Penn College Opens Play Monday in National Baseball Tourney
"We leave Saturday on a 13-hour bus trip. We'll head over to see where Abe Lincoln grew up and then we'll see if we can't win a few ballgames," Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball coach Chris Howard said as his team prepared for next week's United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series.
Penn College is seeded ninth in a 10-team field and faces an uphill fight in the Series that begins Monday, but Howard thinks his team is up to the challenge.
"I told the guys this is for the national championship so it doesn't matter where you are (seeded)," he said. "We'll be playing good teams every single time. Whether we're the No. 9 seed, the No. 1 seed, whatever, it's going to be a battle."
"I'm feeling pretty confident. A lot of the guys feel we've got a second chance after the conference tournament (the Wildcats lost their first two games and were eliminated). I'm looking forward to it. It will be a good opportunity to see where we fall with other teams in the USCAA from around the country," the sixth-year coach continued.
The Wildcats take a 23-12 record into their 8:30 a.m. game Monday against No. 8 Selma (Ala.) University (14-12). All games in the double-elimination tournament are being played at Robin Roberts Stadium on the campus of Robert Morris University at Springfield, Ill. The winner of that game advances against top-seeded Spalding (Ky.) University (25-9-1) at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
In other Monday games, No. 7 Penn State Beaver (24-17) faces host Robert Morris Springfield (15-30 and seeded No. 10) at 4 p.m. with the winner playing No. 2 Newport News (Va.) Apprentice School (26-16) at 9 p.m.; No. 4 Clark (Ohio) State Community College (24-7) takes on No. 5 Southern Virginia University (16-16) at 11 a.m. and No. 3 Rochester (Mich.) College (23-22) meets No. 6 Penn State Mont Alto (17-9) at 6:30 p.m.
Action continues with six games on Tuesday, four games on Wednesday and two games on Thursday, unless an extra game is needed to decide the champion. If so, that contest would be played at 6 p.m. that night.
In addition to Penn College, which received an at-large bid into the national tournament, Penn State Mont Alto is there as the Penn State University Athletic Conference champion and Penn State Beaver, the PSUAC runner-up, enters as an at-large entry. Mont Alto won 10 of its last 11 regular season games and then went 3-0 en route to the conference crown. During the regular season, the Wildcats beat Mont Alto twice.
In the conference tournament, Howard thought his team's pitching and defense were good enough to win; his players just couldn't get the timely hits when they were needed.
"It doesn't take a lot to get you off track (hitting) and it doesn't take a lot to get you back on. It's really a state of mind. If you feel good (at the plate) and you're seeing the ball well, then chances are you're going to go up and take some good swings," Howard, a former Major League catcher, said.
This is Penn College's second trip to the Series. In 2009, after winning its second straight PSUAC crown, the Wildcats went 1-2 and finished tied for third with three other teams.
"The first time we didn't have any idea what to expect. It was a learning experience. I felt like we had a good team that year but errors just killed us," Howard recalled.
"One of the things I've told the guys this week is I felt that we played really tight in the conference tournament and didn't play like we normally do. We got into the national tournament somewhat unexpectedly and there's really no pressure on us so I told the guys to go out and enjoy themselves and swing free, play free and see what happens," the coach added.