 and won the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference tournament title.

"Brad’s a good player, good student, and good person," said Szymanski. "He had a great career at Chesapeake College, academically and athletically. He was a guy we counted on a lot, and he’s got a lot of potential. Hopefully he’ll have a good senior year."

Cannon, like the other former Skipjacks, said he believes he made the right choice starting at Chesapeake.

"Chesapeake College prepared me on the field and in the classroom to be successful at Frostburg," said Cannon.

Dereck Casper, who played for the Skipjacks in 2002 and 2003, played in the outfield and pitched for Division I University of Maryland Eastern Shore this spring. UMES went 3-44-1 in a rebuilding season, and Casper took his share of the losses while going 0-10 with a 13.42 earned-run average. He batted .222 in 13 games while scoring four runs and driving in one.

"He’s playing Division I in a tough conference," Szymanski said of Casper. "We really enjoyed having him at Chesapeake. Just like Brad we counted on him for two years."

Adam Rice, who also played for the Skipjacks in 2002 and 2003, played for the University of Maryland College Park club team. That team played other clubs teams from Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East schools, according to Szymanski.

Another former Skipjack – Cory Willey, who also played at Salisbury University – became the first of Szymanski’s Chesapeake players to break into professional baseball this spring. Willey is currently 1-0 with a 5.09 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings with the Augusta Green Jackets. The Green Jackets are a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

"Cory was the first player that I coached at Chesapeake to sign a Division I scholarship (to Old Dominion, where he went prior to transferring to Salisbury) and now the first one to play professionally," said Szymanski. "It’s a reflection of his hard work and his desire to play professional baseball. It also shows you that players can move from Chesapeake College to a Division I school and even into professional baseball if they have enough talent and dedication."

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