By Brad Fauber
Shenandoah University's baseball team played a waiting game over the last two weeks, but the Hornets got some very good news on Monday morning.
The complete field for the NCAA Division III tournament was announced on Monday, and Shenandoah was awarded the top seed in the six-team South Regional hosted by Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia.
"We felt good with where we were winning the [Old Dominion Athletic Conference] regular season and making it to the championship game in the ODAC tournament. I think it bodes well for our conference how strong it was, and we played a pretty tough schedule," Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said in a phone interview Monday evening.
"We felt we were going to be selected and we were practicing as if we were going to the South Regional."
Joining the Hornets in the South Regional, which begins on Wednesday, are Emory University (Georgia), Birmingham Southern College (Alabama), fellow ODAC member Bridgewater College, Rhodes College (Tennessee) and Covenant College (Georgia). The winner of the South Regional advances to the NCAA Division III National Championships in Appleton, Wisconsin on May 23-27.
Of the six teams in the South Regional, Shenandoah has only previously played Bridgewater in the regular season or NCAA tournament. The Hornets have never played Birmingham Southern, Rhodes or Covenant, and SU hasn't faced Emory on the diamond in the last 20 years.
Shenandoah (31-9) opens regional play, which is run in a double-elimination format, against sixth-seeded Covenant on Wednesday at noon. The Scots (26-13), who are in their first year as a full member of NCAA Division III, won the USA South regular season championship.
Anderson noted Covenant's speed -- the Scots have stolen 95 bases in 39 games -- as the team's main strength.
"They just try to apply pressure by trying to get on base, double steals," Anderson said. "They don't have just one guy that hits a lot of home runs ... seven of their nine [players] are going to try to steal bases on you."
Shenandoah, which is averaging 9.3 runs per game this season, enters NCAA regional play with one of the nation's most powerful offenses, led by ODAC Player of the Year Michael Paul. The junior third baseman is batting .444 with eight home runs, 58 RBIs and 54 runs scored.
Anderson said sophomore left-hander Darrell Thompson -- the ODAC Pitcher of the Year -- will start against Covenant on Wednesday. Thompson is 9-2 with a 2.38 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings pitched.
Senior right-hander Vince Claudio will start game two for Shenandoah, according to Anderson, and either right-hander Phillip Morse or lefty Michael Scimanico will start game three for the Hornets depending on the match-up.
Anderson said sophomore reliever Garrett Woodell (broken thumb) may or may not be available for the regional tournament. Shenandoah has also been forced to trim its roster to fit the required 25-man limit put in place by the NCAA. SU's final roster must be submitted today.
"Unfortunately some of the players that have made really good contributions to our team this year didn't make that 25-man [roster]," Anderson said.
The Hornets, playing their second season as part of the ODAC, won the conference's regular season for the first time this spring and earned the top overall seed in the conference tournament, which began on April 24.
SU was upset by Bridgewater on the final day of the tournament, as the Eagles won back-to-back games over the Hornets to earn the ODAC tournament championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Anderson said he gave his players four or five days off to "get away from baseball" following the ODAC tournament, but the Hornets returned to practice last week.
"We got after it pretty good. We were pretty sloppy early in the week but as the week went on I think their competitive juices started flowing a little bit," Anderson said.
Shenandoah is making its fifth appearance in the NCAA regional tournament, with all five trips coming since 2009. The Hornets missed out on the NCAA playoffs last season.
SU, which is 13-4 in regional play under Anderson, will be seeking its first trip to the NCAA National Championship tournament since the Hornets made back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010.
"A lot of guys, this is their first regional. Not many guys get to experience an NCAA regional," Anderson said. "[We're telling them to] enjoy the experience, and we'll have to play well for four days."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD