NAIA Super-Regional Weekend

Baseball America’s College Blog allows us to cover the game like never before, and this year we’re experimenting with coverage of the postseason at levels other than Division I.

The NAIA super-regionals kicked off Wednesday night with two of the seven series playing Game One of a best-of-three series. And after taking a glance at all super-regionals, there looks to be plenty of intriguing storylines and matchups on deck for tonight’s games and this weekend.

First off, in an odd twist of fate, one regional pits the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State against Azusa Pacific (Calif.). Normally this type of matchup would be played in next week’s NAIA World Series, but instead these two squads will fight for a berth in the main event. Lewis-Clark State took Game One of the series 14-11 on Wednesday, and is led by one of the top prospects in the nation–third baseman Beau Mills. Mills didn’t waste time making any noise in the series, slugging his 33rd home run of the season in the victory. Azusa Pacific’s own bopper, Scott Hodsdon, will look to lead his team back tonight in Game Two.

In the other game played Wednesday night, Lee (Tenn.) routed St. Thomas (Fla.) 18-5 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Jeremy Hutslar led the Lee attack with five hits in six at-bats and drove in three runs while also crossing home plate four times. St. Thomas will look to get back on track tonight at 6 p.m. in Game Two.

Among the series that will begin today, there are many things to watch for. The East Coast super-regional features the tournament’s lone remaining team with a losing record. The Cinderella story Walsh (Ohio) Cavaliers (26-28) will look to continue their surprising run against Fisher (Mass.) College.

Cumberland (Tenn.) and Union (Ky.) College square off in the tournament’s only rematch in the South Central super-regional. Cumberland took two of three from Union on April 6 and April 7 in a home series. In order to knock off the 2004 NAIA champions, Union will have to shut down the powerful hitting trio of Eric Mull, Clint Alexander and Luis Martinez, who each have more than 10 homers for the year.

Another team faced with a tough task is a St. Ambrose (Iowa) squad taking on Spring Arbor (Mich.). Spring Arbor has beaten three of the 14 teams left in the tournament–Bellevue, Wash and Fisher–and is led by ace Jesse Backman, (11-0, 1.66).

In the Plains super-regional, Northwestern (Iowa) College takes on Bellevue (Neb.) in what looks like an even matchup. Both teams are ranked inside the top 12, and both feature a balanced offense and staff. Bellevue does come into the regional on a 10-game win streak while Northwestern lost its conference tournament and lost a game in its regional.

Lastly, in the Mid-South super-regional, Houston Baptist will try to neutralize a Lindenwood (Mo.) offense led by Travis McConnell and Chris Bielski that features four players with more than 40 RBIs.