Dallas Baptist is on the verge of taking another step toward coach Dan Heefner’s goal of making the Patriots an elite college baseball program.
The Patriots (39-9) are on a 10-game win streak and are ranked as high as No. 9 in this week’s polls. They are headed for their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
The difference is the Patriots, No. 1 in the RPI seven of the last eight weeks, are on track to open the tournament at home and earn one of the eight national seeds for the first time. A No. 1 RPI team has never been denied a national seed since the tournament went to its current format in 1999.
“Since we’ve been in a number of regionals, our goals have kind of changed,” Heefner said. “After winning one and going to a super regional (in 2011), you start thinking in terms of, ‘What does it take?’ We feel like this is a team that has the type of depth and versatility to win in a regional and then the super regional.”
Baseball is the only Division I sport at the 5,000-student Dallas Baptist, and the Patriots benefit from being in talent-rich Texas and NCAA rules that have increased parity. The baseball scholarship limit has been 11.7 since 1991. But beginning in 2009, those scholarships could be divided among no more than 27 players, with each receiving at least 25 percent of a full ride.
Now traditional powers can’t horde all the top players, and a lot of talent has ended up at mid-majors like Dallas Baptist.
The Patriots’ strength is pitching. Left-hander Sean Stutzman (6-0) has been splendid since joining the weekend rotation after Trevor Conn went out for Tommy John surgery in early April. The bullpen features Drew Smith, whose fastball has touched 99 mph; Chance Adams, who regularly throws in the mid-90s; and closer Brandon Koch, who has 13 saves.
Four seniors and three juniors are in the everyday lineup. Right fielder Tagg Duce and second baseman Drew Turbin are each hitting .351 to lead a team that averages 7.4 runs a game.
Dallas Baptist has maintained its No. 1 RPI because of the strength of the Missouri Valley. Conference leader Missouri State is No. 10 in the RPI and Bradley is No. 23. The Patriots also won a nonconference series over No. 85 San Diego, swept four games from No. 32 Oral Roberts and own a combined 4-3 record against the Big 12’s Baylor, Texas A&M, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Heefner said his players still carry an underdog mentality.
“I think that’s something we’ve really thrived on as a program, and it’s not something we talk a lot about,” he said. “I think any time your program is built on developing players, work ethic and toughness, your guys are going to go out and play with a little bit of a chip and just want to prove they really do belong at the highest level of college baseball.”
A look around the country:
POLL WATCH: LSU swept three games from Missouri and remains the consensus No. 1 team in the country. The Tigers (43-8, 19-6 SEC) are at New Orleans on Tuesday and close the regular season this weekend at South Carolina.
ILLINI STREAK CONTINUES: Illinois (43-6-1, 19-1 Big Ten) swept Rutgers to extend its win streak to 24 games. The Illini had their biggest offensive performance since 2000 in Sunday’s 28-13 win. They collected 26 hits and broke open the game with an 11-run eighth inning.
BRUINS BREAK OPEN PAC-12: UCLA won two of three at Arizona State to open a three-game lead in the Pac-12 with conference series remaining against Arizona and Oregon. The Bruins (36-12, 18-6) won Saturday’s game 11-5 in 17 innings after trailing by four runs in the eighth.
TCU CLOSING IN: TCU (39-9, 15-5) is edging closer to its first Big 12 baseball title. The Horned Frogs have won eight straight conference games and hold a two-game lead over Oklahoma State heading into their final series at Oklahoma. Preston Morrison (11-2, 1.87 ERA) and Alex Young (9-2, 1.46 ERA) lead a pitching staff that has held opponents to one or fewer runs 21 times.
CAREER RECORD TIED: William & Mary’s Jason Inghram pitched a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts and no walks in a 3-1 win over Northeastern on Friday. He tied the school record with his 25th career win, a rare bright spot during a senior season in which the left-hander has gone 3-7 with a 5.63 ERA.