CHICKASHA — Hours of practice, thousands of pitches and nearly four months of contests, the Drover baseball team earned their reward and the season’s No. 1 goal: The program’s first trip to the national tournament.
After are record-breaking season, the Drovers (40-17) are eager to play in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round, which is slated to begin Thursday at Oklahoma City University.
The Drovers’ first game is against (15) Sterling College (46-12), scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Other teams in the opening-round bracket the Drovers could end up facing are Jamestown (N.D.) (28-9), Northwestern (Iowa) (31-17) and (2) Oklahoma City (47-11).
“They’re a good ball club,” USAO head coach Mike Ross said of Sterling. “They are ranked ahead of us on paper. They have some guys at the top of the lineup who can hit, and they can pitch … it should be a good match up.”
Should the Drovers win on Thursday, they will play again at 2:30 p.m. Friday. If USAO falls in Thursday’s game, the team will play at 11 a.m. Friday. The tournament is a double-elimination event.
This is the first time in school history the Drover baseball team has made it into the national tournament. The program has, however, competed in regional tournaments.
The NAIA Opening Round consists of 45 teams at nine different locations. The Drovers earned their spot at OCU, just 45 minutes up the road from their home field.
The Drovers are used to competing against some of the nation’s best talents considering the Sooner Athletic has four NAIA Top 25 teams and five conference schools are competing in the national tournament.
This week may seem familiar to the Drovers, as they played at OCU in the SAC Tournament just last week.
“We aren’t going out to do anything different. We just need to go out and play well, play the kind of baseball we played in the conference tournament,” Ross said. “We need to go out and not let the environment of the national tournament affect us in the negative way.”