May 26, 2010

By Bryan Rose
Special to NCAA.com

Fans of the classic pitchers' duel may not have much to cheer about this weekend as the NCAA Division III baseball tournament opens in Appleton, Wis. on Friday.

The eight teams that will vie for the trophy are no strangers to scoring runs which means fans of the 1-0 hurlers' duel may need to wait another year to see a game like that.

Of the eight teams participating in the tournament starting Friday, seven are in the Top 25 for home runs and five are in the Top 25 for runs scored.

In fact, the group as a whole has combined to hit 388 home runs and scored 3,238 runs during the regular season.

Leading the way is Johns Hopkins (43-5) which going into last week's regional championships, was first in hits (601) and runs scored (492), and second in home runs (76).

The Blue Jays were not alone, however, in their offensive excellence as Shenandoah was second in the nation in runs scored (475) and third in hits (579) while Heidelberg was fifth in hits (566) and seventh in runs scored (438).

Heidelberg (40-6) will play Johns Hopkins in the first game of the evening session on Friday while Shenandoah (38-8) will play Illinois Wesleyan (27-20) in the final game of the day.

But it is not just what these teams have done for the season that is impressive, it is what they have done leading into the tournament.

In the regional tournaments, the teams combined to average 7.94 runs per game. Even Illinois Wesleyan, the only 20-loss team in the field, has found the offensive touch this post-season. The Titans, who are ranked 111th and 120th in runs and hits respectively, scored 34 runs in their four regional games to earn the trip to tournament.

Illinois Wesleyan may have the most momentum entering the tournament, as it started out the year 14-17 and then won 13 of its last 16 games to make the World Series for the second time in school history. During that 16-game stretch, Illinois Wesleyan averaged 8.5 runs per game, including scoring 10 runs in the regional championship game.

But the team with the biggest offensive edge is Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays have the Division II leading hitter in Brian Youchak (.505 batting average).

He also has driven in 155 runs and is tied for 15th in the country with 14 home runs.

In addition, Johns Hopkins has two other batters in the Top 25 for home runs - Dave Kahn is tied for fourth with 16 and Jesse Sikorski is tied for 21st with 13.

Linfield's Zach Boskovich is also tied for fourth with 16 home runs, while Shenandoah's (38-8) Kevin Brashears and Heidelberg's Ricardo Lizcano each had 14 home runs on the season to tie for 15th with Youchak.

Heidelberg's Willie Brechun led the country with 25 doubles as part of the Student Princes' offensive attack.

The tournament opens Friday with SUNY-Cortland (36-8-1) taking on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (33-16). Cortland is 16th in the country, collecting 536 hits during the regular season. They scored 35 runs in their four regional games.

For the regular season, Stevens Point was tied for 24th in hits (519) and was 12th in home runs (48). The Pointers scored just five runs per game in their regional tournament but were in the top 40 for runs scored during the season.

In the second game, Linfield (34-11) will face the University of Massachusetts-Boston (32-15). Linfield collected 51 home runs during the regular season to finish in the Top 10 while UMass-Boston collected 47, tying for 15th place but was 19th in runs scored with 404 and 22nd with 523 hits.

The double-elimination tournament runs through Tuesday.