Express back in NCAA tourney

MARIETTA — After a one-year hiatus, the Etta Express is back in the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament and will do battle in the Mideast Regional being played May 17-21 at Nicolay Field on the campus of Adrian College.

Winners of the eight regional tournaments will advance to the NCAA Division III Championship at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin, Friday-Wednesday, May 25-30.

Marietta is making its Division III record 42nd NCAA Tournament appearance. The Pioneers have won 22 regional titles and advanced to the National Championship game 13 times, winning six national titles, all tops in Division III. Marietta claimed National Championships in 1981, 1983, 1986, 2006, 2011 and 2012.

This is the Pioneers’ first trip to the Mideast Regional since 2015. Marietta was sent to the South Regional in 2015 and 2016.

Marietta is the No. 4 seed in the Mideast Regional and enters the tournament with a 27-16 overall record. The Pioneers, with the nation’s highest strength of schedule, received one of only 16 at-large bids into the 58-team field.

The College of Wooster (36-8) is the top seed in the Mideast, followed by Otterbein University (30-14), La Roche College (34-8-1), Marietta, Shenandoah University (34-10), Ithaca College (28-15), Adrian (33-10) and Wabash College (28-15).

The Etta Express opens tournament play at 10 a.m. on Thursday (May 17) against Shenandoah. The Hornets went 3-0 to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Other Thursday first round matchups include Wooster taking on Wabash at 1:15 p.m. in a rematch of the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship won by Wabash. La Roche, winners of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament, faces Empire 8 Conference Tournament champion Ithaca at 4:30 p.m. Otterbein, owners of an at-large bid, plays Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament winner and Regional host Adrian at 7:45 p.m.

Marietta has played four of the Mideast Regional teams this spring. The Pioneers are 0-1 against Wooster, 1-0 versus Adrian and 1-2 against La Roche and Otterbein this season.

The Etta Express and Shenandoah have played once previously with the Hornets defeating Marietta 3-2 in the first round of the South Regional in 2016. The Pioneers are 36-22 all-time against Wooster, 94-46-1 against Otterbein, 18-9 against La Roche, 6-2 against Adrian, 1-1 against Wabash and 6-7 against Ithaca.

The Pioneers are expected to start senior right-hander David Stover on the mound against Shenandoah. Stover, the Ohio Athletic Conference Kent Tekulve Pitcher of the Year, is 10-3 with a 3.51 earned average. He has walked just five batters in 74.1 innings of work.

Marietta’s probable starters will include sophomore catcher Brady Cottom, junior first baseman Mike Hale, sophomore second baseman Geoff Snyder, senior shortstop Chris Petrucci, freshman third baseman Damian Yenzi, freshman Trent Castle in right field, sophomore Seamus Kenneally in center field and either senior Michael Barnabei or sophomore Zack Ward in left field. Senior Shane Fetsko will most likely get the start at designated hitter.

Snyder is Marietta’s leading hitter with a .363 batting average from the leadoff spot in the order. Petrucci is batting .305 and leads the Pioneers with 22 stolen bases. Hale is batting .322 and lead the team with 20 doubles, six home runs and 43 runs batted in.

Shenandoah will most likely send senior Colin Morse to the mound in game one. The right-handed Morse, a second team All-ODAC pick, is 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 starts this spring. He has struck out 82 hitters in 75.2 innings of work.

Defensively, the Hornets’ probable starters include senior catcher Chase Smallwood, junior first baseman Luke Nussman, junior second baseman Tristan Baker, junior shortstop Robert Marcelle, senior third baseman Christian Rice, senior left fielder Nick Goode, freshman center fielder Henry Delavergne and sophomore Grant Thompson in right field. Sophomore Keegan Woolford is the usual designated hitter.

Smallwood, a second team All-OAC selection, leads the team and the ODAC in hitting with a .406 batting average. Woolford earned first team all-conference honors after leading the ODAC with 65 RBI and was second in the league with 10 home runs. Marcelle was named second team All-ODAC after hitting .383 and stealing 20 bases.

Thompson, the Hornet leadoff hitter, was a first team all-conference honoree. He enters the tournament with a .366 batting average, 13 doubles and 37 RBI. If Shenandoah gets to the late innings with a lead, look for senior closer Michael Bugonowicz to take the mound. Bugonowicz led the ODAC with seven saves to go along with a 5-2 record and 2.18 ERA.