PORTSMOUTH – Baseball will begin its postseason journey Sunday as it opens up play in the Mid-South Conference Championship. Shawnee State (31-24, 14-12 MSC) finished fourth in the MSC standings during the regular season and will open with fifth-seeded Campbellsville (26-19, 14-12 MSC). The opening day of games will be split between hosts Campbellsville and Lindsey Wilson. The Bears' game which will be played at Campbellsville is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start.
Top-seeded and NAIA No. 3 Georgetown (38-6, 23-3 MSC) and eighth-seed Cumberlands (31-21, 11-15 MSC) will proceed the Shawnee State game at 1 p.m. The two winners of Sunday's opening games at Campbellsville will move on to Lindsey Wilson, while the two losers will be back in a consolation game that night for a second chance to move on to Monday in the double elimination tournament.
At Lindsey Wilson, (RV) Cumberland (35-18, 17-9 MSC) will play seventh-seeded Lindsey Wilson (26-27, 12-14 MSC), while No. 3 St. Catharine (25-25, 15-12 MSC) and sixth-seeded Bluefield (32-15, 13-13 MSC) round out the first round matchups. The MSC Tournament will be played exclusively at Lindsey Wilson starting Monday and continuing through the championship game on Thursday.
Prior to last season's 0-2 mark at the Mid-South Conference Championships, Shawnee State had played for the postseason conference tournament championship in three straight seasons dating back to 2010 in its last year in the AMC. The Bears won the 2011 MSC Tournament with an 8-0 victory over that season Campbellsville – the only time these two squads have met in the postseason. The Bears finished as the runner-up to Georgetown in the 2012 season.
Campbellsville and Shawnee State split their two games this season as the third game of the series was rained out. The Bears took the first game by a 5-4 margin before Campbellsville earned a split with a 5-0 win during the second game in the end of March series.
With the potential to play as many as seven games over the four days with the consolation bracket, pitching will certainly be at a premium. Shawnee State enters the tournament with a staff ERA of 3.89, which ranks fifth among all MSC schools. Leading the staff this season has been Derek Moore (FR/Wheelersburg, Ohio) (9-2, 1.54 ERA). Moore has thrown a complete game in seven of his 14 starts with a program single season record three shutouts this season. Moore is leading the conference in wins, ERA, and innings pitched (105.0). He ranks second in opponent's batting average (.212).
Zak Esposito (SR/Sandusky, Ohio) (5-3, 4.83 ERA) and Cody Strayer (SO/Worthington, Ohio) (4-8, 4.24 ERA) are ranked ninth and 11th in the conference in innings pitched as the Bears' final two weekend starters this season. Esposito ranks among the top 15 in the conference in strikeouts (48). He has thrown a quality start (six-plus innings with three earned runs or less) in seven of his 12 starts, including two complete games. Strayer ranks second on the team in complete games with six. He is tied for the team lead in appearances (16) and has five quality starts to his resume.
Mason Wisner (JR/Bay Village, Ohio) (4-0, 3.48 ERA) ranks fourth in the conference with four saves out of the bullpen. Taylor Smith (SO/Crestview Hills, Ky.) (5-2, 1.52 ERA), Ryan Valentine (JR/Springboro, Ohio) (0-1, 4.97 ERA), and Nolan West (SO/Olivehurst, Calif.) (2-3, 7.16 ERA) have also started during mid-week games this season, while Nolan Potter (JR/Kalamazoo, Mich.) (2-0, 4.01 ERA) and Brandon Bonar (SO/Chillicothe, Ohio) (0-2, 6.32 ERA) have also appeared at least 12 games out of the bullpen.
Offensively, the Bears have four regulars in the lineup that are batting over .300. As a unit, Shawnee State ranks fourth in the conference with a .397 slugging percentage as a team. SSU ranks first in the MSC in triples, second in doubles and fourth in home runs. The Bears are also third in the conference in stolen bases.
Daniel Katayama (SR/Sao Paulo-Guarulhos, Brazil) is leading the team with a .355 average. Katayama and Todd Queener (SR/Mentor, Ohio) (.303 average) have each driven in a team-high 29 runs. Queener is also slugging .485 with seven home runs at the top of the order. Katayama is ranked ninth in the conference in batting average, while Queener is ranked eighth in the conference in home runs(7), 12th in runs scored (38), and 18th in the league in slugging percentage. Blake Maines (FR/Burlington, Ky.) (.322 average), West (.315 average) and Brady Hightchew (SO/Newport, Ky.) (.306) round out SSU's contingent of .300 hitters. West is slugging .543 with five home runs, while Maines has 10 extra-base hits. Hightchew has 25 RBI, one of six players on the team with 20 or more runs driven in.
Ryan Queener (SR/Mentor, Ohio) is hitting .261 on the year, but that average improves to .309 in conference. He has a team-high 12 doubles this season. Dalton Tinsley (JR/Kokomo, Ind.), has added 22 RBI to the team, while Wisner and Jake Cain (SO/Cold Spring, Ky.) have each driven in 21 runs this season. Tinsley is second on the team with six home runs. Wisner and Cain each have two home runs on the season. Behind the plate, Dustin Bickmeyer (SR/O'Fallon, Mo.) has seen a majority of the starts. He is getting on base at a .369 clip and has thrown out 39-percent of base stealers. For Shawnee State on the base paths, Mitchell Lendenski (SO/Loveland, Ohio) is ranked third in the conference with 25 stolen bases.
Live video and live stats of the conference games will be provided by each day's host institution for the duration of the MSC Tournament. Those links to follow the action live can be found at the top of the page along with links to the tournament bracket and homepage.