LEWISTON, Idaho - If experience counts, the Lee University baseball team will be in the championship hunt when play gets underway in the NAIA World Series on Friday. Seeded No. 2, the Flames will be able to sit back and watch as College of Idaho and Point Park (Pa.) tangle for the right to face coach Mark Brew's club on Saturday at 6 p.m. (EDT).
Brew will be taking his sixth straight team to Harris Field and after a couple of second place finishes and bowing out in the third spot last year, several think the Flames will seriously challenge for the top spot this time around.
However, top seed LSU-Shreveport and No. 3 Oklahoma City will likely have a say who wears the crown after a week of action in the double-elimination tourney.
"I'm excited about this year's field," said Brew after Thursday's practice round and the annual banquet. "It will be another rugged list of opponents that includes some familiar faces and some teams that are new to the Lewiston experience. It should be an incredible week of baseball."
College of Idaho brings a 41-19 record into the tournament and Point Park stands at an impressive 51-9. "We are limited on our information on both of our potential first-game opponents," noted Brew. "All I know is they both will be a great test and we will have to play well to win. They seem to be different types of teams statistically speaking. College of Idaho has a very up-tempo and potential type of offense, while Point Park appears to be very solid on the mound, with some depth."
The staff views the first round bye as a positive. "Some would say 3-5 seed (Oklahoma City, Lewis-Clark) have a slightly higher advantage since the winner of that game gets two days off. However, I think being able to see our opponent before we play them is a bonus and the fact they don't get to see us helps even more. It really doesn't matter at this point in time since you have to be able to beat everyone they send your way to get to the end of the week."
The Flames, 54-9-1, are coming off their toughest test ever in the Opening Round of the NAIA National Tournament. After suffering the first defeat in the event staged at Olympic Field, Lee battled back to eliminate a very good Missouri Baptist club. "Overall, we are healthy," said Brew. "Edmanuel (Rivera) seems to be past his finger injury and has looked solid in all workouts. I really like how the team has practiced and have been focused during the week. They seem to be anxious to get the tournament started."
Brew and his staff have not made a lot of changes in their overall approach to the tournament. "We will do a lot of the same routine things that have helped us with success in the past. However, at the same time, we are trying to add some new things so the players that have been here before continue to enjoy the experience."
The Lee coach praised the club's guest host, Brad Cannon. "Brad has done a great job of hosting us over the past four years and we are very fortunate to get him again this year. He has a great day planned for the team and family members on Sunday."
Game 1- No. 7 Point Park vs No. 10 College of Idaho
Game 2- No. 8 South Carolina-Beaufort vs No. 9 Rogers State (Okla.)
Game 3- No. 5 Embry-Riddle vs No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan
Game 4- No. 6 Lewis-Clark State vs No. 3 Oklahoma City