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ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No answers for why SCSU got a No. 4 seed

NEW HAVEN — From Shelton’s James Tate and the prom dilemma that became a national debate, to Milford’s Max Pelloth and the lacrosse debacle, the list of intriguing area story lines continues to mount.

Now add the astounding tale of the Southern Connecticut State baseball team to the growing list of head-scratchers.

On Sunday night the SCSU baseball team eagerly awaited word on its destination in the NCAA Division II East Regional tournament. After finishing the season 38-6-1, which included a record-breaking 22-game winning streak to start the season, the Owls felt certain they had done enough to host the regional at Yale Field this week.

Southern was ranked as high as fifth in the nation and entered the last weekend of the season ranked eighth nationally and, more importantly, No. 1 in the East.

But, when the pairings were announced late Sunday night on NCAA.com, Southern was not only denied the first seed but had inexplicably fallen all the way to No. 4. To make matters worse, Franklin Pierce (38-12), which finished third in the conference standings and didn’t win the postseason tournament, was given the No. 2 seed. With it came the right to host the NCAA tournament.

The decision left Southern coach Tim Shea shaking his head in disbelief.

“The only answer I got was Franklin Pierce’s body of work was better than ours,” Shea said. “I don’t understand it. We went from the one seed to the three seed and back to the one seed late in the season. If we went into the final weekend as the three seed and fell to the four then that would be understandable, but that wasn’t the case.”

Shea was told that the selections were based on nine different factors.

“I went through the list of criteria and we finished ahead of Franklin Pierce in five of them,” he said. “The rest were supposedly subjective.”

Adelphi (33-12-2) was seeded No. 1 in the region. Adelphi finished second in the Northeast-10 Conference regular-season standings and won the NE-10 conference tournament on basis of the best tournament record after its championship game against Franklin Pierce was canceled due to rain. Continued...

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Shea said he didn’t have a huge problem with Adelphi being seeded No. 1 — even though Southern won the NE-10 regular-season crown — but still felt his team had a better season than the Panthers. Adelphi also didn’t apply to host the NCAA regional so it didn’t matter what seed it was given.

Southern had more wins, a better win percentage, won the conference regular-season title, had a better record against common opponents and a better road record than Franklin Pierce, all listed as defining criteria.

“We felt that we clearly had the criteria over Franklin Pierce, and when I crunched the numbers I found out that we did,” Shea said. “We’re extremely disappointed. All I got were really vague answers.

“What it comes down to is one day. We lost two games, both on the same day, and I find it hard to believe we can drop from one to four in one day. I clearly felt we were going to be the one or the two seed and because Adelphi didn’t put in to host the event, and we did, we were going to host it.”

And from a baseball standpoint, when Franklin Pierce was named host, it affected the landscape of the tournament. Franklin Pierce, located in Rindge, N.H., has a small field and has built its team around power hitters.

Franklin Pierce was 16-1 at the cozy confines of Pappas Field this season.

“It certainly makes a difference,” Shea said. “They’re used to the dimensions, the speed of the field, and they have some good hitters. Playing there where a 350-foot fly ball is a home run is a lot different than playing at Yale where it’s an out.

“We played there in the conference tournament last year and there were 10 home runs hit. Virtually the same teams came to Yale a week later in the NCAA and there were no home runs hit.”

Conspiracy theorists might add another factor to the debate. Franklin Pierce coach Jayson King serves on the NCAA selection board.

“I’m not even going there,” Shea said. “There is a certain subjectivity to the selection process. I guess it’s a bigger factor than they let on.” Continued...

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Jason Trufant, the chair of the East Regional, said he had been instructed by the NCAA not to comment on the selection process.

When asked why the chair of the NCAA Division I basketball selection committee fields questions from CBS after the announcement of the pairings, Trufant also refused to comment. And he would not answer whether Franklin Pierce coach King was involved when the committee discussed his team.

When the NCAA basketball pairings are being discussed, any member of a school whose team is about to be evaluated is asked to leave the room for the duration of talks about that team.

Shea was most disappointed by the NCAA’s lack of reasoning.

“Our kids were disappointed and shocked,” he said. “They wanted the chance to play in front of their parents and friends and host the tourney. They weren’t slamming things. They’re a very mature group and they’ll be ready.

“They’ll use it as motivation, but what it’s really going to come down to is how we play. I told them, ‘It is what it is and we’ve got to go there with the right frame of mind. The bottom line is we had to win a game over the weekend, and we didn’t. But if we play like we can, we can still get to the World Series.”

While there could have been other explanations given as to why SCSU was not selected as a host, Shea heard nothing. A couple of weeks ago, when it looked as though SCSU was a virtual lock to host the tourney, the school received a letter about the “playability” of Yale Field.

“They were worried about the infield and our school addressed the issue,” Shea said.

Also, rain is expected to stick around the state for virtually the entire week and Franklin Pierce has a turf field. But neither issue was given to Shea as a reason for the seeding.

“All they kept saying was ‘body of work’ and no other team around the region has the body of work that we have. There’s no question about it,” he said. Continued...

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The Owls will meet No. 3 Wilmington (Del.) in the opening round on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

“They’re a good team and they’ve been near the top of the region all year long,” Shea said. “But I’m glad we’re playing someone from outside of our conference. We’ve played UMass Lowell twice at the end of the season and then again in the tournament.

“The key to our success is our starting pitching,” Shea added. “In the two games we lost in the tournament we didn’t pitch well and we made some uncharacteristic errors. If we pitch well we’ll manage a way to score some runs like we’ve done 38 times this season.”

Franklin Pierce won the NCAA East Regional last year at Yale Field and advanced to the Division II World Series.

SCSU has reached the NCAAs six times, including the past two seasons.

Call Bill at 203-789-5653. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillCloutier.

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