Delta State didn’t get an opportunity to host an NCAA Regional Tournament, but the next best three things happened.
First, the No. 1-ranked Statesmen (48-6) play in a three-team tournament, the smallest in the nation. Secondly, the Statesmen don’t play the opening game, catching that game’s loser in the first round.
“Plus, we get to fly,” said DSU outfielder Heath Bailey of Saltillo. “We expected to be at home, but since we’re not, getting to fly is great.”
The top-seeded Statesmen play the Wingate (N.C., 31-16)-Abilene Christian (Texas, 40-16) loser at 7:30 tonight in the South Central Regional in Abilene. The winner of the double-elimination tournament advances to the Division II College World Series later this month in Montgomery, Ala.
“Winning our (Gulf South) conference tournament gave us a lot of confidence,” Bailey said in a telephone interview. “We came from way behind to win it with a (Rodney Batts) homer in the last inning.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks to enjoy it and rest up. I think we needed it; I know I did. But we’re excited about playing again, but we still feel we have something to prove.”
Delta State, after finishing third in the 1994 College World Series, missed out on a return trip last season by one game. It’s still a sore subject with Bailey and his teammates.
“Last year we were good enough to get there, but we just didn’t have the desire. The talent was there, but we didn’t come together like we should have,” Bailey said. “This year, we’re together as a team, it’s just whether we play as well as we should.”
The tools are there for the Statesmen to play well. The starting pitching staff has won 35 starts, including Houlka freshman Jeremy McClain at 11-3. Josh Melton or Dave Townsend will get the opening game start.
Offensively, the club features two-time All-GSC pick Jason Page of Starkville, who hits .407. Hamilton’s Spencer Holman ranks in the team’s top three in homers, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. Bailey combines speed with power from the leadoff slot.
Bruce’s Marc Taylor, a three-year starter at shortstop, said, “I think this team feels we have a good chance to be in the World Series, but we’ve got to prove it on the field.
“The last time we won the regional (’94), we won on the road (Colorado), so I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s a matter of playing like we’re capable of. We cooled off a little bit after starting so well (25-0), but I think we’re picking it back up again.”