Shenandoah University’s baseball team will see its quest for a spot in the NCAA Division III College World Series continue at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.
That is where the Hornets will begin play in the regional round of the NCAA tournament this weekend, the team learned during the playoff selection show that aired online at noon Monday. SU, which won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament with a victory over Randolph-Macon on Saturday, is making its sixth straight NCAA playoff appearance and 10th in the past 11 seasons.
Longtime head coach Kevin Anderson said shortly after the selection show that the Hornets were “shocked and surprised” to learn they’d be heading to Kean University, adding that the coaching staff felt the team was destined for a regional site hosted by Salisbury (Maryland), Christopher Newport, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore) or Birmingham-Southern (Alabama).
“No pun intended but we got thrown a little curveball as to where they sent us, but we’re excited, delighted to be in the tournament,” Anderson said. “I think this is six straight years, and that’s a testament to the guys that are currently in the program, that have been here before, that are just trying to carry on the tradition.”
The NCAA Division III playoffs, which include 58 teams, have a different look this season with super regionals making their first appearance at the D3 level in 2019. The regional round now consists of 13 four-team, double-elimination tournaments and three two-team, best-of-five series, with the 16 regional winners advancing to a best-of-3 super regional series on May 24-25.
The eight teams to emerge from the super regional round advance to the College World Series, which will take place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from May 31 to June 4 or 5 for the first time.
Shenandoah (31-12), the third seed in the Kean Regional, plays the No. 2 Cougars (29-14) in its first regional game on Friday. Ithaca (31-7) is the top seed in the Kean Regional, while Westfield State (27-14) is the fourth seed.
Anderson said the only program in the regional that Shenandoah has any familiarity with is Ithaca, which bounced the Hornets from the regional round in 2018. SU was scheduled to host Ithaca in a three-game series earlier this season, Anderson added, but it was canceled due to rain.
The Hornets’ coaching staff immediately began researching Kean University’s facility as soon as it knew the team’s destination, Anderson said.
“It’s a beautiful all-turf complex with lights, right on campus. They’ve made a major commitment to athletics and baseball,” Anderson said of the Cougars, members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference who were knocked out of their conference tournament three games in and earned one of 16 Pool C (at-large) bids to the NCAA tournament. “I think they pride themselves on pitching and defense. They’re hitting over .300 as a team. We play them the first game. And then Westfield State is the fourth team and I have no familiarity with them whatsoever. As a staff we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next couple days to gather as much information as we can so we can relay that to our players.”
Shenandoah has won 12 of its last 13 games and needed to win the ODAC tournament to make the NCAA tournament field. The Hornets, who entered the conference tournament as the third seed, were the only ODAC team to earn a playoff bid this season.
“I can’t say enough great things about the guys that put the uniform on and represent the university every day,” Anderson said. “They’re first-class young men in the classroom, in the community and on the baseball field, and to rally the way that these guys have in the last month is pretty incredible. We talk a lot about … that it’s up to the current group to do the things they can to keep (the team competing) at a regional and national level.
“All the credit goes to those guys for performing,” he added. “This is really a very unselfish group. If a guy goes 0-for-4 but can still find a way to contribute to a victory, they feel great about it. They put their egos aside and play for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back.”