Mideast Region Preview
The journey isn’t finished yet for Marietta College, and yet, the Pioneers have already overcome one big hurdle on what they hope will be a a successful march to an NCAA Division III national championship.
Marietta (38-3) won the Ohio Athletic Conference title this past weekend, beating the thorn in its side known as Heidelberg. For three years, the seniors on the team had fallen short of the conference crown, losing to the Student Princes each time in the title tilt.
Revenge was sweet.
“Obviously, beating Heidelberg was a big deal because they are such a great opponent, and have been for the four years that I have been here,” senior outfielder John Snyder said. “They have had control of the conference for three yearsm and to take it back, it was only fitting that we beat them.”
There is a chance the Pioneers will face Heidelberg again in the Mideast Regional this week at Don Schaly Stadium in Marietta. If it happens, the Pioneers will go into the game knowing it has the ability to prevail in a crucial showdown.
“In years past, they have had our number, and we have had to watch them celebrate in front of us,” senior pitcher Mark Williams said. “It was nice to be able to celebrate for once. And I think the win gives us confidence in big games.”
Marietta has played all season with pressure on its shoulders. The Pioneers have been one of the best teams in the country and are the No. 1 overall seed in the national tournament.
The other six teams in the regional, Franklin, Frostburg State, Adrian, Case Western Reserve, Heidelberg and Penn State-Altoona --- will all have their sights set on derailing the Pioneers’ championship dream.
Marietta is ready for the challenge, determined not to wilt under the high expectations and the added pressure that comes with playing for a national title.
“I don’t think we feel any added pressure of being a nationally ranked team,” senior Casey Levens said. “The rankings don’t mean much now, going out and playing our game each and every time we take the field is the only thing that matters.”
The three active seniors on this team, along with the injured Britt Meador, have played a pivotal role in getting Marietta to this point. Head coach Brian Brewer will tell you as much.
“Our seniors are fantastic,” Brewer said. We view the seniors as an extension of the coaching staff, and our four young men have filled that role exceptionally well. They have been very instrumental in the development of this club both and off the field.”
Snyder has been one of the catalysts of the offense. He is batting .460 with 52 RBI. He has hit 18 doubles, four home runs and has scored 40 runs.
Levens is hitting .296 on the year. He has scored 23 runs, tallied 11 doubles and has brought 22 runs across the plate. Williams is 6-1 on the season and owns a 1.72 ERA. He has struck out 76 batters and has issued only 20 walks. Meador was hitting .296 before his injury.
The Pioneers are hitting .344 as a team and opponents are hitting just .185 against them.
“The key to this team’s success is really summed up pretty simply in one word, team,” Snyder said. “We have such a deep and talented group that there is a firm belief that we are the better team each and every time we step on the field. The pitching has been outstanding, and we rely on that the majority of the time, but the defense as well as the offense are top notch and compliment the pitching staff nicely.”
Navigating through the field won’t be an easy task. This tourney field, after all, is one that includes a Heidelberg team ranked ninth in the nation. There are five conference champions in its regional, setting the stage for a grueling grind to Fox Cites Stadium.
Yet, this is the time of the year Marietta has been waiting for all season as it takes aim at its fifth national title in school history. This will be the 36th NCAA regional the Pioneers have played in.
“We have to continue to compete every pitch of every inning of every game,” Brewer said. “We believe that hard work and preparation are essential to any championship club. A lot of things have to go right for us to get to Appleton. For now, we simply want to enjoy the opportunity to compete with each other against some great college baseball programs.”
For the seniors, who are already riding one of the highs of their career with the OAC title, have added motivation to make a push for a national title. The quest begins with an opening round game against Franklin or Frostburg State at 9:30 p.m.
“Coach Brewer often uses the quote ‘don’t let this be the last time this group of players put the jerseys on as a team,’ and it’s the truth,” Snyder said. “When it ends, this group of guys will never play together again. Maybe one or two of us down the line, but not the entire group. We are all close enough and devoted enough that we don’t want it to end for the person next to us.”
Quick Hits on the Mideast Regional
• Heidelberg ended up fourth at the college world series last season, and the Student Princes are ready to take another shot at the national title.
The Student Princes (33-11) went 2-2 at nationals last season and are led by Ricardo Lizcano. He is batting .403 and has hit nine home runs. Lizcano has also scored 51 runs.
Jason Lash is hitting .371 and has come through with 19 doubles while knocking in 33 runs. The pitching staff is anchored by Nathan James, who owns a 1.98 ERA and is 6-1. He has 45 strikeouts. Andy Lowe has nailed down 14 saves and is 4-1 with 52 strikeouts.
• Franklin is in the NCAA tourney for the first time after winning the Heartland Conference tournament title. The Grizzlies (29-12) are not ranked nationally but have been hot lately, winning their last 10 games. Scott Windler is batting .444 and has crushed eight home runs. He has knocked in 31 runs as well.
• Frotsburg State is the champion of the Capital Athletic Conference. The Bobcats (28-13) have been led on the mound by Greg Ross, who has been sensational with an 11-1 record and 1.41 ERA.
• Adrian College is making its fourth straight trip to the regional and sixth overall in school history. The Bulldogs have a 2.46 team ERA and will be seeking their first regional title since 2008.
• Case Western is making its first NCAA tourney appearance and has played stellar baseball down the stretch. The Spartans (30-13) are 16-3 in their last 19 games and have set a record for wins in a season.
• Penn State-Altoona is coming off its second Alleghany Mountain Conference title, and its success can be linked to improved pitching. The Lions (28-11) have a team ERA of 3.39 this season after having a 6.96 ERA a year ago.