FAIRFIELD -- When it comes to playing collegiate baseball in June, there are no bad destinations.
For the second straight season the Sacred Heart Pioneers are headed south for the NCAA Regionals where they will open play against top-seed North Carolina State Friday night (7 p.m.) at Doak Field at Dail Park in Raleigh, N.C. No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 University of North Carolina-Wilmington are also in the field.
"The guys are all excited and we're looking forward to it," said SHU coach Nick Giaquinto on Monday afternoon at the Pitt Center while watching ESPN's NCAA Tournament selection show. "You are sitting around waiting and you have no idea where you are going to go. We looked at all the regions and we had a pretty good idea they would be keeping us on the East Coast. ... It's not a surprise."
The Wolfpack (39-17) are the second straight Atlantic Coast Conference site for the Pioneers (25-30), who went to Clemson, S.C., last season and lost to the host Tigers and UConn in the double-elimination regional. SHU also made the 2006 tournament, but was defeated by the host Georgia Bulldogs and Jacksonville.
Northeast Conference teams have not had much success once they have advanced to the NCAAs.
"No team in the NEC has ever won a game in the regional -- it would be pretty cool to come out with one," said SHU junior shortstop John Murphy, who won a state title at Seymour in 2007. "It would be awesome."
The Pioneers, who along with Creighton are the only teams with losing records in the 64-team field, carry some momentum in with an 11-4 record over the last four weekends. Included in that stretch is a three-game sweep in the NEC at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. Once again Shepaug Valley graduate Troy Scribner, Nick Leiningen and Waterbury native Kody Kerski went the distance in their outings to help SHU repeat.
"We all just throw strikes," said Scribner, who was the tourney MVP two weeks ago. "We have some pitchers who throw some good off-speed stuff and we get people out. We've been doing it all year and it's worked out."
SHU figures to need its entire arsenal in Raleigh, especially in the opener against a Wolfpack squad that is 25-4 at home. N.C. State is led by ACC Pitcher of the Year Carlos Rodon, a 6-foot-3 southpaw who posted a 9-0 record and 1.46 ERA as a freshman after turning down the Milwaukee Brewers last summer after being taken in the 16th round out of high school.
Scribner, who went 7-5 with a 4.04 ERA, said the team learned last spring against Clemson how good the talent can be at regionals.
"Pitching is going to be tough," he said. "No matter where we go there's going to be a team where in the NEC their three-hitter could be one through nine on the teams we are going to play. ... Last year we had no idea what we were getting into. We came in and battled but they were way better than us."
SHU enters the NCAAs with nine freshmen, but has upperclassmen leadership from players like Murphy, Scribner, and Masuak graduate Hunter Phillips, a senior third baseman. And no player on the roster has ever missed out on conference tournament play in their college careers.
"We know what we are in for and what to prepare for," Scribner said.
Regardless of their preparation going into the weekend, the Pioneers remain an underdog just like most mid-majors at tournament time.
"I think the experience is definitely going to help," Giaquinto said. "Most of these guys have been to a regional. Last year we prepared our butts off but just didn't perform to well. Hopefully this year we will continue to prepare well and just play better."
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