The NCAA Division III Baseball World Series makes its debut in Cedar Rapids this week after a long stint in Appleton, Wis.
Eight of the nation’s top programs will take the field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, including seven ranked teams from Boston to Orange County, Calif.
Competition begins Friday at 10 a.m. and will culminate in a best-of-3 championship series.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Hero or Heel?
Birmingham-Southern College already played spoiler, preventing Coe College from reaching its first World Series in its hometown. The Panthers, ranked 15th in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association/D3baseball.com poll, swept the super regional at home against the Kohawks.
BSC overcame a 4-1 deficit to force extra innings and down Coe, 6-4, in the opener. The Panthers rolled to an 11-2 victory to clinch the World Series berth. They can either fill Coe’s spot as crowd favorite or be the easy heel for knocking out the last local team.
BSC is making its D-III World Series debut, along with Babson (Mass.) College. The Panthers have been a D-III program for about nine seasons, after a four-year transition period when the school decided to drop from the D-I level in 2006. Before applying to be a D-I school in 1999, BSC spent 46 seasons competing at the NAIA level, winning a national title.
The Panthers (39-13) open against unranked Heidelberg (35-13) Friday, starting at 7:45 p.m.
2. Road Warriors, Part I
Washington & Jefferson (Pa.) College and Webster (Mo.) are the only qualifiers that did not play a home game during regional and super regional competition.
W&J swept its way through a regional at No. 12 Salisbury (Md.) University and swept super regional host Misericordia (Pa.) University for a second World Series appearance in three seasons. The Presidents are 16-2 in their last 18 road games.
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W&J was the 2017 D-III runner-up, setting a school record with 42 victories. They are 37-11, which ranks second for victories in a season, winning eight straight and going 34-4 in the last 38 games.
The Presidents will have a tough challenge with sixth-ranked Chapman (Calif.) University (38-11).
3. Road Warriors, Part II
Webster, ranked 18th, produced the biggest upset of the super regionals, knocking off No. 2 Concordia-Chicago in two straight for a fourth trip to the D-III World Series. The Gorloks went 3-1 in a regional title run at No. 12 Wisconsin-Whitewater, beating North Central (Ill.) in the finals.
Webster (37-11) has won only two games in its first three World Series trips, but faces UMass-Boston (35-12). The Gorloks beat Boston, 6-4, at a neutral site earlier in the season and a win will match a program record for wins in a season set last year.
Webster’s pitching staff will be interesting to watch, boasting the best team earned-run average in the field. The Gorloks ranked second in the nation with a 2.86 team ERA.
Interestingly, a Gorlok is a made-up creature concocted by a campus committee when the school’s first sports program was created in 1984. The name was created by meshing nearby intersecting Gore and Lockwood avenues. The mascot is said to have paws of a cheetah, horns of a buffalo and face of a Saint Bernhard.
According to the school website, a Gorlok “embodies the highest standards of speed, agility and stamina in an atmosphere of fairness and good conduct.”
4. Batting Blue Jays
Johns Hopkins University’s offense is one of the most potent in D-III baseball and the numbers are impressive. The Blue Jays (35-11) have hit 80 home runs in 46 games and average more than nine runs per contest, outscoring foes, 420-230. Four Blue Jays have double-digit home runs this season. Nate Davis leads the way with 16. Davis is one homer away from tying the program’s single-season record set by John Christ in 1998.
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Chris Festa and Chris DeGiacomo have 13 and 12 home runs, respectively. Tim Kutcher has belted 10.
The Blue Jays also boast the nation’s wins leader in Jack Bunting. He is 13-0 with a 2.20 ERA.
JHU is making its fourth World Series trip, all under head coach Bob Babb, who is in his 40th year as head coach. Babb, a 1977 graduate of JHU, is 1,143-416-15. According to d3baseball.com, Babb ranks second in wins among active coaches, trailing only Tom Austin of Methodist (N.C.) University.
5. More than a game for Chapman
Chapman has a strong baseball tradition, making its 15th World Series appearance after moving to NCAA D-III in 1995, but the first since 2011. The Panthers won the national title in 2003.
Don’t be surprised to see the players displaying a pair of jerseys in their dugout. According to Chapman, one jersey is in honor of teammate Miguel Cebedo, who suffered a season-ending injury two weeks before the postseason. The other is a tribute to the late Carter Anthony, who was introduced to the team in 2016 through Team Impact, an organization that matches children with life-threatening injuries with college teams in their area.
Anthony battled leukemia since he was 5 years old and died in the fall of 2017. The Panthers still honor his memory.
NCAA D-III World Series: Friday’s games
10 a.m. — No. 6 Chapman (38-11) vs. Washington & Jefferson (37-11)
1:15 p.m. — No. 18 Webster (37-11) vs. No. 23 UMass-Boston (35-12)
4:30 p.m. — No. 7 Babson (38-8) vs. No. 22 Johns Hopkins (35-11)
7:45 p.m. — No. 15 Birmingham-Southern (39-13) vs. Heidelberg (35-13)
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