The Road to Cary started with 266 NCAA Division II teams hoping to travel the distance to Division II’s version of the better-known Division I College World Series in Omaha.
But once the eight Division II regional champions arrived last week for the double-elimination tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the shorter but rockier road to navigate has been to Saturday’s championship game.
Millersville (53-5) and Nova Southeastern (42-16) both won games Thursday to remain unbeaten at 3-0 and set up what has turned out to be a best-of-three series over two days. The first game is at 3 p.m. Friday at the USA complex. The teams will return Saturday to play at 3 p.m. and a third game if necessary at 7 p.m.
“We’re at the pinnacle,” Nova Southeastern Coach Greg Brown said. “We’re either going to have a fantastic Saturday or a heartbreaking Saturday.”
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The Sharks, the South Region champion from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., advanced with a 4-1 win that eliminated West champion Cal Poly Pomona (42-19) in the day’s first game.
Millersville, the Atlantic champion from a town it is named for near Lancaster, Pa., followed with a 4-2 victory to send Southeast winner Lander (44-16) home to Greenwood, S.C.
This time a year ago, the Sharks coach said he watched the live streaming of the tournament on NCAA.com and dreamed about his team playing here for the first time in school history.
“From perspective of the Division II student-athlete and coach, this is the ultimate destination,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine a better setting to play. I love the brand of baseball you’re forced to play here; execution matters. There aren’t a lot of home runs here.
“We set a school record with home runs, but we still have to ability to play other parts of the game. That’s what I enjoy about this team. Last year, we were a home run team with faults.”
Sharks freshman backup catcher Jake Anchia hit the team’s second home run of the tournament and 82nd of the year for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth. His 375-foot blast to left-center field landed one hop shy of the hedge above the grassy knoll.
It was one of only six home runs through 12 tournament games, but Anchia is more than a backup player. He’s hitting .338 with eight home runs in 62 at bats while learning behind Michael Hernandez, the junior team captain. Anchia was pressed into action Tuesday when Hernandez was injured.
Millersville is the nation’s top-ranked team by NCBWA and has won 18 of its last 19 contests. Nova Southeastern is ranked No. 17, having won 31 of 37 since an 11-10 start.
Millersville rallied from a 2-0 deficit, scoring three runs in the fifth and one more in the sixth. Right fielder Chas McCormick was 3-of-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. First baseman Dan Stoltzfus was 1-of-3 with an RBI.
Freshman pitcher Cordell Shannon (9-1), the No. 3 starter who turned down Division I opportunities, yielded only two hits over 6 2/3 innings.
Both teams will have fresh pitching staffs if the series lasts three games.