Rams to Defend NCCAA National Title
Bluefield, VA-- Winning a national championship can be tough on a man. Mike White can relate.
May 18, 2010
Winning a national championship can be tough on a man. Mike White can relate.
The fifth-year head coach of the Bluefield College baseball team, White led the Rams to the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) World Series title last May, compiling a perfect 5-0 record in the event, including two wins in dramatic — bottom of the seventh — fashion.
"I know it took a toll on coach White," Bluefield junior left fielder Andrew Weaver said. "Emotionally he was spent after the last game and the dog pile."
The last memories of Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio for the Rams was the human pile the Rams made after defeating Malone 5-3 to claim the title. Bluefield College junior pitcher Josh McQuade wasn't part of that team, but he's certainly heard plenty about that experience.
"They always talk about how much fun winning it was," said McQuade, who transferred to Bluefield from Shepherd prior to this season. "I just hope we can go back out there and do the same thing."
That is the plan, as the Rams left Monday morning for Ohio. As the top seed in the 10-team, double-elimination event, the Rams will meet either King College or Indiana Wesleyan on Wednesday night, May 19, at 7:30 p.m. White is hoping for similar success to '09, but wouldn't mind a little less excitement from an event that included back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the seventh in the NCCAA semifinals last season.
"I'd like it to be a little smoother ride," White said. "It would add a few years to my life because I think I lost a couple last year with those games, but we're pretty excited about it."
Bluefield (38-14) actually thought the NAIA regionals might be their destination this season, having finished second in the AAC tournament, but a 20-3 loss to Tennessee Wesleyan in the finals didn't help, as Union received the lone at-large bid from the league. That was, admittedly, disappointing to the Rams, especially since they were 2-2 against Union this season, including a win over the Bulldogs in the AAC semifinals.
"Very disappointed, but it is what it is," White said. "We're fortunate to be able to do this. On the NAIA side, we had opportunities during the year to make up the difference and we shouldn't have left it so close."
Bluefield is making its fourth straight trip to this event, posting a 2-2 mark in 2007, 0-2 in '08, and a perfect 5-0 record last season.
"It is a testament to the program, the kids have worked hard and we've been able to establish ourselves," said White, whose Rams have improved in wins each season, from 12, 27, 34, 39, and Bluefield needs two this week to reach 40. "We are one of the top teams in the NCCAA, but we're right on the fringe of the NAIA, which is where we are striving to be also. It just says we have come a long ways."
Wednesday will be the Rams' first game since that lopsided AAC title game defeat to Tennessee Wesleyan, but White doesn't think his club will be suffering from any kind of hangover from that loss.
"We'll be fine, it's baseball, you're going to win some and you're going to lose some," White said. "We're just going to go out and just play, it's another game, 20-3 or 3-2, it still counts as one."
Weaver added. "I think we're in a good spot. We're the number one (seed) going in, our pitching is fresh. I think we are going to be tough to beat."
They've been that way most of the season. Bluefield has been solid in all three aspects of the game, leading the AAC in hitting (.349), second in earned run average (4.18) and fourth on defense (.949). No wonder the Rams are confident heading to Ohio.
"Just keep playing the way we have been playing, the way we have been playing all year," White said. "We need to get good quality starting pitching, just make the routine plays and offensively do what we always do."
That's hit. All nine Bluefield starters are hitting at least .300, led by Tony Singleton, who is hitting .438 with 19 doubles from the eighth spot in the lineup. Devon Good is batting .386 with 50 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. Jeremiah McMillian has 10 home runs and 49 RBIs, while Ryan Lambert has 15 doubles and has driven in 54 runs. Weaver, whose brother, Travis, starts at shortstop for the Rams, is batting .355, with 13 doubles and 34 RBIs. He was one of the several heroes last season in Ohio for Bluefield.
"We had a great group of guys. We clicked at the right time, and we played our best baseball at the end of the year," Weaver said. "It couldn't have went any better, and the way it is going this year it almost seems like it's going the same way as last year.
"We're starting to play our best ball at the end of the year, and we've got a another great group of guys. I'm really looking forward to it, it's going to be a good time."
Bluefield heads to Ohio having won 10 of its last 12 games, but the Rams know there will be a challenge ahead. Nine of the 10 teams involved have at least 27 wins, led by second seed North Greenville, S.C., with 41.
"There is a bunch of good teams up there so it is not going to be a walk in the park," McQuade said. "We're going to go out up there and just try and play good baseball and hopefully come out with a 'W'."
The Rams started last year's NCCAA tourney with a thriller, defeating Olivet Nazarene 4-3, when Weaver's double brought in Lambert with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Bluefield followed those with a pair of shutouts. David Gibson hurled the Rams past Malone 5-0, and Josh Grimes won 9-0 against Mount Vernon. Then came what might be the most dramatic moment in the program's history. Trailing Colorado Christian 2-1 with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the seventh, Singleton tied it up with a home run. Billy Funk followed that with a solo homer and the 3-2 win. McQuade didn't know all that as he left with the team on Monday. The club planned to see the Reds play Milwaukee in Cincinnati that night, and then complete a Christian service project today before focusing completely on baseball.
"I don't really know how it all went, but I know they went up there and played good baseball," McQuade said. "That is all we have to do."
Bluefield finished off last year's national title with a 5-3 win over Malone, paced by two-run homers from Weaver and Singleton. They're back for more.
"Last year we were the fourth seed, this year we're the one," Weaver said. "You've just got to keep your head in the right place and stay focused and go in there with a mindset that we are going to play good fundamental baseball. We've just got to keep our heads about us and go in and take it one game at a time."
McQuade is part of a pitching staff that's been stingy all season. The Rams are led on the mound by Gibson. The sophomore southpaw has posted an 11-3 record with a 2.20 ERA. McQuade (4-4), Adam Hoyt (7-4), Andy Podolak (4-2) and Mike Newton (4-0) are joined by Donald Howell (4-1, 2.21 ERA, 12 saves), the MVP of last year's series with two wins and a save. As defending champions, Bluefield will arrive at Prasco Park knowing that the other teams want to knock them off. That's a role the Rams like.
"That was last year, you're not going to be able to sneak up of anybody now obviously," White said. "It's a different year. We've just got to go out and play. It's a different group of guys so we're just going to go out there and see what happens."
Weaver, who transferred to Bluefield before last season from Liberty, calls playing with his brother, Travis, a "blast.' The same goes for playing in the NCCAA World Series.
"It was the one of the best baseball experiences I've ever had," Weaver said. "The facilities were immaculate, and the people that presented the tournament were unbelievable. It was great and I'm looking forward to going back."
Courtesy of Brian Woodson, Bluefield Daily Telegraph