By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – For the third time in four years, the La Salle baseball team has qualified for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The Explorers are the #6-seed (in the 7-team field) and they will open play on Wednesday evening against the #3-seed Rhode Island down in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tournament is double-elimination with the champion being crowned on Saturday.
“It’s very exciting,” La Salle head coach Mike Lake tells KYW Newsradio. “We’re very happy to be where we’re at right now. The kids worked hard all spring to get to where we are right now and now it’s like a second season, starting all over.”
La Salle is 24-27 heading into the tournament and they were 15-9 in the A-10 during the regular season. The 15 wins in the conference represent a program record.
“Our defense has kept us in every game,” Lake says. “And the pitchers, and we’ve been getting some timely hits during the season, too. So for the most part it’s been pitching and defense and timely hitting.”
Perhaps the top weapon Lake has at his disposal is his closer, senior Pat Christensen. A right-hander from California, he is 6-1 this season with 11 saves and a 2.49 ERA. His 44 career saves have him tied for fifth in NCAA Division I history.
“We have a lead in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, we know we bring him in the game and we have a very, very good chance of winning the game,” Lake says. “He gives the kids a shot of adrenaline, a shot of confidence when he goes in there and they are all very excited to play behind him. And Pat being fifth all-time (in saves) has just done a fantastic job for our program for the last four years.”
At the plate, La Salle is led by sophomore first baseman Mark Williams and his .322 average. Senior third baseman Dan Klem is right behind him, hitting .316. Williams is the high man in RBI with 29. The Explorers don’t have a lot of power, they only hit 11 home runs during the regular season. Redshirt sophomore catcher Ryan Welling and junior outfielder George Smith Jr, tied for the team lead with three each.
Rhode Island is 34-22 and they went 17-7 in the conference. This will actually be the first meeting between the two programs this season.
“Rhode Island has very good pitching, they also play very good defense,” Lake says. “And they also hit the ball pretty well. They’re very well-coached. (Coach Jim Foster) over there does a very good job with them. Always has them ready to play. So we know we’re going to have our hands full, and at the same time, we’re going to be ready to play also.”
La Salle and Rhode Island are slated to get underway at 5:00pm on Wednesday. The loser of that game goes right back to work in their second game later that night against the loser of Charlotte and Richmond. The winner advances to play the winner of that Charlotte/Richmond game on Thursday afternoon.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.