The Statesmen (35-9) swept the then No. 4 ranked West Florida Argonauts in a three-game GSC series to clinch the top seed in the GSC Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. The sweep also moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 in the NCAA Division II South Region Poll.
Delta State will begin their quest for a Gulf South Conference Title on Friday when the Statesmen take on the eighth seeded Christian Brothers Buccaneers at Young Memorial Field on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with the first pitch set for 7 p.m.
“Any time you play well, and we played well lately, it gives you confidence and boosts your momentum,” Delta State head baseball coach Mike Kinnison said. “We hope that’s what’s happen. The mental from of our team is positive, and they’re excited what they’ve accomplished and looking ahead to the tournament.”
The Statesmen have had to make several adjustments with their pitching staff due to injuries, but the pitchers have stepped up.
Michael Manley (7-2, 2.13 ERA, 84.2 IP,73 H, 57 SO, 23 BB), Jonathan Moody (8-2, 2.43 ERA, 66.2 IP, 52 H, 18 BB, 66 SO) and Drew Milligan (3-2, 1.41 ERA, 38.1 IP, 30 H, 26 SO, 24 BB) have been the top three starters on the staff. Nick Goza (3-1, 2.73 ERA) and Casey Greene (3-1, 3.86 ERA) have made some starts during the season as well.
Kinnison hopes to get Ricky Winters back for the tournament, who has missed over a month due to injuries. Winter is 5-0 with a 2.44 ERA in eight games, seven starts, this season.
“He’s had to rehab some elbow problems and that’s looking better,” Kinnison said. “We feel like he’ll be available. We’ll see how much he’ll be able to pitch.”
DSU’s team ERA is 2.56, which is second in the conference and eighth in the nation.
Hitting wise, DSU is hitting .330 as a team with 326 runs scored. The Statesmen are solid from top to bottom as eight players with 27 or more starts are hitting over .300. The line-up is led by junior outfielder Will Robertson (.369 avg., 24 RBIs, 26 runs), senior first baseman Brent Langston (.368 avg., 2 HR, 24 RBIs, 20 runs), senior catcher Carlos Leal (.358 avg., 1 HR, 32 RBIs, 26 runs), senior outfielder Jordan Chovanec (.349 avg., 1 HR, 33 RBIs, 40 runs), junior third baseman Landon Thibodeaux (.338 avg., 5 HR, 30 RBIs, 29 runs), senior infielder Kasey Hinton (.331 avg., 2 HR, 27 RBIs, 40 runs), senior outfielder Dex Herrrington (.328 avg., 4 HR, 37 RBIs, 46 runs) and sophomore catcher/designated hitter Ben Pickard (.327 avg., 22 RBIs, 26 runs).
“We’ve had different guys that have been out at different times,” Kinnison said about the offense. “We’ve gone through some periods where we didn’t swing the bat well and that wasn’t too long ago. This has been a good hitting team, but what I know and most coaches know is you’re going to have close games. It comes down to hitting under pressure and getting hits with runners in scoring position.”
Delta State will take on a Christian Brothers team that has had a long season. The Buccaneers are 11-35 and finished the regular season with a 3-27 conference record. CBU is riding a 10-game losing streak and is hitting just .235 with a only 150 runs scored. Pitching wise, CBU has a 4.52 ERA.
Despite the numbers, Kinnison feels CBU is a dangerous team at this point in the year.
“I think they are certainly capable of beating any team in our conference,” Kinnison said. “You look at their record, and they have gotten some win against some good teams in our conference. Everybody has a good number one arm, so that equalizes a lot of things. We’ll see the best Christian Brothers team that they can put out there with their best arms.”
The top six teams from the region go to the South Region Tournament, which will begin on May 15. The top ranked team in the region right now is Tampa, of the Sunshine State Conference, at 45-2, followed by Lynn, of the Sunshine State Conference, at 33-13 in the No. 2 spot. West Florida (31-9, No. 4), Florida Southern (31-15, No. 5, SSC), Alabama-Huntsville (34-13, No. 6, GSC), Saint Leo (31-15, No. 7, SSC) and Nova Southeastern (276-16, No. 8, SSC).
Tampa will play Florida Tech this weekend in a three-game series, while Lynn will play Palm Beach Atlantic in a three-game series. The SSC teams don’t have to play a conference tournament. The Stillman Tigers, champions of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 30-17 record, have already earned a regional bid by winning their conference. The winner of the GSC Tournament gets an automatic region bid.
The Statesmen are currently riding a six-game winning streak and have won 29 of their last 33 games.
Kinnison said a good performance in the GSC Tournament is huge at this point in the season.
“It all goes back to all those different criteria,” Kinnison said. “Every game has a baring on your regional position and that’s true in this tournament. Every game we play is an in region game. It goes into the mix, not only toward being conference champion, but it goes on your personal record as far as how you stack up in the region.”