Since April 14, the Pointers (39-9) have won 26 of their last 29 games, including an 8-0 record against NCAA Tournament teams.
UWSP will look to continue its run at the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton Friday through Tuesday, May 24-28, starting with its opener against ninth-ranked Manchester (Ind.) (39-5-1) at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“I still can’t believe we’re going,” said sophomore right fielder Jimmy Coady. “But we just have to stay even keel and not get too high or low on ourselves and just play the game and have fun.”
“Any time you have a chance to be one of the final eight teams at the end of the year, to compete for a National Championship, it’s a tremendous honor and a really exciting feeling,” said UWSP baseball head coach Pat Bloom. “We’ve set a standard here where we expect the guys to want to compete for championships and to want to make it to Appleton every year, and to be disappointed if we don’t.”
After losing three out of four games at fifth-ranked UW-Whitewater (35-9) April 13 and 14 to drop their overall record to 13-6, the Pointers responded with a 26-3 record in their last 29 games, and have won 13 of their last 14 games heading into the World Series.
This year’s World Series field contains a number of teams that have been on a roll down the stretch, as six of the eight teams that advanced to Appleton swept through their NCAA Regional Tournaments last weekend.
The Pointers will open up in the double-elimination tournament against Manchester, which has the longest current winning-streak in Division III at 16 games, after it beat 13th-ranked and two-time defending National Champion Marietta (Ohio) 10-5 and 8-5 last weekend on its way to winning the Mideast Regional.
“Manchester’s had an outstanding year,” said Bloom. “They’re a very well-coached ballclub; we played them in Florida back in 2007, so I got a glimpse of what they like to do.
“They swing the bats (well), they’ve got a couple of really good arms at the top of their rotation, and they’re what you would expect to see of a team in Appleton,” said Bloom. “They’ve got a well-balanced group that is accustomed to winning games in dominant fashion, and they’re obviously riding a high from coming out of the Mideast Regional and having beaten Marietta.”
The winner of that matchup will face the winner of 10th-ranked Kean (N.J.) (38-11) and 12th-ranked Webster (Mo.) (36-10) at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, with the losers to meet at 1:15 p.m. Saturday.
Kean has been ranked in the Top 10 in the D3baseball.com Poll every week this season, but is 9-5 in its last 14 games, while Webster is 9-4 in its last 13 games and 16-9 in nonconference games this season.
The other first-round matchups on Friday pit 14th-ranked Southern Maine (42-8) against 23rd-ranked Millsaps (Miss.) (38-12) at 10 a.m. and top-ranked Linfield (Ore.) (38-7) against seventh-ranked Ithaca (N.Y.) (38-6) at 1:15 p.m.
Southern Maine lost to UWSP 13-8 in Auburndale, Florida on March 24, but is 17-2 in its last 19 games, while Millsaps earned its first-ever trip to the College World Series after it went 14-2 in its last 16 games, following a 24-10 start to the season.
Linfield, whose head coach is former New York Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius, is 16-2 in its last 18 games, while Ithaca has won 13 in a row and is 34-2 after a 4-4 start to the season.
This will be the fifth World Series appearance for the Pointers and first since 2010, when the team’s current seniors were freshmen.
“We got a little taste of it our freshman year, but no words can describe what kind of feeling it is to get to Appleton,” said senior first baseman Sean Gerber. “And as a senior too, going out there, we’re going to give it our all.”
“We made it our freshman year, we took fifth, and we feel like we could have done better,” said senior shortstop Dan Douglas. “And now, having that experience as a freshman and knowing what it’s all about, it’s just passing that down to these guys, so they have a little bit of a gist of what they’re getting into and they know what it’s all about.”
With Fox Cities Stadium only 68 miles from the UWSP campus, the Pointers are also looking forward to playing in front of a large number of hometown fans.
“I’m from New London, it’s only 25 minutes away, so I’ll have a bunch of family and friends that are going to be there,” said junior pitcher Max Frederick. “Back in 2010, it was the year before I came here, and I committed about a week before they made it to the World Series.
“I went there with my dad and it was just cool to see, and now I finally get to live that and play there,” said Frederick.
“I’ve been to Time Warner Cable Stadium quite a few times, I watched the Timber Rattlers, but I never got to play there,” said sophomore third baseman Riley Spetz, a native of Sevastopol in Door County. “Hopefully it’s going to be packed and there’s going to be a lot of Point fans.”
As for the games this weekend, Bloom said his team has to get good outings from its starting pitching staff, and along with a bullpen that has performed well all season, they have to be able to lock opposing teams down when it matters.
“You can’t expect to go out and blow any team out,” said Bloom. “You’ve got to know that you’re going to be in a dogfight, and you’ve got to be comfortable in those one-run ballgames, where you’re throwing up zeros on the defensive side and you’re scratching and clawing (on offense), just to maybe get a guy in scoring position and get a big hit at the end.
“Ultimately, we rely heavily on pitching and defense, and we talk to the guys all of the time about that and being able to limit run-scoring opportunities for the opposition so that your offense always has a chance, no matter how poorly it might be performing or how good the other team’s pitcher is,” said Bloom. “I feel if we pitch it and we play good defense, and we find a way to get some of our better hitters going offensively, then to me, when you’re one of the last eight, anybody’s got a shot and anything can happen.”
And after winning four tight ballgames last week to claim the Midwest Regional Title, the Pointers are excited for this weekend and the opportunity to bring home their first National Title in program history.
“Everything’s kind of clicking,” said Gerber. “Our pitching’s coming up huge for us, we’re playing some decent defense, and we’re getting the hits when we need them, late in the game.
“But I think if you talk to anybody here, we’ve got better baseball to play yet,” said Gerber. “So we’ll see if we can make a run at it.”
“You want to end your career on a high note,” said Douglas. “I’m just looking forward to getting there, and we’re going to try to win it.”
NCAA Division III Baseball Championship
Friday, May 24
Game 1: Southern Maine vs. Millsaps, 10 a.m.
Game 2: Linfield vs. Ithaca, 1:15 p.m.
Game 3: Manchester vs. UWSP, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: Kean vs. Webster, 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, May 25
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 10 a.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1:15 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4:30 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, May 26
Game 9: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 7, noon
Game 10: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 8, 3:30 p.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 27
Game 12: TBA vs. TBA, noon
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. TBA, 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 28
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs. Winner Game 13, 11 a.m.
Game 15: Winner Game 14 vs. TBA (if necessary), 2:30 p.m.