You’d think the regular season had conclusively proved that Delgado Community College was the class of the Miss-Lou Conference, and that should have already earned a berth in the South Central District Championship baseball tournament.
After all, coach Joe Scheuermann’s Dolphins are 37-10 overall and ranked third nationally in the latest NJCAA poll. Meanwhile, the other members of the Miss-Lou, Meridian CC and Baton Rouge CC, have sported relatively pedestrain records (Meridian is 25-24; BRCC is 18-36).
But the postseason wipes everything clean. That means the Dolphins will have to do it once more against the same two familiar foes in the double-elimination Region XXIII tournament, which begins Friday and is scheduled to run through Sunday. Whichever team survives will advance to the South Central Championship May 16-18 at a site to be determined.
Friday’s tripleheader at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium begins with Meridian vs. BRCC at noon, followed by BRCC-Delgado at 3:30 and Meridian-Delgado at 7. Scheuermann will send sophomore left-hander Chase Hymel (7-0, 2.55 ERA) to the mound against BRCC, but is holding off on naming his starting pitcher for the nightcap.
“I think the good comes with the bad,” Scheuermann said of the necessity of again beating the same teams Delgado beat during the regular season. “The good is that we’re playing at home as the No. 1 seed. Our kids are aware that every time Baton Rouge and Meridian play us, they’re going to step their game up, so we have to step our game up. Everybody knows what’s on the line.”
Scheuermann is right about one thing: Despite their comparatively pedestrian records, Meridian and BRCC have demonstrated that, on any given day, they can hang with the statistically superior Dolphins. Meridian was 1-4 against Delgado this year, but the Eagles and Dolphins have forged one of the more competitive junior college baseball rivalries over the past quarter-century. And BRCC, with its small-ball approach in stark contrast to Delgado’s big-bang capabilities, was 3-3 against the host team, despite being outscored in those games by a 41-28 margin.
“Baton Rouge and Meridian will come in sky-high, but that’s tournament play,” said Scheuermann, who has to take comfort in the knowledge that Delgado is 25-1 in Kirsch-Rooney Stadium this season. “It’s that time of the year. It’s everybody’s second chance. I look on it as more of a challenge than a problem. Yeah, we have to play the same people over and over again, but we knew that in January when the schedule was made. We could have been in their shoes as much as they could have been in ours.”
On paper, Delgado appears to have every conceivable edge. The Dolphins come in with a .332 team batting average on the season to .251 for its opponents. Five Delgado starting position players hitting .323 or higher, led by first baseman Bryce Adams’ .400 mark and left fielder Josh Watkins’ .394. And if the wind is blowing out, as is often the case at Kirsch-Rooney, the big bats in the middle of the Delgado batting order pose even more of a threat.
“The long ball does help sometimes,” said sophomore catcher Chris Eades, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who leads the team with eight homers and is tied with right fielder Cody Ducote for the lead in RBIs with 48. “But we just have a real good hitting team, one through nine. You can’t try to hit home runs. Like coach says, just put the barrel of the bat on the ball and it’ll go. We got some guys on the team strong enough to get it out.”
Meridian coach Dillon Suddath understands that he and BRCC coach L.J. Dupuy are facing an uphill battle, but he’s cautiously optimistic.
“You’ve still got to win it on the field,” he said. “I think we’ve all demonstrated the ability to beat each other, and our kids have been playing pretty good ball as of late. We like our chances going down there. We’re going to give it our best shot. It should be a fun and exciting weekend.”
It’ll be a historic weekend as well. Meridian is leaving the Miss-Lou Conference after this tournament wraps up to return to membership in the Mississippi Junior College Athletic Association, reducing Region XXIII to just Delgado and BRCC in 2015. Those schools will play a best-of-seven series over two weekends next year. After that, Delgado probably will be looking for another conference affiliation.