2nd chance: Pioneers awarded top seed in regional tournament

Over the weekend, the Marietta College baseball team wasn’t sure if it would even get to play in the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional Tournament this week.

The Pioneers found out Monday, however, that not only did they get an at-large bid in the tourney, they’re the No. 1 seed. And, oh yeah, they’re hosting it, too.

Regional action for MC kicks off Wednesday at 1 p.m. when the Etta Express is scheduled to play eighth-seeded Penn State-Berks at Don Schaly Stadium. With a trip to the D3 College World Series on the line, the Pioneers feel like they been given a fresh start after a less than stellar OAC Tournament.

“We feel like we’ve got a second chance to do something special,” said Marietta head coach Brian Brewer.

After winning their OAC tourney opener Thursday over Baldwin Wallace, the Pios dropped a pair of games Friday and were ousted from the tourney, leaving their fate in the hands of the D3 committee. Clearly, the committee was impressed with Marietta’s overall body of work.

“Obviously, we didn’t play well in the conference tourney,” Brewer said, “but the committee did a good job of looking at the big picture. It’s nice to be in it, but it’s even nicer to be the one-seed.”

There is plenty of familiarity between the Pioneers and their regional foes. This season, Marietta played second-seeded Case Western Reserve three times, fifth-seeded La Roche four times, and sixth-seeded John Carroll three times. Overall, Marietta was 6-4 in those games. Other regional qualifiers were third-seeded Salisbury, fourth-seeded Widener, and seventh-seeded Thomas More. But for now, the Pioneers have their attention set on PSU-Berks.

The Nittany Lions have an overall record of 19-19, but have recently played better than a .500 team. They won the North Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament to earn their regional bid and are playing good baseball coming into it.

“We’re focused on Penn State-Berks right now,” Brewer said. “They’ve won some big games to get here.”

If the Pioneers are to have any shot at doing some damage in the regional, they’ll have to raise their level of play from the OAC Tournament.

“We’ve got to play better in all phases,” Brewer said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The Pioneers will be led by a pair starting pitchers who had phenomenal seasons in Christian Herstine and Jason Byers. Herstine surrendered two runs in eight innings in Marietta’s OAC tourney win over Baldwin Wallace Thursday. He was named Kent Tekulve OAC Pitcher of the Year this season after posting an 8-1 record with a 1.09 earned run average and 73 strikeouts in 82.2 innings pitched.

Byers was a first team All-OAC selection after going 10-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 84 punchouts in 87.1 innings. Those two will likely start the first two regional games for Marietta and it is crucial for the Pioneers to win those games to set the tone for the rest of the tournament.

“It’s where we went wrong last week,” Brewer said. “We’re not the strongest club offensively and we’re not a deep pitching team. If we don’t win those first two games with those guys on the mound, it’s an uphill battle from there.”

Marietta looks forward to playing on its home field again this week after fans showed great support during the OAC tourney.

This time, though, the Pioneers want to reward the fans with a tournament championship.