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NAIA Opening Round Preview

NAIA Opening Rd Game Preview: Point Park vs. Missouri Baptist, May 9 at 2:30 ET

May 8, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. ET


No. 19 Point Park vs. No. 20 Missouri Baptist -- May 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET (Kingsport Bracket)
ON AIR -- Point Park Sports Network  Watch Live / Live Stats / Bracket


KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- Point Park University is set to begin play in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round on Thursday, May 9 vs. Missouri Baptist. Game time is 2:30 p.m. ET at Hunter Wright Stadium in the first game for both teams in the Kingsport (Tenn.) Bracket of the national tournament.

Point Park (39-14), ranked No. 19 in the NAIA Top 25 Poll, is the No. 2 seed in the five-team regional tournament while Missouri Baptist (31-11) is the No. 3 seed. Double-elimination play continues in the Kingsport Bracket through May 13 with the regional winner advancing to the NAIA World Series May 24-31 in Lewiston, Idaho.

Watch Live on the Point Park Sports Network with coverage beginning at 2:15 p.m. with the pre-game show. Log on to www.iHigh.com/PointParkSportsNetwork for the online, streaming broadcast.

ON POINT PARK (39-14, 14-6 KIAC)
The Pioneers enter the national tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games and 30 of 33 games since March 23. Point Park is back in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round for the second year in a row and is looking to make a return trip to the NAIA World Series. If the Pioneers win the Kingsport Bracket, it will be their second straight trip to the World Series and the 12th in program history.

Point Park has many of the same players still on the roster who played in last year's NAIA World Series -- six of nine position starters and four of their top five starting pitchers. And although Pioneers took a different path this year to the national tournament, they ended up in the same place they were last year at this time -- as a No. 2 seed at a regional site.

So, the Pioneers begin their quest for a return trip to Lewiston, Idaho, with plenty of postseason experience but still a lot to prove. Point Park started the year ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Top 25 preseason poll, but they fell out of the rankings with a 9-11 start to the season. But since then, the Pioneers are 30-3 and are playing their best baseball.

Point Park made a return to the NAIA Top 25 a few weeks ago and checks in at No. 19 in the country as the national tourney begins. The Pioneers bring the best hitting team in the nation to Kingsport with an NAIA-best .344 team batting average. KIAC Player of the Year Jordan Crowell, a sophomore third baseman, leads the country individually at .437.

The Pioneers are also solid on the mound and in the field with a team ERA of 3.40 that ranks 28th in the country and a team fielding percentage of .960 that is 25th in the NAIA.

The Pioneers have eight .300 hitters and two .400 hitters in their lineup led by 3B Jordan Crowell with a national-best .437 average. The leadoff man is RF Don McDuffee, who is hitting .387 with a team-high 75 hits, which is just nine away from tying Point Park's single-season record.

LF Rob Novia hits .400 and lurks at the No. 9 position in the batting order. 2B Tom Birko is hitting .377 and is second on the team with 41 RBIs. 1B Marlon Leyva leads the Pioneers in home runs (6) and RBIs (48) and also hits .321. SS Chaz Russo is the No. 2 hitter in the lineup and comes in with a .359 average and a team-high 10 stolen bases.

On the mound, the Pioneers have senior RHP Sean Clark (6-4), junior RHP Manny Perdomo (6-2) and sophomore LHP Nathan Sphon (4-4) who all have experience starting in the NAIA Opening Round and the NAIA World Series. The deep starting rotation also includes senior LHP Austin Pressly (5-0) and junior LHP Bryan Lopez (4-0) as starters and Josh Brooks (4-0, 0.81 ERA) and Ryan Loutsenhizer (3-0, 0.83 ERA) in the bullpen.

Point Park is in the NAIA national tournament for th 12th time but just the second time since the NAIA Opening Round format was adopted in 2009. The Pioneers have been to 11 NAIA World Series, which is tied for fourth in the nation. The Pioneers went 3-0 in last year's Opening Round with a 3-2 win over No. 24 Taylor (Ind.) and victories of 9-1 and 7-5 over Doane (Neb.). Point Park's World Series appearance last year was its first since 1998, and the Pioneers finished fifth in Lewiston, Idaho, with a 2-2 record there.

Point Park's first-round opponent is Missouri Baptist, the No. 20 team in the country and the No. 3 seed in the Kingsport Bracket. The Spartans are in familiar territory in the national tournament as they are in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time overall and the fourth time in row.

Located in St. Louis, Mo., with an enrollment of 1,192, Missouri Baptist was the regular season champion of the American Midwest Conference at 24-4 AMC. But the Spartans were eliminated in the AMC Tournament after a 1-2 record there and had to rely on an at-large bid to the national tournament by virtue of its No. 20 national ranking.

Pitching is the strength of Missouri Baptist as it ranks seventh in the NAIA with a team ERA of 2.84. The Spartans have two strong performers at the top of the rotation in seniors Ethan Gibbons (10-0, 1.67) and Julien Soucy (4-2, 1.66).

Gibbons, a 5-10, 175-pound righty, is unbeaten in 11 starts and is the likely starter versus Point Park. The transfer from NCAA Division II Central Missouri has struck out 72 and walked 10 in 70.0 innings, and opponents are hitting .233 off of him in this his first year at MBU. Closer Matt Marsh (1-3, 3.38 ERA) has seven saves in 16 appearances with an opponent's batting average of .186.

Missouri Baptist hits a solid .298 as a team and sports six .300 hitters in the starting lineup. C Ryan Gunhouse leads the team with a .366 batting average, six homers and 33 RBIs, but he has not started the last six games. SS Patrick Johnson hits .352 with 18 RBIs from the lead-off spot. Johnson has 19 stolen bases to rank second on the team to Gunhouse with 23. 

2B Pier Olivier-Dostaler hits third in the order at .323 with 30 RBIs. Behind him are a couple of powerful bats in Joseph Taylor (.254, 8 HR, 38 RBIs) and Joe Stropp (.307, 5 HR, 30 RBIs). Ricky Pagan (.325, 1 HR, 27 RBIs) comes next in the lineup. The Spartans have some pop with 29 total home runs and 0.69 homers per game to rank eighth in the country.

The Spartans were in the NAIA Opening Round the last three years with last season being the best showing. MBU started out 2-0 last year, which included a 5-4 upset of No.2-ranked Lee (Tenn.) on the second day to reach the championship round. But Lee, the tournament host, came back to win the next two games to reach the NAIA World Series. Missouri Baptist went 0-2 in the 2011 NAIA Opening Round and 1-2 the year before after opening with a victory.

The Point Park-Missouri Baptist winner will move on to the 2:30 p.m. game on Friday, which is the winner's bracket final. There, they will face the winner of Thursday's night's game between No. 1 seed and defending NAIA World Series champion Tennessee Wesleyan (43-16) and the Taylor-Benedictine winner. No. 4 seed Taylor (34-12) and No. 5 Benedictine (23-23) open the tournament Thursday morning at 11 a.m.

The Point Park-Missouri Baptist loser will play the first game of the day on Friday, which is an elimination game at 11 a.m. A win there would result in another elimination game Friday night at 6 p.m.

No. 1 seed Tennessee Wesleyan has a big hitting team that ranks fourth in the nation in home runs per game and has 44 overall. 1B Jake Stone (.362, 11 HR, 49 RBIs), RF Trey Griffin (.360, 11 RBI, 42 RBIs) and SS Wes Minton (.325, 7 HR, 39 RBIs) are the top three performers in average, home runs and RBIs.

The Bulldogs are 16th in the country with a 3.16 team ERA, and RHP Jarrod Jameson is the top arm at 13-0 in 14 starts with a 2.52 ERA. RHP Corey Rhoney is 9-0 in 14 starts. He has a 2.59 ERA and a team-high 80.0 innings. TWC is ranked No. 8 in the nation and is the champion of the Appalachain Athletic Conference Tournament.

No. 4 seed Taylor (Ind.) brings a 15-game win streak to the national tournament and has a similar string as Point Park with 29 wins in its last 32 games. The Trojans are champions of the Crossroads League Tournament and are in the NAIA Opening Round for the third time in a row and fourth time in five years. Taylor boasts a .315 team batting average to rank 20th in the country, and it is also 22nd in the nation with 0.56 home runs per game (26 overall).

Taylor, which is receiving votes nationally, has LF Danny Moorehead (.365, 6 HR, 32 RBIs) and 1B Jordan Coffey (.329, 8 HR, 34 RBIs) as two of its biggest hitters. Top starting pitchers are RHP Josh Degraaf (8-1, 2.28 ERA) and Ryan Baker (5-4, 2.35 ERA). Baker lost to Point Park, 3-2, in last year's NAIA Opening Round.

No. 5 Benedictine (Ill.) is in the national tournament for the first time and is just a few years removed from being a junior-college program. The Bulldogs made an impressive run to the American Midwest Conference Tournament championship and the automatic national bid. Benedictice went 5-1 there including 4-0 in the loser's bracket.

Benedictine is .500 overall at 23-23 but has won a lot of close games of late, particularly in the AMC Tournament. The Bulldogs don't rank in the top 30 of the NAIA in any category although they hit a solid .293 as a team. Pitching is less off with a team ERA of 5.48, but Jordan Pesko has good numbers at the top of the rotation at 7-2 in 12 starts with a 1.93 ERA. Josh Glick has the next-best ERA on the staff at 4.31 and is 5-2.

Follow the results of the Kingsport Bracket of the NAIA Opening Round via the Live Stats and Bracket link above. The Point Park Sports Network is your home for live streaming of Point Park games during the tournament.

Follow the Pioneers on Twitter @PointParkSports and Facebook.com/PointParkAthletics