EUNICE — Now that the demonstrative opening statements have been issued, the top two teams in Division II junior college baseball have an opportunity Friday night to determine who’s better.
Second-ranked LSU-Eunice and No. 1 Hinds Community College each opened the Region 23 Tournament at Bengals Stadium with resounding victories Thursday.
After Hinds (42-5) demolished East Mississippi Community College 12-1 in the afternoon tournament opener, LSUE (42-9) delivered a similar performance with a five-inning, 12-0 victory over Northwest Mississippi Community College.
LSUE and Hinds play in the 7 p.m. game.
EMCC and NWCC play in Friday’s opening game at 3 p.m. The loser of that contest will be eliminated.
The tournament champion will advance to the Division II NJCAA World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, May 23-30.
LSUE pitcher and TCU signee Mitch Sewald threw only 26 pitches, allowed a single and went only three innings against NWCC.
Sewald received sufficient offensive support, as the Bengals recorded 10 hits against three Raiders’ pitchers.
The Bengals relieved with Evan Kissinger in the fourth and Erin Baldwin in the fifth.
Sewald said LSUE’s 6-0 lead after the second was a motivational factor.
“When your hitters (score) 12 runs in only five innings, it’s always going to make a pitcher’s job easier,” Sewald said.
Although Sewald said he tried to keep the game in perspective, the tournament atmosphere stirred his adrenaline more than usual.
“You want to treat it as a regular game, but it was a regional game and I guess I was a little more ready for this game,” Sewald said.
Sewald said he opened the game throwing mainly fastballs.
“When I got into their order a second time, I started mixing things more,” Sewald said.
LSUE baseball coach Jeff Willis said his team is approaching Friday night’s matchup with Hinds not much differently than any other game.
“For our guys, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re going to be playing whoever is in the other dugout. I do like it that our team seems to be playing with a lot of confidence.”
Willis said Sewald’s brief appearance in the first game of the tournament was significant.
“To get your No. 1 (pitcher) out of the game on what was basically a bullpen outing is big,” Willis said. “(Sewald) is a key piece of the puzzle and to get that type of performance from him is going to be important.”
Bengals right fielder Madison Nickens, who played at St. Amant, finished with three singles and a pair of runs.
First baseman Steve Sensley had a single and an opposite field, two-run homer over the left-field fence in the second.
It was the 18th homer of the year for Sensley, a former University High standout and UL-Lafayette signee.
The three NWCC pitchers, including starter Colin Liles, threw primarily off-speed pitches and walked five batters.
Sensley scored the first Bengals run in the first after he singled, stole second and scored on another base hit by second baseman Will Watson.
The Bengals scored five runs in the second off four hits.
Three were scored with two outs, as shortstop Brennan Bozeman singled, Cade Stone doubles and then Sensley followed with the homer.
In the third LSUE collected three more runs.
During that inning, the Raiders’ pitchers issued three walks, hit a batter and allowed three hits.