The University of Charleston baseball team believes it should be where it is right now – getting ready to face Mercyhurst in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Super Regionals – even if others might not.
UC coach Andrew Wright has seen missives from those who consider the Golden Eagles, the reigning Mountain East Conference champions, the biggest surprise among the super regional qualifiers. Yet it’s no surprise to Charleston, which hasn’t lost a game since May 5 and hasn’t even sniffed the losers’ bracket in either the MEC or regional tournaments.
“I don’t think our guys are surprised at all,” Wright said. “If we’re tempering anything, it’s having an emotional response to a lack of respect, I guess. We’re trying to make sure to keep our guys on an even keel. We got here for a reason.”
The Golden Eagles (40-17) enter Game 1 of the best-of-three series on an eight game winning streak. Their first game against Mercyhurst begins at 1 p.m. Friday in Erie, Pennsylvania. Game 2 begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, follows directly after that game.
The winner of the series earns a spot in the Division II College World Series, to be held June 1-8 in Cary, North Carolina.
Those 40 wins blew past the old single-season record of 36 set last year. The Golden Eagles are piling up trophies, winning the MEC South Division, conference title and regional title. That much success – and, with a third straight season of at least 30 wins, a track record of success – has UC comfortable with where it now stands, even if it has never stood in that place before.
“I think the novelty has worn off,” Wright said. “Going through what we went through in 2017 and being really close, to having a chip on our shoulder in 2018 and then getting to a regional and playing well … What’s also driving us a little this year, we’ve got nine seniors who just don’t want to stop playing.”
Wright said those nine have set the tone for the way the entire team has approached the postseason, and have been the backbone for what, so far, has been an undefeated postseason run.
“The real world is staring them in the face, going out and getting a job or going to professional school or whatever,” he said. “I really see it in the way they go out and prepare, they want to keep playing.”
Preparation has been the primary factor in Charleston’s success in Wright’s eyes, and he heaps praise on his staff for its diligence in getting the players ready for each challenge. He pointed out graduate assistant Ryan Hunt’s ability to prepare UC’s batters, assistant Alec Porterfield’s work in analytics and the time assistant Andy Hoyer, redshirt coordinator Ian McDonald and grad assistant Anthony Zona put into getting the pitching staff geared up.
“I just feel like our coaching staff has done a nice job of creating an environment where our guys can just focus on playing baseball and worrying about their own jobs,” Wright said. “We are as prepared and have been prepared over the last three weeks as I think we’ve been in my entire coaching career.”
That doesn’t mean Mercyhurst might not have some surprises in store for the Golden Eagles. And, with the Lakers’ talent, there may not be a need for surprises. After losing two straight in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament, the Lakers (32-13) won three straight in their side of the Atlantic Regional to advance to this weekend’s series.
Mercyhurst features one of the PSAC’s best pitching staffs, second in the league with a 4.07 earned run average and tops in the league with 407 strikeouts. Pitchers Matthew Minnick and Tyler Garbee own two of the league’s four best ERAs. Minnick is second with a 2.14 ERA and Garbee is fourth at 2.39.
Jack Brunetti (9-1, 3.17 ERA) leads the UC pitching staff and the Golden Eagles are led at the plate by Colby Johnson, who has nine home runs and 49 RBIs along with a .359 batting average.
Whether or not the unexpected happens this weekend, the Golden Eagles have faced just about everything this postseason. They won a conference title with two walk-off wins and a title game contested over two days, on top of a slew of injuries, then barreled through the regional allowing just four runs over three games.
“Yes, we have a Plan A, but I’d like to think we have a Plan B and Plan C, on down the line,” Wright said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in our roster from top to bottom.”