PORTSMOUTH – Baseball will open the Mid-South Conference Tournament Thursday morning at 10 a.m. vs. Cumberland University. The Bears locked down the eighth and final playoff spot by winning the final weekend series of the season and will take on the regular season MSC Champion in the opening round. The Bulldogs (37-15-1, 19-2 MSC) are ranked in the No. 11 in the most recent NAIA Poll.
In each of the Bears' first two seasons in the Mid-South Conference Tournament, they have made runs to the championship game. In the 2011, they entered as the second seed in their division and fourth overall before ultimately capturing the championship in their inaugural season. Last season, the Bears entered as the fifth seed before falling to Georgetown in the championship game.
The Bears won 29 games during the regular season and went 9-15 overall in the Mid-South Conference. They have four players on the roster with at least 100 at-bats and over .300 batting averages. Colin Keim enters the tournament as the team's top hitter with a .358 average. He is getting on base at a .429 clip.
Jake Lankheit (.331 avg.), Tyler Bice (.323 avg.) and Todd Queener (.317 avg.) have also been regulars in the SSU lineup throughout the season. Lankheit is second on the team with 33 RBI while both Bice and Queener each have on-base percentages above .400. Queener also leads the team with 48 runs from the leadoff spot.
Cody Spires (.291 avg., 32 RBI .418 slg.%) and Joe Henderson (.292 avg., 33 runs, 32 RBI, 7 HR) have also been constants in the heart of the Bears' lineup. Aaron Suydam (.349 avg. in 43 Abs), Dustin Bickmeyer (.324 avg., in 68 Abs) and Ryan Queener (.313 avg. in 67 ABs) have also played increasing roles with the team as the season has progressed.
On the mound, Cody Strayer (3-5, 3.74 ERA), Calvin Sluberski (2-4, 4.47 ERA) and Zak Esposito (3-6, 6.15 ERA) have each started over 10 games for the Bears this season. Closer Jordan Williams has pitched the next most innings on the team besides those three starters and has an ERA of 3.19 to go along with a team-high six wins and six saves coming out of the bullpen.
Cumberland boasts six regulars that have batting averages of over .300. The highest average on the team belongs to Chris Hall who is hitting .406. Craig Monson is second on the team with a .333 average. He has driven in a team-high 48 runs. A total of six different players have driven in at least 25 runs this season.
On the mound for the Bulldogs, Anthony Gomez (10-0, 0.95 ERA), Jake Collier (5-1, 2.61 ERA), and Kevin T. Greene (6-1, 3.53 ERA) are the only three pitchers that have started more than four games. Greene has been the game one starter for Cumberland in the weekend series all year long leading up to the tournament.
In the regular season series between the two squads, the Bulldogs swept the Bears by scores of 8-7, 4-1 and 12-5. In that opening game of the series, the Bears got five runs off of Greene in six innings. However, they would ultimately fall short in the 13th inning.
The game with Cumberland will kick off the MSC Tournament. The next first round game will be fifth-seeded Rio Grande (32-18, 12-11 MSC) and fourth-seeded Campbellsville (27-17, 11-10 MSC). The two winners and two losers will each meet in the next round of the double elimination tournament. Third-seeded Lindsey Wilson (38-16, 16-7 MSC) vs. sixth-seeded Cumberlands (33-18, 10-11 MSC) and second-seeded Georgetown (33-15, 18-6 MSC) vs. seventh-seeded St. Catharine (36-18, 10-11 MSC) will wrap up the first day of the tournament.
All games for the MSC Tournament will be played at Hunter Wright Stadium in Kingsport, Tenn. Hunter Wright Stadium is home to the Kingsport Mets, a minor league affiliate of the New York Mets. Live Stats will be available for all tournament games. You can also follow the discussion on twitter @SSUBears.