For Cleary University, it’s one last go-round for a national title.
The Cougars begin play in the USCAA’s baseball and softball national tournaments today in DuBois, Pa., their final season of play in that association before moving full-time to the NAIA next year.
“It would be awesome,” Cleary softball coach Tim Bailey said. “Last year, Cleary won the Director’s Cup, where we had the most athletic wins of any team in the country. (Athletic director Ward Mullens) told me that with both baseball and softball going we’ll walk away with the Director’s Cup again. It would be a nice way to (enter) the NAIA.”
The Cougars softball team has a better shot at leaving with a title. Cleary has been ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll all season long and earned the No. 1 seed in this week’s tournament.
Cleary (26-14) will play the winner of the game between the Nos. 8-9 seeds, who play this morning, in an evening matchup.
“They’ll probably burn their better pitchers in the game,” Bailey said of the matchup between Penn State-Schuykill and Robert Morris-Springfield. “We’re in good shape to move on to the next day.”
Then again, the Cougars, due to the weather, haven’t played in two weeks.
“The key for us is we need to score early (tonight),” Bailey said. “If we get runs in the first couple of innings, we’ll get the nerves settled down and get into a roll. I think we’ll do just fine.”
Bailey has reason not to worry. His team has two of the top three home-run hitters in the USCAA in Jordan Schneider (11) and Kaitlin Dormire (nine), an ace in pitcher Riley Thompson (13-3 record, 1.99 ERA), a leadoff hitter in Sarah Hall who’s batting over .400 with 36 stolen bases, and an air-tight defense.
The baseball team, meanwhile, has a tougher road in a ballpark that was a perplexing choice.
Cleary (20-26) is starting to find a groove hitting, but its pitching has struggled this season.
That means Showers Field, where the games will be played, will be an X factor unlike most in the country.
The facility is 315 feet down the lines, 360 to left center, 340 to right center and just 333 to dead center field.
“We’re not sure if it’s going to play to how we’re hitting the ball or how we’re pitching the ball,” Cleary coach Karl Kling joked. “We could have softball socores. We’re not sure. It could easily be one where we win four games or go 0-2 and be coming home on Tuesday.
“You look at teams’ strengths and weaknesses,” he continued, “and with that (center field), anyone could be a power guy. That could change the whole dynamic.”
Both tournaments are double-elimination, with champions crowned on Thursday.