BC Sharper?

Eagles Head To NCAA’s

Posted: May 15, 2013

BRIDGEWATER — In baseball terms, Bridgewater College will be well-rested heading into the NCAA Division III tournament tonight, playing its first game in 11 days – but a handful of players were recently pretty sleep-deprived. 

The Eagles were expecting to hear at 3 a.m. Monday whether they would qualify for the national tournament. When they got a text saying that the decision would be delayed until 7 a.m., most players – some of whom had final exams – went to bed. But not all of them.

A group of about eight players went to 7-Eleven, bought some caffeine-loaded Red Bulls and stayed up the rest of the night. They played “Mario Kart,” listened to music — “anything and everything,” senior Joseph Lucas said, to keep their minds occupied as they anxiously waited to hear whether they would receive an at-large bid.

Given how the first part of their 2013 postseason went, some anxiety was understandable.

At 7:04 a.m. Monday – with those bleary-eyed players sitting in coach Curt Kendall’s office, awaiting their fate – BC got an email from the NCAA saying that the school had indeed earned a bid to the 56-team national field. The Eagles (33-11), the No. 4 seed in the South Regional hosted by Rhodes College in Millington, Tenn., will play No. 3 Millsaps at 8 p.m. today to open the six-team, double-elimination regional.

BC was rewarded for its strong regular season, which included a 19-1 record in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. But a national bid wasn’t guaranteed after the Eagles were stunned in the ODAC tournament championship when Randolph-Macon – also in this week’s Millington regional – swept a doubleheader.

“Not one person at Bridgewater College would have expected that day to go the way it did,” said Lucas, a starting pitcher from Waynesboro. “…We should have won. We were the better team. Nine times out of 10, we would have won one of those two games. It was heartbreaking. It was really devastating.

“…We want something to show for the season we’ve had. And not winning the championship in ODACs – that’s kind of something we figured we would do all year.”

Expectations for BC’s success this week will be much lower – particularly given the school’s NCAA tournament history.

This is the ninth season that BC has entered the NCAA tournament, and just the second time as an at-large team (the other came in 2006). Since the first tourney bid in 1994, the Eagles are 2-16 overall in NCAA play and have never escaped the regional round. They’ve been eliminated in two straight games in six regionals, and went 1-2 in the other two. They haven’t won an NCAA game since 2006, which was three tournaments ago.

Obviously, part of BC’s NCAA woes has to do with the increased level of competition. The ODAC is not a historically strong conference – no team from the current 11-team league has ever won a D-III national title – so the NCAA tournament opposition is generally a jump from the rest of BC’s season.

Kendall, though, also believes that BC has been hurt by the customarily long layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of the tournament. While many other teams play their conference tourneys well into May, the ODAC tournament is held annually at the end of April.

“It’s hard keeping your kids motivated, it’s hard to practice,” Kendall said. “I mean, you’re not playing up to the moment. There have been two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half weeks that you had to wait to play again. …So I feel like that contributes a lot of times to it.”

This year, though, BC doesn’t have that excuse to the same degree. Five of the six South Regional teams played their conference tournaments in April – Millsaps, which won the Southern Athletic Association title May 8, is the exception. And BC, unlike a few of the other teams, played a non-conference doubleheader after its league tournament, winning two games against Wesley on May 4.

“This is the first time where we’ve played almost up to [the NCAA tournament], and I feel like we’ve stayed a lot sharper,” Kendall said. “So I feel like this is one of our better chances going into it, just because we didn’t have that long layoff.”

BC, on paper at least, appears to be the underdog against Millsaps. The Majors are third in D-III in runs scored (nine per game) and eighth in batting average (.342), well ahead of BC’s averages (7.3 runs, .317 batting). Millsaps’ 3.42 ERA is also better than the Eagles’ 3.65.

The matchup pits two of the most accomplished active coaches in D-3. Kendall leads Virginia with 659 career wins in 28 seasons at BC, while Millsaps coach Jim Page has 644 wins in 25 seasons. Tonight will be the second time that the two coaches have met in the NCAA tournament; in 1995, Millsaps eliminated BC from the tournament with a 5-4 win in 11 innings.

Kendall wouldn’t divulge who he plans to start on the mound in tonight’s game. The frontrunner would appear to be sophomore left-hander Corey Armentrout (6-1, 3.59 ERA), who started the first game of the ODAC tournament. But Armentrout’s last start was part of the collapse against Randolph-Macon, as he allowed four runs on seven hits in three innings.

“I feel like I had that one bad inning,” Armentrout said, referring to the third inning of that start when he allowed all four runs. “Coach’s thoughts were that I was running out of steam or I didn’t have my greatest stuff, but I just really had one bad inning. Other than that – that was the only thing.”

Should BC lose its first game, it would play the winner of top-seed Huntingdon and No. 6-seed Methodist at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Huntingdon boasts one of the best D-III hitters in the country in junior catcher Joseph Odom, a major league prospect who leads D-III in home runs (13) and is fifth in RBIs (57).

If BC beats Millsaps, it could get another crack at Randolph-Macon if the No. 5-seed Yellow Jackets can knock off No. 2-seed Salisbury. The BC-Millsaps winner plays the R-MC-Salisbury winner at 8 p.m. Thursday.

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