A trip to Super Regionals is endorsement for the Dallas Baptist, but challenges remain in reaching Omaha
Dallas Baptist certainly hopes its baseball season extends beyond the Columbia Super Regional.
Reaching the Superregion for the first time in 10 years and the second time in school history was an important milestone, no matter what happens next. Even after seven consecutive NCAA trips and seven consecutive seasons with 40 wins, the national performance means something, said coach Dan Heefner.
“We were a consistent program, but that confirmed us,” said Heefner. “It is not a coincidence if you do it twice. If you’ve been to the Regionals every year and we’ve been to the Super Regionals twice now, it’s a legitimate goal and a legitimate reality for us to be able to play in Omaha. “
If the DBU (40-16) can survive a best-of-three meeting with Virginia (33-24), another third seed emerging from the regional round, the Patriots will have Omaha next. The series begins on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Founders Park with Dominic Hamel (13-2, 3.95 ERA) of the DBU facing Virginia ace Andrew Abbott (8-6, 2.82 ERA).
The Cavaliers were 4-12 in the ACC before winning their first regional league since 2015.
The DBU also had a lot to overcome – and not just the improbable rallies against TCU (6: 2) and Oregon State (5: 0). Even with five seniors using an additional year of eligibility, things didn’t go smoothly.
“We all saw the talent and potential of this team at the beginning of autumn,” said senior pitcher Kragen Kechely. “We had no shortage of speed bumps during the season.”
It wasn’t all disappointing losses.
The Patriots endured an almost two-week shutdown from COVID-19. They lost a road series in the state of Missouri and then lost a series to the Air Force when they only had nine position players available. Heefner admitted that DBU probably shouldn’t have played.
“The guys who were there trained really hard in the week and a half,” said infielder Andrew Benefield, who delivered the decisive Grand Slam against Oregon State.
“We didn’t take any breaks. It wasn’t a vacation. It was probably the hardest thing we’ve trained in all the time I’ve been here because we wanted to come back and step on the gas and end the year strong. We didn’t want to take anything for granted because we know that the season could be over at any time due to COVID.
It wasn’t an immediate turnaround.
“We got a couple of blows on the chin,” said Kechely. “These adversities have given other guys the opportunity to get at-bats and in-game reps that they might not have gotten if they hadn’t gone down with COVID.”
The experience paid off when DBU No. 3 lost hitter Jace Grady (upper body injury) and cleanup hitter Cole Moore (ankle) in the Regionalliga. Heefner said both would likely be game day decisions this weekend. Both trained on Friday. Grady is second on batting DBU at 0.343 while Moore has an OPS of 1.040.
“Different boys had to play and different boys played,” said Heefner. “I think it only added to our depth, which obviously comes into play as the season progresses. You can’t drive the same guys over and over again.
“Then you come into the postseason and we had some injuries like us and it’s like, ‘Well, we’ve done it before.'”
Now the DBU is facing another challenge.
The Patriots were no stranger to the regional league, but being two wins from Omaha and the College World Series can be a huge distraction.
The danger of being too emotional is real, which is why Heefner approached her long before this week.
“We actually talked about how to control emotions in the fall,” said Heefner. “The environment naturally accelerates you. How do you calm down? We just remind them of things that we’ve already talked about and worked on.
“The way we design it, a three-game series is played.”
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