Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
The College of Southern Nevada baseball team has built a reputation throughout the years as being one of the nation's elite junior college programs.
It didn't appear that way, however, last spring when CSN closed the season by being the first team knocked out of the double elimination NJCAA Region 18 event. With a final record of 35-20, it was the second time the program hadn't won 40 games since debuting in 1999 — the first was 2004 when they won 39 games.
Frustrated with a humbling two-and-out effort in the postseason and determined to return to the Junior College World Series for the first time since winning the national title in 2003, the players rolled up their sleeves and went to work early in the offseason.
When they take the field today for the season opener against visiting Arizona Western at Morse Stadium on the school's Henderson campus, they will do so with nearly six months of intense training under their belts.
The players, who have been practicing since August, agree it was time well spent.
"Everyone is out here working their hardest," said sophomore outfielder Marvin Campbell, who led CSN with six home runs and 51 RBIs last year. "We needed to get better. We all have the same goals."
Coach Tim Chambers, who reached the 400-win plateau last season, took blame for last season's late struggles.
The Coyotes were forced to play on the road the final three weekends of the season — bus rides of at least 10 hours to Carson City, West Jordan, Utah, and Price, Utah, — to accommodate rainouts, and the travel finally took its toll.
"It was my fault for how the schedule worked out," Chambers said.
Chambers will have plenty of options in filling out his lineup card this spring.
CSN suffered through the growing pains of starting as many as six freshmen last year. A year older, and with chips on their shoulders, the experience will be invaluable.
"We just couldn't put it together last year," said infielder Scott Dysinger, a Gorman graduate who hit .345 last year in starting 51 games. "I can't explain it, but there was something that wasn't right."
The Coyotes' strength is their stable of quality pitchers. Joe Robinson of Green Valley High, Donn Roach of Bishop Gorman and Chasen Shreve (7-0 in 2009) of Bonanza will anchor the starting rotation and should give scouts several reasons to break out the radar guns.
After all, there will be plenty of scouts in attendance for each game evaluating a player everyone is anxious to see. Sports Illustrated cover boy Bryce Harper, who left Las Vegas High last summer after his sophomore year to play at CSN, will make his debut.
Harper brings a big bat to the middle of CSN's lineup, but won't be a one-man show like he was in high school.
Chambers is quick to point out players such as Robinson, who had a team-low 1.99 earned run average last year and signed with Georgia, and others who will play next year at top Division I schools, make the Coyotes contenders.
But first, they need to re-establish themselves as one of the nation's best.
"This team has a lot of talent and potential," Campbell said. "You can feel it starting to come together for us."