Gaston College’s baseball and softball teams are participating in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s College World Series this week. The Rhinos are considered an instant success. Success overnight? Sure. Surprising? Well …
The Rhinos won baseball and softball national championships in their first year of eligibility. The Rhinos are meant to sustain this achievement, which is underpinned by significant school and community investment.
“I’ve had hundreds of friends call me in the last week and ask me, ‘How did you do it?’” said two-year school baseball coach and athletics director Shohn Doty. “Our college is very supportive,” he remarked. “The community joined in.
After 50 years, college President John Hauser announced the return of athletics in January 2021. Doty, 53, a 33-year collegiate coach with significant NCAA Division I experience, was named as baseball coach. Athletics director. Charlotte is among Doty’s DI schools.
He coached three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander at Old Dominion. Gaston College recently hired experienced softball coach Michael Steuerwald. Hauser said Gaston College will lease Sims Legion Park from Gastonia in late 2021 and renovate the stadium.
Doty claimed they installed artificial turf, rebuilt locker rooms, and enhanced concession facilities. “It’s different.” The school streamed all games. Doty was allowed to hire Jacob Rand (Wingate) and K.J. McAllister (N.C. Central) as assistant coaches.
Three experienced coaches recruited. Massapequa native Wade Kelly leads the team with a.342 batting average. “That was a business contact,” Doty claimed. “Someone I knew called me and told me Wade was looking for a ballpark.”
The Rhinos recruited many great players from other schools via the transfer site. Kyle McKernan, a Marvin Ridge High graduate, moved to the Rhinos from Virginia Tech. Derek Vartanian, a Guilford Tech transfer from Sun Valley, is 9-0 with seven walks in 73 innings.
Two Charlotte 49ers and Division I players transferred. Gaston College has an advantage over other junior colleges, Doty said. “We’re not the typical juco town,” he remarked. We’re more than a 7/11. Being in a big city benefits our kids. Watch the Panthers or Hornets. That’s an edge.” Gaston College has several homegrown players. 15 Mecklenburg, Gaston, and Union players are listed. Doty said Charlotte has lots of skill. Still, teams have to win, right?
Doty’s first-year Rhinos went 41-9 but weren’t qualified for the junior college playoffs. He claimed last year’s target was 40 wins. “This year, victories weren’t the most important thing. Winning area and district championships.”
Doty’s squad won everything this season. Gaston College is 49-11 and 12th nationally. Rhinos won Region 10 and Eastern District. That needed defeating Darlington Florence Tech twice on tournament day. The Rhinos are Region 10’s first College World Series squad since Pitt Community College in 2010.
Doty and the coaching staff take satisfaction in guiding athletes through two years of college, focusing on athletics and academics, and helping them find a home for the remainder of their college careers. He stated 15 current players will play NCAA Division I baseball next year.
“We’re sending guys to DI programs,” he added. “And prospective student-athletes notice.” Can the Rhinos advance in the Division I College World Series against more renowned programs? Who knows? Doty stated. “We’re going to Colorado to win and enjoy it.”
Gaston College is sixth in the NJCAA Division I College World Series at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colorado. In the first round, the Rhinos meet sixth-seeded Blinn College from Brenham, Texas. Sunday noon is their first game.