FORT WAYNE – The Manchester baseball team won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title and will head to the NCAA Division III tournament.
The team is 35-5-1 and one of the top-15 programs in the nation. But an odd turn of events could pit the Spartans against a program that is the best in Division III tournament history.
Marietta has six D-III titles, including back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012. The squad is 154-68 in postseason play.
And thanks to an unexpected pair of losses in the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament, the Pioneers (28-12) earned the second seed in Manchester’s regional.
The Spartans are No. 1 in the pool, which will be played Wednesday through Sunday in Terre Haute. Manchester’s first opponent will be Mount Union, which won the OAC tournament.
I don’t think there will be a team there that is clearly better than anybody, in the Rose-Hulman Region, said Manchester coach Rick Espeset, whose team won its second consecutive HCAC title Saturday. I think last year, you could have said Marietta was different from the other seven teams. I mean, we competed with them, but they were probably a little better than everybody else.
I would expect this year, you’ll see eight teams and really not much difference between them.
Illinois Wesleyan, the 2010 champion, will also compete in Manchester’s regional. The field will challenge a Spartans squad that has 10 seniors who have tasted success throughout their careers.
With conference finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, and a conference championship and a regional final appearance in 2012, there’s a bigger goal this time around.
To be honest, out of the eight teams there, there are four that think they have a chance to win it and probably four that are just kind of happy to be there and hope they win a game or two, Espeset said. I think we’ll be one of the four that actually thinks they have a chance to advance out of the regional, and that’s due to the fact that these guys have been there and they kind of know what to expect.
They will be disappointed if we don’t advance.
Marietta was the class of the regional two years running. This time, Espeset said, it’s Manchester’s turn.