By Dennis Garcia
After an incredible four-year career at Garden State High School in Pennsylvania, Brock Kauffman said he didn’t have the type of fall season he had hoped to have during his first year at East Stroudsburg University.
So he said he realized he had to take his game to another level and he’s done exactly that for the Warriors.
“When I got there, I knew the kids were good, but I was surprised at how good,” said Kauffman, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound infielder. “I didn’t do as well as I thought I should. I got a reality check. The game was so much faster than in high school and I basically had to step it up and put in twice as much work as a freshman. I never stopped working hard and it seems to be doing well in college.”
That it is and the Asheboro Copperheads are banking Kauffman’s hitting success is going to continue this spring and right into the Coastal Plain League season, when he and fellow East Stroudsburg teammate Brent Francisco, a 6-7, 250-pound right-handed pitcher, will be helping the Copperheads battle for a CPL championship.
The work Kauffman has put in throughout his youth and high school career has paid off with big numbers. It would be hard to find anyone who could match the high school career he enjoyed. A four-year varsity performer, he finished his 82-game prep career with a .428 batting average (117-for-273), 85 runs scored and 69 RBI. In his senior year, he hit .543 (38-for-70) with 29 runs scored and 36 RBIs. He had 19 extra-base hits, including two home runs, and he stole six bases. He was named All-Conference all four years of high school and captured All-District honors his senior season.
Kauffman said he owes a great deal of gratitude to his father, Chad Kauffman, who worked with him and coached him for years in youth leagues, and to his high school coach JD Stern. Stern graduated from Garden Spot High School and then became an all-American at East Stroudsburg.
“My dad coached me since I was like 10, and it’s not just a normal dad-coach,” Kauffman said. “He held me accountable for everything I did.
“My high school coach got me in with Coach K (East Stroudsburg coach John Kochmansky). He was the biggest help with my swing and mentality. He got me ready for what was coming.”
Kauffman said he was looking at some Division I schools, but East Stroudsburg made him an offer too good to pass up.
And East Stroudsburg is glad Kauffman made that decision. In his first year, he started all 41 games, finishing with a .331 batting average. He scored 28 runs and had 22 RBIs while recording 10 doubles on the season.
Kauffman was a second-team all-PSAC East selection after his freshman season, the first ESU freshman named Alll-PSAC since Brian Ernst in 2010. He is only the fourth freshman Warrior ever honored.
“Everyone knew me going into that next year, so I knew everyone was going to remember what my struggles were and what my weaknesses were,” Kauffman said. “So I worked hard on my weak spots.”
Any weak spots were certainly alleviated. During his sophomore year, he started all 50 games. He hit .306 with 40 runs scored, which was second on the team. He led the team with 55 hits and 44 RBIs. He registered 15 doubles and two triples and he hit four home runs. He also added 13 stolen bases.
Kauffman was enjoying another solid campaign when the pandemic forced the cancelation of his junior year. The Warriors were 14-1-2 on the season. He was hitting .403 with 13 runs scored and 27 RBI. He had 11 extra-base hits, including a pair of home runs. He had already stolen nine bases.
“We had great depth and it was so disappointing,” Kauffman said of the abrupt end.
But there’s plenty of reason for optimism as the Warriors return every player except one from last year’s team.
“This fall, we got shut down a little early,” he said. “But we’re playing as a team. We played about six intra-squad games. Coach says we will be playing in the spring.”
Kauffman said he’s excited to become a member of the Copperheads.
“I had a contract with the Northwoods league, but my coach called and said (the Copperheads) wanted to offer me a contract and I did some research and it’s a better league,” Kauffman said. “I really appreciate the offer. It’s a Division II kid’s dream to get this opportunity. I feel so lucky to have it and I don’t want to waste it.”
Francisco, from Burlington Township, N.J., is working very well with new pitching coach Joe Tomachick at East Stroudsburg. Francisco’s high school went through a number of coaching changes while he was there and he said he never could find the right mechanics. In high school and in the summer before arriving at East Stroudsburg University, Francisco said he was hitting 84 mph on the radar gun. This fall, he said he reached 94.7 mph.
“I was unsound mechanically, hadn’t had a lot of formal pitching lessons,” Francisco said. “Once I got to ESU, there was a new pitching coach coming in and he completely started me from scratch. I had to learn how to use my body, it was so big and long. I had to learn how to translate weight through my motion to find my true arm slot. Even the smallest change in my delivery, there was a change. I got more flexible and more balanced and I saw the velocity going up. I see the potential to keep going up.”
The changes Tomachick made with Francisco were paying off in the 2020 season. In his collegiate debut against Frostburg State, he pitched 5 ⅓ hitless innings with 10 strikeouts. In all, he appeared in four early games, including two starts. He was 2-0 with one save in 13 innings pitched. He gave up just six hits and recorded 22 strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .133 against him.
“It was really disappointing for me,” Francisco said of the shortened season due to the coronavirus. “Obviously, we had the team goal of winning a championship and putting our ballclub on the map. I wanted to break records, the freshman record for wins and I was already getting close. I wanted to show that I had the potential to break school records.”
This past fall, Francisco said he threw 12 to 14 innings in intrasquad games and did not give up a hit. He walked just one.
“I think the spring will be a big year for us and me personally,” he said. “It will be a year where I show the coaches who passed on me what they missed out on and what ESU has done for me. I want to win a ring for them.”
After the collegiate season is over, Francisco says he intends to keep that same philosophy with the Copperheads.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, a good baseball player is a good baseball player,” Francisco said. “I’m excited to play against Division I players. I want to prove that I can play with top-tier players.”
Francisco said he had former teammates who played with the Wilson Tobs Of the CPL and set a goal to be in the league by the end of his sophomore season.
That goal has been reached.