The Statesmen, at 38-11, were able to win the region and go to the NCAA Division II World Series in 2012 where they advanced to the National Title game. Last season, the Statesmen went 2-2 and finished third in the region to fall just short of going to the series.
This week, DSU will try again to make that trip to the World Series. The Statesmen will begin their play in the region on Thursday when they take on the Florida Southern College Moccasins (32-17) at 6 p.m. CST.
Delta State left Cleveland and headed for Tampa on Tuesday.
Statesmen head baseball coach Mike Kinnison said the past couple of days have been good for his team.
“We’ve had good practices,” Kinnison said this morning by phone. “Both Sunday and Monday were good days for us. I thought we got in good work. We worked through the middle of the day anticipating those hot temperatures. It was over 90 in Tampa yesterday. We’ve been here before, and we’re playing in this regional a third straight year now. In that regard, we know what to expect.
“We had to leave yesterday morning, so yesterday was completely a travel day. We’ll get to practice a little bit today. We’ll get a one hour workout today. Hopefully, that will lead us into tomorrow and have us ready to go.”
Kinnison said he likes the mindset of the players on the team.
“I think they are excited about the opportunity that is in front of them,” Kinnison said. “Playing for a regional is what we work for all year, so I think they’re excited.”
Both teams have played each other quite a few times with Delta State leading the all-time series 8-7.
The Statesmen, seeded third, were able to advance to the NCAA South Region Tournament by finishing first place in the Gulf South Conference during the regular season and second in the conference tournament. After starting the year 6-5, DSU has won 32 of it last 38 games which include a 4-0 record against 17th ranked West Florida, a 2-2 record against eight ranked Southern Arkansas (38-17) and a 3-2 record against 20th ranked Alabama-Huntsville (39-14). West Florida ended up being left out of the region tournament, while Huntsville beat out DSU for the conference title and is a fifth seed in the region tournament.
Florida Southern, seeded fourth, finished tied for third in the Sunshine State Conference and have notable wins in the regular season against Tampa (47-2, No. 1), Lynn (34-14, No. 11), West Florida (34-11, No. 17) and Grand Valley State (37-11, No. 22).
“They are a program that has great tradition,” Kinnison said about Florida Southern. "We have a good history with them, and they’re a team we’ve crossed paths with in a lot of big events. It’s no surprise they are here. We are well aware they’ve had a pretty good year.”
Both teams sport two of the best pitching staffs in the nation. The Statesmen are ninth in the nation in team ERA (2.60), while the Moccasins are 13th (2.90).
Senior right hander Michael Manley (8-2, 2.11 ERA, 93.2 IP, 81 H, 67 SO, 24 BB), junior righty Jonathan Moody (9-3, 2.77 ERA, 74.2 IP, 65 H, 71 SO, 19 BB) and junior left hander Drew Milligan (4-2, 1.45 ERA, 43.1 IP, 35 H, 27 SO, 24 BB) have been DSU's three best starters as of late. Senior right hander Taylor Stark (2-1, 1.42 ERA, 4 SV) has been the leader of DSU’s bullpen.
Florida Southern’s starting pitching is led by senior right hander Clay Chapman (5-4, 2.92 ERA, 86.1 IP, 85 SO, 80 H, 19 BB), sophomore right hander Ben Richardson (7-5, 3.07 ERA, 85 IP, 81 H, 48 SO, 17 BB) and senior righty Brian Johnson (5-3, 3.32 ERA, 76 IP, 87 H, 42 SO, 16 BB). The bullpen is led by senior righty Nate Carter (4-1, 1.95 ERA, 7 SV).
“The first thing that jumps out at you is how good their pitching is,” Kinnison said. “When you examine their starters and look at their bullpen guy, they are very, very solid there with great depth.”
DSU’s game one starter for the series will be Manley. Manley has posted a career 17-2 record in two season at DSU. In last year’s regional tournament, he tossed a 143-pitch, nine inning complete game in the Statesmen’s 4-2 win over Valdosta State.
“I think he’s ready to go,” Kinnison said about Manley. “I think he’ll give us a great start. He’ll do what he’s done all year long — just hold us in games and give us a chance to win.”
Manley has had great durability through the season by pitching at least six innings in 11 of his 12 starts this year. For his career, Manley has pitched at least seven innings in a start 17 times in 24 starts.
“He battled a little bit of arm issues early in the year and has worked through that,” Kinnison said. “What he’s done is pitch game one of each series for us all year long. There hasn’t been any deviation from that. He’s a four-pitch guy. Some days some of those pitches are better than others. On those days when he has all four and command of all four, he can be very, very tough to beat. He’s a good competitor, and we always feel good when he goes out for us.”
The winner of the DSU-Florida Southern game will take on the winner of the Lynn-Alabama-Huntsville game at 6 p.m. CST on Friday. The loser will take on the winner of the Tampa-Stillman game at 2 p.m. CST on Friday.