Hornets face challenging Mideast Regional field

Fresh off winning its first Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 4-2 win over Virginia Wesleyan back on April 26, Shenandoah University’s baseball team is now shifting its focus to larger goals.

The Hornets, guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Division III playoff field with its ODAC tournament championship, were selected Monday morning as the fifth seed in the six-team Mideast Regional held in Washington, Pennsylvania on the campus of Washington and Jefferson College.

Shenandoah’s trip to the Mideast Regional, which begins on Wednesday, is its seventh regional appearance in the last eight seasons under head coach Kevin Anderson, who is four wins shy of 500 career coaching victories.

“We’ve got a veteran group of young men that have been through regionals before,” said Anderson via phone interview during the team’s bus ride to Pennsylvania Tuesday morning. “They know the challenge that lies ahead and each guy in their own way is prepared to play. … I think our guys are ready to perform at a high skill level.”

SU will need to maintain that high level throughout the four days of the double-elimination Mideast Regional if it hopes to make to its third trip to the national championship round in Appleton, Wisconsin later this month.

The Hornets (27-8-1), ranked ninth in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA poll, are one of four teams in the Mideast Regional ranked in the top 25, including second-ranked Frostburg State (37-6) – the region’s top seed – and No. 10 Heidelberg (31-12), the third seed. The region’s No. 2 seed, No. 23-ranked Adrian College (33-10), broke into top 25 poll for the first time this week, while fourth-seeded La Roche (30-11) and sixth-seeded Washington and Jefferson (28-15) won their respective conference championships.

Anderson called the 2015 Mideast Region the “toughest region we’ve ever gone to.”

“I really think whoever can win this region’s got a legit shot at winning the World Series,” he said, adding that SU was given the fifth seed in part because of a weaker strength of schedule, the result of weather-related cancellations during the regular season.

Shenandoah, which also won the ODAC regular season title for the second straight year and is the conference’s lone representative in the 56-team NCAA field, will open regional play against Adrian College at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday at Ross Memorial Park.

Adrian, the 2015 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion, is making its eighth straight NCAA regional appearance and 10th appearance overall under 22nd-year head coach Craig Rainey.

“They’re one of the best teams that we’ve ever played,” Anderson said.

The Bulldogs enter regional play batting .288 as a team and have hit 30 home runs this season, the second-best mark in the school’s history and a number that ranks 16th nationally. Sophomore shortstop Ryan Dorow (.404, 10 home runs, 38 RBIs) and junior center fielder Jeff Gertley (.362, 9 home runs, 46 RBIs) lead Adrian’s offense.

On the mound, Adrian boasts a pitching staff that ranks eighth nationally in earned run average (2.78). Shenandoah will likely face Bulldogs senior right-hander Eric Schmidt (9-1, 2.28 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 79 innings), the MIAA Pitcher of the Year and Adrian’s all-time career wins leader.

“They play the game the right way. They get a good combination of pitching and they’ve got some power,” Anderson said. “They just play straight up and down fundamental baseball. Their pitchers come right at you. They take advantage of mistakes. They’re a very good baseball team.”

Shenandoah will counter with a pitching staff of its own that ranks sixth nationally in ERA (2.66). Anderson said junior left-handers Darrell Thompson and Michael Scimanico will pitch games one and two of the Mideast Regional, respectively.

Thompson, a Sherando High School graduate and the ODAC tournament MVP, is 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 56.2 innings pitched this season, while Scimanico is 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings.

Offensively, the Hornets are batting .314 as a team with 22 home runs. Senior third baseman J.J. McDaniel leads SU with a .407 batting average to go along with four home runs and 29 RBIs, while designated hitter Nolan Overby (.318) leads the Hornets with seven home runs and is tied with shortstop John Wilt for the team lead in RBIs (32).

Shenandoah could also get a boost with the return of senior outfielder and team captain Corbin Lucas, who will return to action Wednesday for the first time since fracturing his foot in the fourth game of the season.

“We’ve had different guys carry us, which is a good sign rather than having to count on one or two guys,” said Anderson. “Where we are now, we need some guys to get hot – more than one. I’m anxious to see who rises to the occasion in this tournament.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com