NEW BRITAIN - When Charlie Hickey visits a recruit‚Äôs home, he always keeps it honest and simple.
The Central Connecticut State baseball head coach has to.
It‚Äôs often the reality of being a smaller Division I school playing in a smaller conference (the NEC) as well as playing in the northeast, specifically New England.
With the regular season running from the end of February to the middle of May, the Blue Devils, like most northern programs, spend the first few weeks of the season in Florida, and even when they return, often don‚Äôt have ideal playing conditions until the conference tournament begin.
‚ÄúWe understand that reality of being the smaller school,‚ÄĚ Hickey said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs why we try to sell that. Come play some high-quality baseball, compete for a conference championship and play for a chance to get to the [NCAA] Tournament.‚ÄĚ
So far, that philosophy has worked for the Blue Devils and doesn‚Äôt appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
CCSU has won 548 games during Hickey‚Äôs 20-year tenure, which has included eight 30-win seasons, all six of the program‚Äôs NEC Tournament titles (2002, ‚Äė03, ‚Äė04, ‚Äė10, ‚Äė17 and this year) and six subsequent trips to the NCAA Regionals (University of Texas, Arizona State, Oklahoma City Norwich and Fort Worth, Texas), the latest of which will take place Friday afternoon in Fayetteville, Arkansas against the fifth-ranked Razorbacks. TCU, who the Blue Devils faced in the Fort Worth Regional in 2017, and California-Berkley will be the other two teams that will play in Fayetteville.
It‚Äôs a stark contrast to the previous expectations and results for the program.
CCSU won just 734 games in the 61 seasons prior to Hickey‚Äôs arrival, who had been at Providence College before it shut down its own baseball program, and managed to win 20 or more games just seven times - all in the 1990s. That‚Äôs what has made the Blue Devils‚Äô recent run of success so much sweeter for the school and its supporters.
‚ÄúThe first [Regional] we went to the University of Texas, and to bring this program to the center stage and the Mecca of college baseball in Austin, was really special,‚ÄĚ said Hickey, whose team left for Arkansas early Wednesday morning. ‚ÄúThat first one really opened a can and showed the potential of the program and what we can do. It takes hard work. It takes the work of not just the coaches and the players, but of the administration, academic services, weight room staff, everyone.‚ÄĚ
Just as important has been those recruits the CCSU coaching staff tries to sell on coming to New Britain. The Blue Devils have done most of their winning with a majority of local products.
CCSU currently has 23 players from Connecticut on its roster, including Bristol Eastern graduate and NEC Tournament MVP Tom Curtin, as well as Jared Gallagher, a Berlin graduate and a Second Team All-NEC selection. Sophomore first baseman TT Bowens and junior outfielder Dave Matthews, two other All-NEC selections, are from the state as well. The other players mainly come from a mixture of New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts with the occasional player from Florida and California.
‚ÄúWe have six or seven kids now that will go to not one, but two Regionals,‚ÄĚ Hickey said. ‚ÄúThis is what we‚Äôre playing for.‚ÄĚ
And it all started with an honest and simple conversation, come to CCSU and play for the chance to reach the biggest stage in college baseball.
‚ÄúI tell [the players] to be ready to enjoy the whole experience,‚ÄĚ Hickey said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre proud to represent the University and give it a shot.‚ÄĚ
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org