The Marietta College baseball program always sets specific goals going in to the springtime.
The first of those goals is to win the Ohio Athletic Conference in the regular season, something the Pioneers have accomplished each of the past four years, including this year.
Their reward? Getting to host the all-important OAC Tournament. The winner of the OAC tourney, of course, gets an automatic bid to the regional tournament where a trip to the NCAA Division III World Series is at stake. The fact that the Pioneers get to play such a high-stakes tournament at the friendly confines of Don Schaly Stadium again this season should stack the odds in their favor.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Marietta College aces’ Christian Herstine and Jason Byers warm up in the bullpen at a practice session at Don Schaly Stadium Tuesday.
"We get to sleep in our beds, play on our field and play in front of our fans... that's a big-time advantage for us," said Marietta College head coach Brian Brewer. He added, however, that "it's gonna come down to us playing better baseball."
That's exactly what Marietta did for the better part of the regular season, finishing ahead of fellow OAC Tournament contenders Heidelberg, John Carroll and Baldwin Wallace in the standings.
That can all be thrown out the window, though, as the tournament means the beginning to a brand new season.
The top-seeded Pioneers (28-12 overall) open up OAC Tournament play Thursday at 1 p.m. against No. 4 Baldwin Wallace (22-16). Sophomore right-hander Christian Herstine is Marietta's probable starter on the mound.
Following that game will be No. 2 Heidelberg (31-9) against No. 3 John Carroll (21-14) at 4 p.m. Three games will be played Friday, weather permitting, with times yet to be determined. The winners of Thursday's games will play each other Friday as will the losers.
The final game on Friday will pit the winner of the loser's bracket against the team that loses in the winner's bracket. The winner of that game would then have to beat the remaining undefeated team twice on Saturday to become the champion.
Brewer, who had kind words for all three incoming teams, expects this year's tournament to be as competitive as ever.
Heidelberg, despite missing last year's conference tournament, is a team that has had a lot of success in recent history, including hosting and winning the 2010 OAC Tournament.
"We all are familiar with what they've accomplished the last 10 years," Brewer said.
"They've got a group of seniors that have played in some big games. They're a well-balanced team."
Brewer said John Carroll is a "team that's got really good arms at the top of their rotation. And they've got some guys who can swing it."
He called Baldwin Wallace the "club I think has the most talent in the (OAC Tournament) field. They've got talented kids. They're athletic. They can swing it. There's not a whole of four seeds in conference tournaments as talented as Baldwin Wallace."
Overall, Brewer believes all four teams in the tournament are "regional caliber."
For the Pios to come out on top and advance to the regional, they'll have to "just do what we've been doing all year, just at a little better clip," Brewer said.
"We've been playing well of late. The key is to continue that trend."