May 26, 2016
Dragons out to keep the crown
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland third baseman Steven Figueroa was named MVP at last week’s NCAA New York Regional.
Stay with what works.
That is why for the second consecutive baseball season, SUNY Cortland disdained air flight and arrived at the NCAA Division III World Series in Wisconsin the old fashioned way — via bus.
Though it makes the trip longer, head coach Joe Brown can also take more players on his hefty roster to take part in the program’s 14th World Series appearance. And this bussing plan certainly worked a year ago, when the Red Dragons won all five games played before returning home as national champions for the first time in school history.
The Red Dragons can also stretch their legs whenever needed, like getting in a workout in at Notre Dame in Indiana en route to the World Series.
Starting with Friday’s opening game against Atlanta-based Emory University at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. Central Time) at Fox Cities Stadium in the Wisconsin town of Grand Chute, the Red Dragons are looking to be only the fourth team to repeat as Division III national champions.
Marietta College took titles in 2011 and 2012, but before that no one repeated since the late 1970s when Cal State Stanislaus (1976-77) and Glassboro State (1978-79) were able to double up — Glassboro State known as Rowan these days.
For the second straight year, the World Series features a format that mirrors the Division I College World Series. The tournament consists of two, four-team double-elimination pools. The two bracket winners will then play a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.
Cortland brings a 41-6 overall record into the World Series, while opening opponent Emory is 34-10 overall.
The other teams joining Cortland and Emory in Pool A, Wisconsin-La Crosse (38-8) and Trinity University (39-7) out of Texas, will play Friday at 2:15 p.m. The Cortland-Emory winner and loser will match up with the La Crosse-Trinity winner and loser, respectively, on Saturday.
Bracket play continues Sunday and, if needed, Monday, and the championship series will start on either Monday or Tuesday.
Pool B opening games on Friday have Pennsylvania’s Keystone College (37-9) facing St. John Fisher (38-11) at 5:30 p.m., with Pennsylvania’s La Roche College (41-10) taking on Wisconsin-Whitewater (35-15) in the 8:45 p.m. nightcap.
All four teams in Cortland’s pool played in the World Series last year.
Wisconsin-La Crosse advanced to the championship series before losing twice to Cortland. Trinity and Emory also competed in the same pool as La Crosse, with Trinity going to the final game before falling to the finalists.
Cortland has out-scored opponents 374-184 this season, and relies on a solid trio of starting pitchers headed up by Seth Lamando. A senior right-hander who pitched in the World Series last year in his first season as a Red Dragon after transferring from Division I Coastal Carolina, Lamando is 9-0 with an 0.80 earned run average this season.
Right-handers Tanner Whiteman (8-0, 2.30) and Jeff Cooke (7-1, 2.88) are also expected to get starts, and Turner Parry is the team’s stopper who has five saves and a 5-2 record. Parry has accumulated 56 strikeouts in 36 innings of work.
The Red Dragons have nine players hitting over .300, with outfielder Fabio Ricci at .396 and leadoff hitter Nick Hart at .375 leading the way.
Starting catcher Justin Teague is batting .356, first baseman Austin Clock .353 and third baseman Steve Figueroa — the MVP as the New York State Regioinal held in Auburn last week — .352. Clock and Figueroa have both hit four home runs this season to lead the team, Figueroa also with a team-best 15 doubles.
Senior outfielder Conrad Ziemendorf is hitting .327 with three home runs and 41 RBIs, while shortstop Paul Dondero is at .309 with three home runs.
Cortland High product Connor Griffin is also a starting second baseman for the Red Dragons who will conclude his collegiate career at the World Series, as the senior enters the tournament batting .298 with 26 runs scored.
Cortland’s 14 World Series appearances are the most by any school since Division III first adopted an eight-team field in 1991. In addition to their 2015 national title and second-place finishes in 2005 and 2010, the Red Dragons also finished third in both 1997 and 1998, fourth in 2007 and 2012, and tied for fifth in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2014.
After wining the SUNY Athletic Conference, coming up with a late-season, three-game sweep at Oswego to move into the top spot before going on to win the playoffs with three consecutive victories, the Red Dragons hosted the NCAA Regionals last week in Auburn.
Corltand opened with wins over Castleton, Frostburg State and Ramapo — the latter foes both 2015 World Series participants. Cortland lost to Susquehanna 8-6 in the opening game of the championship round to end a 19-game unbeaten streak, but edged the Crusaders from Pennsylvania 10-9 in the winner-take-all title game that followed at Auburn’s Falcon Park.
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