The Statesmen, at 42-9-1, will be a No. 2 seed entering the tournament, and the University of Tampa, at 39-10, was selected as the No. 1 seed and will host the Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Delta State ended up being a No. 2 seed after the Valdosta State University Blazers earned a bid to the region tournament by defeating Delta State 5-4 in the championship game of the Gulf South Conference Tournament last week in Carrollton, Ga. DSU has had its troubles with Valdosta State as the Blazers, at 33-16, are 4-1 against the Statesmen this year.
Last week after the GSC Tournament, Kinnison felt that his team wasn’t done playing the Blazers for the season.
“They’re deserving (of being in the regional), and I certainly feel like we’ll probably see them again real soon,” Kinnison said Friday by phone.
Kinnison’s feeling about playing Valdosta State will come to pass as the Statesmen will battle the fifth seeded Blazers in the first round on Thursday at 2 p.m. CST, 3 p.m. EST at Tampa. If the Statesmen win, they will play winner of the game between Florida Tech (32-17, No. 3) and West Florida (35-12, No. 4) on Friday at 6 p.m. If Delta State loses, the team will play the winner of game between Tampa and Stillman (30-14, No. 6) and 2 p.m. on Friday. The winner of the region tournament, which will conclude on Sunday, will advance to the NCAA Division II World Series in Cary, N.C. on May 25.
Kinnison said the team can’t get caught up in Valdosta State’s recent success in the head-to-head meetings.
“I think we’ve gone about our business preparing and practicing that last couple of days the way would not matter who we were playing,” Kinnison said by phone this morning. “Certainly there is some background there. We’ve seen each other a lot over the course of the last three weeks. We can dwell on the past, but I would rather approach this as whoever we play we’ve got to beat This is what stands between us and our ultimate goal of winning the region and going to the World Series.
“They’ve had a our number a little bit lately, but it’s really about who plays the best Thursday at three o’clock,” Kinnison added.
Statistically, the Blazers and Statesmen have two of the best pitching staffs in the nation. Valdosta State ranks 12th in the nation in team ERA with a 2.93 mark, while the Delta State is close behind in 13th with a 2.95 ERA. Both pitching staffs are good at striking out opponents as VSU pitchers are striking 7.9 batters per nine innings, while DSU is striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings. VSU is also ninth in the nation in fewest hits allowed per nine innings at 7.87, while DSU is 11th at 7.88
For DSU, Josh Branstetter and Michael Manley have been a deadly pitching duo. Branstetter is 9-2 with a 1.68 ERA, while Manley is 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA. In 13 starts, Branstetter has pitched 91 innings and given up just 74 hits with 16 walks and 74 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .221 off the Ferriss Trophy finalist, and he has four complete games to his credit. In 13 games and 11 starts, Manley has pitched 79.2 innings and has given up just 52 hits with 24 walks and 77 strikeouts. He has three complete games to his credit and opponents are hitting just .181 off of him. Garrett Pickens (3-2, 0.47 ERA, 4 SV) and Taylor Stark (3-0, 3.74 ERA, 5 SV) have anchored DSU’s bullpen.
For Valdosta State, left handed starting pitchers Nick Fogarty (5-3, 2.54 ERA), Jeremy Holcomb (6-4, 2.81 ERA) and Pete Whittingslow (6-1, 2.81 ERA) have anchored the rotation. Right handers Jarod Carlton (3-1, 1.11 ERA) and Benjamin Weil (7-2, 1.14 ERA) have spearheaded Valdosta’s bullpen.
On offense, DSU is ranked in the top 25 in the nation in hits (577 hits, 10th), stolen bases (112, 16th), runs scored (387, 19th), batting average (.331, 19th), runs per games (7.4, 22nd) and stolen bases per game (2.15, 23rd). The 112 stolen bases are the most in school history.
DSU outfielder Jordan Chovanec, who was the Most Valuable Player of the GSC Tournament, is currently 15th in the nation in runs scored (59). He is also hitting .353 with a home run, 30 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Third baseman Tyler Aldridge has been DSU’s best hitter through out the year as he leads the team in batting average (.388), hits (80), on-base percentage and stolen bases (21), while designated hitter Ben Kingsley leads the Statesmen in home runs (6) and RBIs (59). Kingsley is also hitting .363 and is ranked eighth in the nation in RBIs. Aldridge is ninth in the nation in total hits.
Valdosta State is hitting .296 as a team with 307 runs scored in 49 games for an average of 6.3 runs a contest. Sophomore catcher Bryant Hayman (.341 avg., 7 HR, 42 RBIs) has been the Blazers’ leading hitter.