By STEVE KRAH
The Eagles of Asbury University are on the rise in the NAIA baseball world.
The private school 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky., went from 18-35 in 2017 to 20-22 in 2018 to 24-22 in 2019 to 14-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season with Manny Cervantes as head coach.
In 2018, the Eagles lost many pitchers and position players to injury and still had a chance to be one of the six teams in the River States Conference tournament.
Asbury was hot and cold in the first half of 2019. After being swept in a three-game series with Cincinnati Christian University, the team re-focused and went 15-9 the rest of the way with the Eagles’ first-ever series win at Indiana University Southeast.
Before 2020 was cut short, Asbury won 11 of its last 13 games.
Cervantes brought Brandon Mattingly on board as Asbury as pitching coach in ’17 and the team earned run average has shrank each year from 6.68 to 5.78 to 4.28 to 2.47.
Mattingly, 35, has earned a reputation as a pitching instructor and top-flight recruiter.
In 1998, Mattingly played for a team — St. Matthews American — that came one game from making the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
At 18, he was in a very different place.
A 2003 graduate of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Mattingly went to West Lafayette, Ind., to be a pitcher for Purdue University.
An injury to the right-hander kept him from getting into a game for the Boilermakers and Mattingly moved on from the game and transferred to Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and received an Associate of Arts degree then moved back to Louisville.
Mattingly was studying Political Science and in the Pre-Law honors program at the University of Louisville when he shifted and started his own real estate title business. He now works as a title examiner, doing a lot of jobs with Sutton Real Estate.
He stumbled into the opportunity to coach with the Vipers Baseball Club travel organization and was with 18U and 17U teams in 2014 and 2015.
“Barry Pennybaker gave me the opportunity to work with pitchers,” says Mattingly. “I built a rapport with those young men quickly.”
Mattingly was later made the main pitching coach for 16U through 18U Vipers.
It was while coaching the Vipers in a summer tournament hosted by Asbury in 2016 that Mattingly met Cervantes.
“He let me know that his pitching coach had just moved on,” says Mattingly. “He told me his vision of building into the top team in the region.”
Cervantes encouraged Mattingly to apply for the position.
“He was very gracious in allowing me that opportunity,” says Mattingly of Cervantes. “He spoke highly of me to board members and the athletic director. He put himself on the line for me.
“I had no experience coaching college baseball.”
Mattingly does not regret his decision.
“This is a place I belong,” says Mattingly. “They have allowed me to come into their world and be involved with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
“It’s important to me that I’m able to express how grateful I am to be at Asbury.”
Mattingly started at Asbury in the fall of 2016.
“We had talented young men on the roster, but not as much depth as other schools,” says Mattingly. “We were still shifting the culture to winning while reflecting God’s grace.”
With hunger for championships, Mattingly began using his relationships built through the Vipers to bring in student-athletes that could have an immediate impact for the Eagles.
“We made it pretty clear pretty quickly that we were going to be a player in recruiting baseball talent,” says Mattingly. “The ability to develop relationships with younger players gave us a leg up.”
Not as stringent as the NCAA recruiting calendar, the NAIA allows for this.
“Developing relationships is the priority,” says Mattingly. “You get a lot of opportunities to talk with these young men and their parents.
Mattingly lets them know they are interest in them as an athlete, student and a child of God.
“We treat them with respect,” says Mattingly.
Besides Asbury, baseball-playing schools in the River States Conference are Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, Ky.), Brescia University (Owensboro, Ky.), Indiana University Kokomo (Ind.), Indiana University Southeast (New Albany, Ind.), Midway (Ky.) University, Oakland City (Ind.), University, Ohio Christian University (Circleville, Ohio), Point Park University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), University of Rio Grande (Ohio) and West Virginia University Institute of Technology (Beckley, W.Va.).
Among others in the area are the University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.), Campbellsville (Ky.) University, Georgetown (Ky.) College, Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.), University of Pikeville (Ky.) and Thomas More University (Crestview Hills, Ky.).
“Eyes pay attention to this part of the country,” says Mattingly. “We want to make dents in those recruiting classes.”
After the COVID lockdown, some Asbury players were able to play in the College Summer League at Grand Park (Westfield, Ind.) and the Commonwealth Collegiate Baseball League in Lexington, Ky.
Granted an extra year of eligibility, four Kentucky-bred seniors — right-hander Will McDonald, left fielder Colton Back, first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Compton and righty reliever Austin Jennings — decided to come back for a fifth year in 2021. McDonald is the ace of the pitching staff and joins back Back as a second-year team captain.
First baseman Paul Haupt and center fielder Garrett McIntire — a pair of juniors — can track their relationship with Brandon back to the Vipers.
Mattingly has also been pitching coach for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 (minus the canceled 2020 season) and has built relationships with coaches and players in the southern part of Indiana.
The Asbury roster features junior right-handed pitcher/infielder Walker Paris (Mt. Vernon), sophomore infielder Gabe Falcone (Silver Creek) and three freshmen — right-handed pitchers Wes Allen (Southridge) and Cameron Crick (Greenwood Community) and infielder Alex Stroud (Roncalli).
Payton Mattingly (no relation to Brandon) was an Asbury senior in 2020 after playing at Southridge High (for father Gene) and Olney (Ill.) Central Community College.
Former Flash left-hander Andy Samuelson (a graduaate of LaPorte, Ind., High School) was drafted in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.