Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
Swing Away: Division II Regional Baseball Previews
PIKESVILLE, Md. — West Virginia State dropped a doubleheader to rival Fairmont State in March. That, said head coach Cal Bailey, served as a wake-up call for his team.
“I told them that the thing that’s going to bother you most is if you let these two games cost you a chance to go to the Regionals,” said Bailey. “It gave them a good idea of what they didn’t want to be.”
The Yellow Jackets played well down the stretch, and did indeed make the NCAA Division II North Atlantic Region tournament, which begins Thursday at Kutztown State University. Kutztown garnered the top seed in the region, with West Virginia State seeded second.
Two other historically black college baseball teams qualified for the Division II Regionals: Stillman College is the sixth seed in the South Regional, and Virginia State of the CIAA is the sixth seed in the South Atlantic Regional.
Both Stillman and Virginia State will open Thursday against their region’s No. 1 seed; Stillman gets defending champion Tampa, and Virginia State takes on Mount Olive.
While Bailey calls Kutztown the premier team in the region, his Yellow Jackets certainly will be a team to contend with. WV State is not only the second seed in the North Atlantic tournament — it will play West Chester (Pa.) in its opener Thursday — it is ranked No. 2 in the entire region.
The Yellow Jackets’ offense is one of the most formidable in Division II. Josh Miller, the WVIAC Hitter of the Year, ranks fifth in the nation with a .458 batting average. He also has 16 homers and 62 RBIs. Jeff Miller, no relation, ranks 25th in the nation with a .425 average to go with 17 homers and 63 RBIs.
Brandon Halstead can get it done at the plate and on the mound. Halstead ranks third in Division II with a .460 batting average and also has 14 homers and 62 RBIs. As a pitcher, Bailey calls Halstead “unhittable at times.”
He’s 4-1 with a save and a 3.93 ERA. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets boast the conference Pitcher of the Year in Michael Barron, who was a perfect 8-0 with a 4.12 ERA. In the bullpen, the Jackets have WVIAC first-team reliever Patrick Muldoon, who went 4-1 with 4 saves.
Virginia State is the first team to represent the CIAA in the NCAA tournament since 1990. The Trojans hope their stay isn’t short-lived.
“The teams in our region are very strong,” said head coach Merrill Morgan. “We’re going to have our work cut out. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Trojans played Mount Olive early in the season and were swept in a doubleheader. In the second game, however, Virginia State was within 5-3 in the eighth inning before faltering late, which Morgan believes will give his team some confidence.
“We’re going in as the sixth seed, so I’m pretty sure they’re thinking we won’t do much.”
Offensively, the Trojans are led by Michael Knight (.390, 6 HR, 53 RBIs), Jason Jennings (.375, 3, 35) and Andrew Holt (.350, 3, 30), who hit the winning homer in the CIAA title game.
Pitchers Jeff Shelton (6-6, 4.60 ERA) and Haneef Hill (3-6, 7.01) will need to come up with big performances. They’ll be throwing to Jonathan Scott, who has shown a knack for throwing out plenty of runners late in the season.
“Pitching and defense,” said Morgan when asked about what his team needs to do to win. “If we can pitch, it will keep us in games. We’ll have to play our best game to beat (Mount Olive).”
Stillman has the unenviable task of facing the defending national champion University of Tampa Spartans.
Tampa has three players with more than 10 homers: Ryan Kennedy (13) and Roberto Mena and Jose Jimenez (12 each). Starting pitcher Kevin Ferguson is 11-2 with a 2.68 ERA. In 77.1 innings, he has struck out 78 and walked only 17. Closer Jonathan Holt has struck out 60 batters in 45.1 innings while posting 16 saves with a microscopic 1.99 ERA.
Stillman will counter with Michael Lewis (.397, 2, 28) and Clay Gilliam (.376, 2, 29). Hurlers Joseph Woodley (4-3, 3.45 ERA), Andre Brown (7-3, 3.61) and Chase Wilson (7-0, 4.06) all ranked in the top 10 in the SIAC in pitching.
The eight regional champions will advance to the Division II World Series May 25-June 1 at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Ala.