Fauber: Hornets likely in line for NCAA bid

It was hard to envision that Shenandoah University’s baseball team would be sitting on the bubble come time for this weekend’s selection process for the NCAA Division III tournament.

The Hornets were one of the most consistent teams in the country during the regular season, as SU maintained — and continues to hold — a steady presence in the top 25 of both the NCBWA/D3baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association polls.

Shenandoah slugged its way to its first Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular season title behind the conference’s most explosive offense. The Hornets finished the regular season with a 28-7 record, which included a 17-3 mark in ODAC play. SU entered the conference tournament on April 24 as the top seed and the likely favorite to take home its first ODAC tournament championship trophy, and the Hornets looked the part with three straight wins to open the double elimination tournament.

But Bridgewater — which SU had beaten in its third tournament game the day before — shocked the Hornets in the final day of the four-day tournament by beating them twice to earn the ODAC championship and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

The Hornets have been playing the waiting game since, but honestly, how likely is it that Shenandoah’s bubble actually bursts on Monday when the NCAA tournament field is announced? I’m going with very, very unlikely.

Shenandoah has to hope that the NCAA Division III Baseball Committee deems the Hornets as one of the 14 best teams in the country that didn’t win its conference championship, but the odds seem to be heavily in SU’s favor.

In the three weeks leading up to the selection of the national tournament field, the NCAA has released regional rankings each week, which help aid the selection committee with its final decision-making process. Shenandoah has been ranked at the top of the South Region each week, including in the latest rankings released on Thursday night.

The Hornets are 31-9 following the conclusion of the ODAC tournament, and among the teams ranked in the top two spots in each of the eight regional rankings, only six teams have a better overall record than Shenandoah. There are multiple criteria that the selection committee uses when deciding at-large bids for the tournament field, but win percentage is right at the top.

Shenandoah is also ranked 18th in strength of schedule according to D3baseball.com, another good sign for the Hornets. Several teams ahead of SU on that list have already earned automatic bids, with more possibly accomplishing the feat as many conference tournaments around the country wrap up this weekend.

And SU won’t just be confined to the South Region if they indeed make the NCAA tournament. Proximity to the regional host location is taken into consideration when assigning a school to a specific region in the tournament, and Shenandoah should have at least three possible landing spots. SU is located within 350 miles of the host locations of the Mid-Atlantic (Moosic, Pennsylvania), Mideast (Marietta, Ohio) and New York (Newark, New York) regions, and Shenandoah could be chosen for any one of those sites. For what it’s worth, SU is also within 550 miles of the host sites for the South (Demorest, Georgia) and New England (Harmich, Massachusetts) regions, although those destinations are unlikely.

A total of 56 teams will be announced for the NCAA Division III tournament field on Monday morning — 40 teams in Pool A (conference champions), two teams in Pool B and 14 at-large teams in Pool C. The odds are good that Shenandoah is playing baseball somewhere next Wednesday.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD