Griz Baseball Punch Ticket to No-Pac Regional
Many of them have been there before, but this time, just being there isn’t good enough.
The University of Montana baseball squad clinched its second Northern Pacific North Division title in three years last weekend by taking two out of three games from league opponent Boise State, punching their ticket to the No-Pac regional tournament in La Grande, Ore. May 10.
The Grizzlies’ last regional appearance was in 2011, when they lost in two games. Last year, they were eliminated from playoff contention on the last series of the regular season.
UM skipper Ryan Sharkey said he thinks the disappointing ends to the last two seasons will help serve as fuel for his team heading into the postseason.
“The biggest difference between this year’s team and the 2011 team is drive,” Sharkey said. “That team made history because we had never been to Regionals since we joined the (National Club Baseball Association), but there was a giant sense of satisfaction just getting there. About 40 percent of these guys have been there and lost now, so we won’t be satisfied heading in and are concentrating on keeping our foot on the gas.”
The Griz (16-3, 11-1 conf.) have been on a tear since going 2-2 in the season-opening tournament in Mesquite, Nev., winning 14 of their last 15 and have only dropped one league contest all year.
Last weekend against Boise, UM had a 13-game win streak snapped in a 15-5 loss but managed to take the majority in the three-game series to assure them a spot at regionals. Senior captain Ramzi Bitar said the Boise series was a great indicator of the squad’s attitude.
“Boise was a big test for us because we had a few games where we were down early but it didn’t rattle us,” Bitar said. “One of our goals this season was to have a short-term memory, which we’ve been able to maintain all season and it showed against (the Broncos).”
Sharkey was pleased with his team’s ability to close out the regular season strong.
“Boise State was the best hitting team that we’ve faced in our conference all season, so it was a hard-fought weekend,” Sharkey said. “With the exception of one bad inning (in the game two loss) we played pretty flawless all around.”
The Griz were led offensively by infielder Brad Bell, who had two home runs in the opening game, and Tyler Campbell who went 3 for 4 at the plate with two RBIs in the game two loss. Michael Albert and Eric Ostrowski picked up wins on the mound for UM.
Only two No-Pac teams, UM and Idaho State, have yet to clinch berths into the four-team regional tournament, as the winner of the No-Pac West and the wild-card team have yet to be determined. However, the Griz beat Idaho State 3-2 in the Mesquite tourney, so they are familiar with at least one opponent.
Sharkey said although early-season matchups tend to be an unreliable indicator for postseason play, he expects another close game from the Bengals if they end up facing them.
“Early spring games are tough to gauge because the pitching is usually way ahead of the hitters at the beginning of the season,” Sharkey said. “But from looking at stats, Idaho State is a lot like us. They have a couple of guys that are top five in the country in batting average and (UM infielder) Will Cote is in that category for us. Also, we’ve both got four or five guys who can start (on the mound) as well.”
The four-team tournament in La Grande is double elimination, with the top two seeds receiving byes in the first round. UM will likely be a top seed but they won’t know until after this weekend. The winner will need to win three games to take the No-Pac title. The tourney kicks off Friday, May 10.