The Statesmen will be waiting to see if they earn a berth in the NCAA Division II Baseball South Region Tournament. The region pairings and location will be announced tonight at 9 p.m. on www.ncaa.com.
The Statesmen’s chances of making the six-team region tournament are excellent as they are currently an impressive 42-9-1. In the Gulf South Conference Baseball Tournament, DSU advanced to the championship game losing to Valdosta State University 5-4.
DSU’s 42 wins are the most by any team in the South Region. They’ve played more in-region games (50) than anyone in the region with an overall region mark of 40-9-1. DSU also entered the GSC Tournament No. 2 in the region and still held that position when the poll was released last week. DSU finished first in the conference standings during the regular season to earn a No. 1 seed in the GSC Tournament.
“I think that because we had the strong season and did get to the finals of the conference tournament, I certainly think that we should be there,” Delta State head baseball coach Mike Kinnison said about the regional.
DSU’s biggest win of the GSC Tournament and possibly the season came against West Florida on Tuesday when the team won 8-7 in 10 innings in an elimination game. After that DSU won its next two games to advance to the conference title game where a three-run ninth inning by Valdosta State prevented DSU from claiming the GSC championship.
“I thought as we battled through the loser’s bracket, our guys with each game, showed more heart and more intensity,” Kinnison said. “There was nothing they wanted more than to repeat as conference champions. We just couldn’t get those last three outs.”
DSU also reached the 40-win mark against West Florida. In Kinnison’s 17-year head coaching career at DSU, the Statesmen have failed to reach 40 wins just six times and each of those times they failed to make the regional.
“The 40-win mark doesn’t mean quite as much as it used to because now we’ve been cut back to 50 games (in the regular season),” Kinnison said. “It’s probably not the yard stick it was in the past, but I do think the West Florida game certainly had a lot of regional implications. I do think the West Florida game was one that solidified us I hope.”
DSU was ranked No. 1 in the region earlier in the year but the University of Tampa Spartans (39-10) moved into the top spot toward the end of the regular season on Apr. 24 and has held on to the No. 1 position ever since. Tampa, who didn’t have to play a conference tournament, ended up winning the Sunshine State Conference Championship during the regular season to earn a berth in the South Region Tournament. The Spartans haven’t played a game since May 4 and are the odds-on favorite to host the region. Tampa’s in-region record is 25-8.
DSU’s chances of hosting the region have been hurt in recent weeks, as the team is 5-4 in its last nine games.
Kinnison said he realizes DSU’s chances of hosting the region are slim.
“I wish we could host it,” Kinnison said. “I think because we haven’t played as well as we should the last few weeks that, in likely hood, won’t happen. I anticipate it going to Tampa, and I anticipate us being a No. 2 seed.”
A team that has hurt the Statesmen as of late is the Valdosta State University Blazers. The Blazers have beaten the Statesmen four of the five times they’ve played against each other. Valdosta State (33-16), who wasn’t even ranked in the region last week, earned an automatic bid to the region tournament by winning the GSC. The Blazers, who were 8-10 overall with an 0-5 mark in the conference at one point in the season, has won 25 of their last 31 games.
“They have three left handed starters that are all quality,” Kinnison said about Valdosta. “They are top line starters for this conference. They control the running game. They are difficult to put runs up against. Their bullpen is strong. They are athletic and physical. By the time we got to them the last weekend of the season, there was not a doubt in my mind they were as good of a team as we have in the conference. They’re deserving, and I certainly feel like we’ll probably see them again real soon.”
Stillman, another team that wasn’t ranked in the region poll, earned an automatic bid to the region by winning the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship. Stillman is currently 26-14 and has won the SIAC six times in the last seven years.
With the region only taking six teams and Tampa, Valdosta State and Stillman already earning bids, Delta State isn’t the only team that will be anxiously awaiting its postseason fate.
GSC teams West Florida (35-12) and UA-Huntsville (33-15-1) were ranked fourth and fifth in the region respectively when the last poll was released on Wednesday. West Florida and UA-Huntsville both had less than stellar showings in the GSC Tournament as West Florida went 1-2, while UA-Huntsville went 0-2.
Florida Tech (32-17), of the Sunshine State Conference, was ranked third in the region last week, while SSC teams Barry (31-19), Saint Leo (35-14-1) and Lynn (30-20) were ranked sixth, seventh and eighth respectively in the last region poll.
The region tournament is scheduled to begin on Thursday.