Roughly 3,000 people call Buies Creek, N.C. home. Included in that modest population: one of the best college baseball teams in the country.
The Campbell Fighting Camels earned their highest ranking in program history this week, coming in at No. 9, and confirming what has been a conversation throughout the season: The Fighting Camels are a serious contender to make the 2023 Men's College World Series.
With a scoring offense that ranks the best in the country, Campbell has scored more than 10 runs in 19 of its games this year. It ranks first nationally in scoring and on base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and third in home runs per game.
But it isn’t just the offense that’s contributing to what the Camels hope will be a MCWS run. The pitching staff, led by junior Cade Kuehler, has been a massive part of their success this season.
Kuehler’s stellar 7-0 start shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has kept up with Campbell. This is the same pitcher who received well-earned praise after a gutsy, 114-pitch performance against Tennessee in the Knoxville Regional last year.
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The Waxhaw, N.C. native is also the only player in Fighting Camels' history to make Team USA, a feat he achieved in 2022. But last year is last year, and Campbell's probable first-round draft pick is ready to finish what he started in his sophomore season.
“We always talk about a lack of complacency,” Kuehler said. “So no matter the accolades, the situations, the achievements, there’s always more to get… always kinda working for the guys behind me and trying to find a way to better myself so I can help the team win.”
So far the Camels are on pace to win their fourth Big South regular season title in the last five years (in 2020 there was no champion due to COVID-19). They’re 31-8 overall and 16-2 in conference play.
Campbell hasn’t lost a conference series this season, and in their non-conference match-ups, they’ve defeated No. 12 East Carolina twice and No. 6 Coastal Carolina.
The record proves it, the stats prove it, and the consistency proves it. Campbell is right up there with the best of the best, which is a product of the work that extends far beyond baseball season.
Campbell head coach Justin Haire has built his program around “constant competition.” So even during the offseason, the Fighting Camels are mentally preparing for the fight to the top come spring.
“If our guys are routinely in a situation where they’re competing, whether we’re in the hotel lobby shooting pool or we’re going paintballing… or we’re in the weightroom… I think that helps slow the heart rate down when you are in a big competition… or an important spot in a game," said Haire.
And Kuehler knows that despite the historic success that Campbell has had so far this season, the nature of being a top-ranked team means there are still high-pressure moments to come, but to make it to Omaha, he says the team just needs to keep moving forward.
“Every game we kind of have a lesson to learn,” Kuehler said. “If we play to our capabilities and our standards I don’t think there’s many teams in the country that could really take us on head-to-head.”
It’s going to require that level of confidence, along with power and poise on all fronts to contend for the Men's College World Series. Not only will Kuehler need his A-game, but the rest of the veteran pitching staff including Chance Daquila, who is 7-1 this season, will need its best stuff too.
Six Campbell players hit better than .300, with Lawson Harrill leading the way at .389. Bryce Arnold leads the team with 14 homers. There’s a lot to like about the Camels’ plate prowess, but what might be a difference-making stat for Campbell is not just an ability to find its way on base, but steal them too.
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Right now the Camels are seventh in the nation in stolen bases. Yet another line that proves this team is nationally elite and right in line with their Power Five competition.
Beyond the stat line though, there’s one other reason why this Campbell team could seriously make a run, and it’s something that Haire says stands out to him. The team genuinely enjoys being around each other. Through the daily grind of baseball season, they’ve become close, which helps them stay connected on the field.
The Brotherhood 🤝 pic.twitter.com/EqDaiBWTEH— Campbell Baseball (@GoCamelsBSB) April 23, 2023
“It’s just like a really fun dynamic of personalities that can be who they are and unique in their own right… but have come together and really bought into this thought process and mentality of just being like brothers,” Haire said.
Could Omaha see Campbell this year? Time will tell. There will never be a “right way” to make it to Omaha, but if you can do things right to try to get there, Campbell is doing all of those things.
For now, though, the Camels are selling out Jim Perry Stadium in Buies Creek, a facility that seats roughly one thousand people, which is equivalent to a third of the town population. Every win there is a step closer to the Camels' goal of one day making it to the MCWS. But in a year filled with firsts, the question is why not now?