Baseball Opening Round Preview
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Schedule & Live Stats) The 2012 NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round opens play Thursday at nine locations across the country. Each location features a five-team double-elimination bracket, showcasing three games on Thursday and Friday, two on Saturday and if necessary games on Monday.
National Championship Opening Round winners punch their ticket to Lewiston, Idaho, joining host Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) at the 56th annual Avista-NAIA World Series, May 25 - June 1. The 10-team bracket will be released May 14.
Southern Poly (Ga.) (35-23) and Siena Heights (Mich.) (31-23) in the Daytona Beach (Fla.) Bracket and Union (Tenn.) (37-17) and Asbury (Ky.) (18-37) in the Hardeeville (S.C.) Bracket will kick-off action at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday.
All nine of the 2011 World Series qualifiers return to the field, including defending national champion Concordia (Calif.). The Eagles (36-17) - top seed in the Marion (Ind.) Bracket -- earned an automatic berth following a 7-6 victory against Azusa Pacific (Calif.) in the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament title game on May 4. Concordia opens action at 8 p.m. EDT against the winner of fourth-seeded Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) (33-18) and fifth-seeded Doane (Neb.) (33-19), who open the group at 12 p.m. The Bracket's additional day-one game is scheduled for 4 p.m. and features second-seeded Point Park (Pa.) (48-9) and third-seeded Taylor (Ind.) (37-18).
The Oklahoma City Bracket spotlights a pair of 2011 World Series teams in top-seeded Oklahoma City and second-seed Lubbock Christian (Texas). The Stars, who enter the tournament with a 43-9 record, are 9-0 in their previous three Opening Rounds and are vying for a spot in Lewiston for the fifth-straight season. Oklahoma City's powerful offense is led by Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year Miguel Beltran. Beltran leads the conference and the NAIA in home runs (24) and slugging percentage (.859), while ranking second in total bases (158). Lubbock Christian enters the field as the 2011 national runner-up after dropping a 9-3 decision to Concordia a year ago. The Chaparrals (33-20) are making their fourth trip to the Opening Round where they hold a 9-2 record. Lubbock Christian is the only squad amongst the 45 that holds multiple National Championship crowns, winning in 1983 and 2009. The Chaparrals open play at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday, while Oklahoma City awaits the winner of fourth-seeded York (Neb.) (39-17) and fifth-seeded Mount Marty (S.D.) (26-26), who play at 11 a.m.
NAIA Baseball Coaches' Top 25 Poll No. 1 LSU Shreveport headlines a Paducah (Ky.) Bracket that also houses Opening Round newcomers Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) and Peru State (Neb.). The Pilots, who cruised to their second-straight Red River Athletic Conference Tournament championship with a 5-2 victory over Bacone (Okla.) on May 1, own a NAIA-best .923 winning percentage on a 48-4 record and rank amongst the top nationally in multiple offensive categories including: runs scored (487), RBIs (440), hits per game (11.5), batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.525) and hits (599). LSU Shreveport is currently riding a 13-game win streak, which began with an 8-7 victory against Texas at Brownsville on April 13. The second-seeded Blue Raiders (41-14) reached new heights this season, winning the program's first-ever Mid-South Conference regular-season championship and at one-time holding an NAIA-best 22-game win streak from March 20 - April 18. Fourth-seeded Peru State (35-16) and fifth-seeded Grand View (Iowa) (27-27) take to the field at 10 a.m., followed by Lindsey Wilson and No. 3 Bellevue (Neb.) (39-19) at 2 p.m.
In the Cleveland (Tenn.) Bracket, Lee (Tenn.) earned the top seed and will be playing for a trip to its sixth-straight World Series. The Flames set the NAIA standard with 50 victories this season following a 13-0 win against Faulkner (Ala.) in the Southern States Athletic Conference title game. Lee, who jumped to No. 2 in the final Coaches' Top 25 Poll following the conference crown, will put its 9-0 Opening Round record on the line against the winner of fourth-seeded Avila (Mo.) and fifth-seeded Bacone at 7 p.m. The Eagles (39-14) and Warriors (28-23) take the field at 12 p.m., followed by second-seeded Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) (36-21) and third-seeded Missouri Baptist (37-14) at 3:30 p.m.
Other teams earning top seeds and eyeing a repeat trip to the World Series are Faulkner (49-11) in the Hardeeville Bracket, Tennessee Wesleyan (45-11) in the Kingsport (Tenn.) Bracket, Oklahoma Baptist (46-12) in the Hutchinson (Kan.) Bracket and Embry-Riddle (Fla.) (40-16) in the Daytona Beach Bracket.
Twenty-nine teams earned an automatic berth to the 45-team Opening Round field by winning their respective conference/independent/unaffiliated group tournaments or regular-season championships. An additional 16 at-large selections - determined by the final NAIA Baseball Coaches' Top 25 Poll released Sunday - round out the field.
Among the 45 teams selected, 15 will make their respective program's debut in the Opening Round since the format was adopted in 2009. Newcomers include: Arizona Christian (33-21), Asbury, Bacone, Dakota State (S.D.) (28-26), Freed-Hardeman, Georgetown (Ky.) (45-9), Judson (Ill.) (46-12), Lindsey Wilson, Menlo (Calif.) (27-25), Peru State, Point Park, Siena Heights, Shorter (Ga.) (37-17), Sterling (Kan.) (43-12) and Tabor (Kan.) (41-13).
Ten squads are playing in their fourth-straight Opening Round. Lee and Oklahoma City are a perfect 9-0 in four trips, while Concordia and Oklahoma Baptist are also undefeated, going 3-0 in the Opening Round a year ago.
Six qualifiers have previously won a World Series title, led by Lewis-Clark State with 16. The Warriors own a championship record mark of 119-37 in 30 previous World Series appearances.
NeuLion, the NAIA's digital media partner and official video-streaming company of 10 select NAIA National Championship events, will be broadcasting all games at the 2012 Avista-NAIA World Series. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-series pass is available for $39.95. For more information and to pre-register, click here.