For the fourth time in program history and second time in the past four years the Morehead State University baseball team is part of the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles will take the field in the double-elimination Clemson Regional against the host Tigers on Friday at 6 p.m.
Morehead earned an automatic berth in the 64-team field in dramatic fashion last weekend, winning three straight elimination games to claim the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship. The Eagles eliminated Eastern Kentucky and knocked off nationally ranked Tennessee Tech last Saturday then beat Tech 4-3 on Sunday on junior Niko Hulsizer's home run in the top of the ninth inning.
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"We knew coming into this year that we had the talent to be a regional team, and I am so proud to coach these men," Morehead Coach Mike McGuire said after the OVC title game. "All I know is we get to keep playing and we get to keep coaching this great group."
The Eagles will have to face some stiff competition if they hope to advance to the super-regional round. Clemson is ranked No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and had won eight straight games before falling to eventual champion Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The Tigers are 45-14 overall and went 22-8 in league play, sharing the regular-season ACC title with North Carolina. Rounding out the regional field are Big East regular season and tournament champion St. John's (39-15, 15-3 Big East) and Vanderbilt (31-25, 16-15 SEC). The Commodores and Red Storm are unranked but both received votes in the coaches poll.
"Being a guy from South Carolina I know the passionate fan base Clemson has," said McGuire, who played for the University of South Carolina. "We are just happy to be in a regional this year with the setbacks we had with this team with injuries this year. It is quite an accomplishment. Clemson has one of the best bullpens in the country and some power bats, but we will be ready."
Three Eagles will be looking to further solidify their marks in Morehead's record books. Seniors Braxton Morris, Tyler Niemann and David Calderon are the winningest trio in program history. It's no coincidence the Eagles have topped the 30-win mark in all four years of their careers.
Morris, who's started at second base since his freshman season, leads the team with a .374 batting average and has the second-most RBI on the year with 59. Niemann has been the ultimate utility player over the course of his MSU career, playing catcher as well as first base, third base and all three outfield positions. He's batting .333 with seven homers and 42 RBI. Calderon is a right-handed pitcher who has started nine games this year and is 1-3 with a 4.10 ERA.
But one of the Eagles' most dangerous players is a junior. First baseman Tyler Snyder is batting .337 with a team-high 18 home runs, which is tied for 12th most in Division I this season.
With those kinds of weapons and plenty of experience facing big-time programs, McGuire likes the Eagles' chances this weekend.
"We have played in these environments before. That is why we schedule the Louisvilles, Tennessees, Kansases and many other power teams like we do to prepare for regional-type teams and atmospheres," he said.
Morehead State at Clemson
What: NCAA Tournament opener in double-elimination Clemson Regional
When: 6 p.m.
Live video broadcast: WatchESPN.com