NCAA Baseball Mideast Regional Preview: Veteran W&J Team Returns as Host

By Justin Zackal

W&J celebrates the 2017 PAC title win over Grove City.

The NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional is making its third straight appearance at Washington & Jefferson, but this year the host team is returning for the first time since 2015. That doesn’t mean W&J won’t know what to expect: eight Presidents played in three regional games two years ago, including the starting pitchers in both losses and a player who hit a home run.

Additionally, W&J’s top eight position players and top three pitchers, according to games started, are either juniors or seniors.

“With a veteran group, we’ve started juniors and seniors all year,” said W&J head coach Jeff Mountain, a veteran himself in his 15th season. “They’ve been through a lot. You just never know how guys are going to respond, but I think experience pays this time of year.”

W&J will host all the Mideast Regional games at Ross Memorial Park, Thursday to Monday, May 18-22. The PAC Sports Network will broadcast all the games, beginning Thursday when W&J plays Misericordia at 10 a.m. The winner of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament —along with seven other regional winners — will advance to the NCAA Division III World Series, May 26-31 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Three of the eight teams at the Mideast Regional were national semifinalists last year, including SUNY Cortland, 2016 Mideast Regional Champion La Roche and 2016 national runner-up Keystone.

Here’s a look at the field:

#1 WOOSTER (35-8). The 17-time champion of the North Coast Athletic Conference is ranked eighth in the nation. Wooster is one of two teams that played in last year’s Mideast Regional at Ross Memorial Park, going 3-2 before losing to both teams that played in the final game, Randolph-Macon, 2-1, in the second round, and eventual champion La Roche, 13-0, in the semifinal game.

#2 SUNY CORTLAND (33-7). Cortland is making its 25th straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Red Dragons, ranked fourth in the nation, qualified as an at-large, Pool C berth after finishing second in the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) regular season. Oswego won the SUNYAC after the conference tournament was rained out.

#3 LA ROCHE (34-8). The Redhawks have made Ross Memorial Park their postseason home more than W&J. The champion of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, La Roche is making its fifth Mideast Regional appearance, including three straight at W&J. The Redhawks, ranked 12th in the nation this year, won last year’s regional before advancing to the Division III World Series where they went 2-2 as a semifinalist. Both losses came against Keystone (6-1, 5-4).

#4 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (34-10). The 11-time PAC champions are making their sixth appearance at regionals. The 16th-ranked Presidents’ 34 wins are tied for the third-most in team history, including a pair of 8-1 wins over Grove City to earn the automatic berth in the regional. Senior right-hander Riley Groves (8-2, 1.94 ERA) and junior righty Bryce Schnatterly (7-0, 2.75 ERA) started regional games two years ago, losing to Frostburg State, 7-1, and La Roche, 4-1, respectively. Groves was the PAC Pitcher of the Year.

Senior catcher Derek Helbing was the PAC Player of the Year after batting .342 with a PAC-best 11 homer runs and 25 walks, while senior outfielder Nick Vento led the league with 67 hits to go with his .414 batting average. Vento hit a two-run homer in W&J’s 9-3 win over Adrian in the 2015 regional.

#5 MISERICORDIA (30-12). The Cougars won their seventh straight MAC Freedom championship. They lost to Keystone, 9-7, on May 1, and split with La Roche, winning 6-3 and losing 9-5, in games played in Florida back in March. Misericordia lost both of its games at the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year.

#6 KEYSTONE (31-13). The Giants lost to Trinity twice, 14-6 and 10-7, in the final rounds of last year’s Division III College World Series, their second appearance at nationals. Keystone won the Colonial State Athletic Conference for the 13th straight year. Last year, Keystone won the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

#7 DEPAUW (31-11). The Tigers lost to Wooster in the NCAC tournament in two games by a combined score of 43-9. Still, DePauw earned an at-large, Pool C team, as the Tigers made their seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA postseason and their first since 2014.

#8 EARLHAM (29-12). The only new kids on the block in the Mideast Regional, Earlham is making its debut in the NCAA postseason after the Quakers won their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title.