By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Division III NCAA Baseball Tournament gets underway his week with regional action, and two local teams have made the field.
Both Neumann University, in Aston, Pa., and Rowan University, in Glassboro, NJ, will open play with their first games on Wednesday. Both teams are in the double-elimination regional being held in Auburn, NY.
The Rowan Profs start things off against Amherst on Wednesday afternoon. The Profs bring a 32-12 record into the tournament, and they are champions of the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
This is the fourth straight season, and 22nd overall, that the Profs have made the field.
“Honestly, this is our young year,” Profs’ head coach Juan Ranero tells KYW Newsradio. “We graduated a bunch of seniors last year, had a lot of seniors in the line-up. We replaced catcher, first, second, short, center, right, and two pitchers off of last year’s team.
“So we knew that we had some talent on the team. We knew from the beginning that we thought we’d be a better team toward the end of the season than the beginning of the season. And I think that’s probably how it turned out. We went 19-3 over the last 22 games and played some pretty good baseball toward the end,” Ranero says.
The number that jumps out at you when you study the Profs is a great team ERA of 3.59, and Ranero says that is not an accident.
“We’ve had a couple of older guys that have been very successful for us,” Ranero says. “Steve Melchiorre and Jeff White are two seniors that have done a great job all year on the mound. Because of necessity, we found a couple of other starters in Ryan Easterday and Dylan Johannink that we weren’t expecting to be in the limelight (as much as they have been). They are both sophomores, and Dylan Johannink actually stepped up and beat one of out big rivals, Kean University, on back-to-back weekends — once in the regular season and then in the conference championship.”
Rowan and Amherst will get underway at 4:30pm on Wednesday.
Neumann’s first game will be against Farmingdale State on Wednesday. The Knights, out of the Colonial States Athletic Conference, are 29-13, and they earned an at-large berth to the tournament after falling in the conference title game to Keystone, 3-2.
Neumann has now qualified for the field for two straight seasons, and these represent the first two tournament berths in program history.
“It’s a nice opportunity for the boys,” Neumann head coach John Fleming tells KYW Newsradio. “They’ve worked hard all year. To have an opportunity to go back two years in a row, for the seniors, it is quite an achievement.”
And Fleming says having the experience of last year’s tournament under their belt is huge.
“They (the players) feel like they came here for a purpose,” he says. “And they are looking forward to getting started.”
Neumann is also a team that gets it done on the mound: their team ERA is 3.33.
“We think pitching wins championships,” Fleming says, “guys who can throw the ball through bats. And this year is no exception. We’re on pace for another 300-strikeout year. Our staff ace, Matt Spillman (8-1, 1.84 ERA), who is a senior, has come in and worked hard over the off-season. He was our number three last year, and he’s just put in the hours of work to get to be a number one, and has really been a staff ace all year.”
Neumann and Farmingdale will get play in this regional, underway with their 10:00am start on Wednesday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.