Nickles coins fine debut in first season at UMBC

June 14, 1992|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

Brent Nickles' first season of Division I college baseball was something to remember.

Nickles, a University of Maryland Baltimore County right fielder, ripped opposing pitchers this season for a .335 batting average, slammed five home runs and 10 doubles, and drove in 40 runs.

Plus, three of those homers were grand slams, and he made only two errors while starting 85 percent of UMBC's games.

His efforts helped UMBC set a school record for victories (37) and make the NCAA Division I baseball tournament for the first time in school history.

The Retrievers lost their first two games and were eliminated, but there is reason to believe their first NCAA tournament may become habit-forming, since the Retrievers lose only three key players to graduation.

Their opening-round opponent was the University of Miami, at the time the No. 1 team in the nation. UMBC, a team that probably was lightly regarded by Miami, nearly stunned the top-seeded Hurricanes, losing only 3-1.

In the second round, things fell apart a bit as the Retrievers dropped a 10-inning all-thumbs contest to the University of Delaware. UMBC made seven errors, and the final score was 6-5.

"We should have won that game," lamented Nickles. "But it was very special just to make the playoffs. We were surprised to do so."

Most of the team had thought the season was over, and Nickles was partying at a teammate's house when they watched UMBC appear on the tournament draw reported on ESPN.

UMBC's 37-13 record proved good enough to draw a wild-card berth.

The Retrievers could have clinched an outright spot by winning the East Coast Conference championship. But UMBC dropped a doubleheader to Rider College in the championship round in May. The Retrievers needed to win only one of those games to take the title.

"That was disappointing, because Rider was only 16-33 and they lost their first 15 games of the year," Nickles said. "They always seem to have UMBC's number."

UMBC settled for second place in the ECC tournament.

Nickles' top game this year was a 3-for-4 day, including a home run, against Towson State University during the playoffs. He also went 3-for-4 against James Madison.

His grand slams came off Coppin State, Providence and Hofstra -- all UMBC wins. The slam against Providence, the Big East champion, broke the game open.

Nickles is a walk-on player at UMBC, which was not his first choice for college. He red-shirted a year at the University of Clemson.

"The school [Clemson] is located way out in the country, and I decided after a year that I didn't like it out there," Nickles said.

The 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder has good speed and a strong throwing arm.

"UMBC doesn't attempt to steal many bases," Nickles said. "I think I had six steals."

A catcher in high school, Nickles now prefers playing the outfield.

"I caught about five games this season," Nickles said. "Our starting catcher was drafted by the pros, so we have an opening there for next season."

Nickles lacks a baseball scholarship at UMBC, and may opt not to play on a summer team because he needs to work to earn tuition. He's now doing construction labor.

"But I might still play some games for the Sykesville unlimited team," he said.

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