Coming off of a very successful showing in last year’s Northern Athletics Conference tournament and having mostly everyone from that team returning, one would think that this team would be picked to finish at the top of the conference.
However, that’s not life in the NAC, as the conference’s pre-season coaches poll has the Eagles picked to finish in third place.
“It really tells you the strength of our conference,” said Ostrowski on his team’s pre-season ranking. “Of all of the NAC sports, I think baseball is the strongest.”
Supporting Ostrowski’s claim is Division III baseball’s own website, as in their pre-season projections, they have Benedictine’s NAC rival, Aurora, picked to make it all the way to the Division III College World Series.
“Aurora returns a lot of experience,” Ostrowski pointed out. “They return their two best pitchers, some unbelievable hitting, and a strong recruiting class and transfers. I could see why D-III baseball thinks they are loaded.”
While Aurora also finished first in the pre-season poll and won the conference last season, Concordia-Chicago was a close second. The Cougars had the best record in the regular season last year and also return many key players. However, despite having a 30 win season in 2011, the CUC was not picked as an at-large for the 2011 NCAA tournament.
“I don’t think people realize the quality and the strength of our conference,” explained Ostrowski. “We’ve got a couple of teams at the low end of the conference that kind of drag down our quality numbers and strength of conference.”
How can the Eagles stand out in a tough, but possibly underrated conference? A nice way for BenU to pick up some quality non-conference victories will come on their Florida trip over spring break, where BenU will face some of the top teams in Division III baseball, such as Webster (MO), UW Stevens Point and UW Whitewater, St. Thomas (MN), and Hope (MI).
“We have almost a Midwest Regional type of schedule down there,” Ostrowski said of the spring trip. “I think to be a good team, you have to play good competition where you have good, tight games where the little things come down to winning or losing.”
An interesting twist to the NAC this season will be the new playoff format, as the number of teams has been increased from six to four. The change puts a much larger emphasis on finishing with the best record during the regular season, as that team will earn a first-round bye in the new playoff format.
Ostrowski feels that with the added games in a six team double elimination tournament, starting pitching become much more important.
“Certainly a six team conference tournament is going to put an emphasis on depth of starting pitching,” Ostrowski said. “The team with the best starting pitching is going to win that tournament.”