Hornets claim spot in NCAA tournament field

Kevin Anderson

Shenandoah University baseball coach Kevin Anderson said the Hornets were disappointed with their performance in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament two weeks ago, when they felt they didn’t play their best against some quality competition. SU will have a shot at a stronger showing this week.

The Hornets received an at-large (Pool C) bid in the 56-team NCAA Division III Baseball Championships in selections announced Monday morning, marking the third straight year and seventh time in the last eight seasons that Shenandoah has earned a spot in the NCAA regional round.

SU, the ODAC’s regular season champion, is the third seed in the six-team South Regional, which will be held in Mount Berry, Georgia, at William R. Bowdoin Field on the campus of Berry College.

“There are no second chances this time,” said Anderson, whose club is 32-10 this spring. “We lost the ODAC. We felt that we were in a position to hopefully get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But there are no second chances this time. We need to be on our ‘A’ game and put together some quality pitching, just make the routine plays, and we’ve gotta have guys step up at the plate.”

Emory University (Georgia) is the top seed in the South Regional, with Birmingham-Southern College (Alabama) seeded second, Marietta College (Ohio) fourth, Huntingdon College (Alabama) fifth and Thomas More College (Kentucky) sixth.

Shenandoah will face Marietta at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the first round of the double-elimination regional, scheduled to run through Saturday.

The Hornets (ninth) are one of three teams in the South Regional to be ranked in the top 10 of the week 11 D3baseball.com top 25 poll. Birmingham-Southern was ranked fifth, while Emory was sixth (rankings are updated each Tuesday).

Those two teams joined Shenandoah in comprising one half of the 2014 South Regional, which was won by Emory.

“We’re in for a heck of a challenge,” Anderson said.

That challenge begins immediately against Marietta – a six-time national champion – as Anderson said he expects the Hornets to see Pioneers ace Christian Herstine. The senior right-hander, whom Anderson has already called the “best pitcher we’ve seen all year,” is 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 96 innings pitched.

Herstine, who tossed a complete-game shutout in the Pioneers’ first game of the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament last Thursday, is tied for the Division III lead in total strikeouts and was named the OAC’s Pitcher of the Year on Monday. Herstine played for the Woodstock River Bandits of the Valley Baseball League in 2014.

“We started getting scouting reports as soon as we found out who was in the tournament and, man, we’re gonna see a big-time right-handed pitcher … from Marietta,” Anderson said. “We’ll see him and he’s one of the top right-handers in Division III, throws a fastball in the low 90s.”

Senior outfielder Tim McCoy (.353, five home runs, 34 RBIs, 40 runs scored, 10 stolen bases) leads most offensive categories for Marietta (28-15), which won the OAC tournament this past weekend. The Pioneers are batting .317 as a team and averaging 6.7 runs per game.

Anderson said senior left-hander Mike Scimanico will get the start on Wednesday for Shenandoah. Scimanico is 7-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 90 strikeouts over 70 innings pitched.

Fellow senior left-hander Darrell Thompson (5-2, 4.23 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 61.2 innings) will start game two, Anderson said, while sophomore right-hander Colin Morse (5-1, 2.03 ERA) will start game three, if needed.

The Hornets rank 11th in the nation in team ERA and 20th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.2).

Offensively, Shenandoah is batting .302 as a team while averaging 7.5 runs per game. Junior outfielder Abel Arocho leads the Hornets with a .401 batting average to go along with a home run, 44 RBIs and 34 runs scored. Junior first baseman Jake Loew is batting .385 with six home runs and 55 RBIs.

Anderson said the two weeks between the ODAC and NCAA tournaments has been a “difficult” situation, between the poor weather that has kept the Hornets off Bridgeforth Field and final exams. But he commended his players for keeping focus and praised the group’s ability to secure another NCAA regional appearance.

“A lot of hard work, dedication goes into something like this,” Anderson said. “When you’re in the midst of it you don’t really appreciate it. When the dust settles and you get away from it for a while, you look back on it and it’s pretty special.”

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