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June 1, 2012Last weekend, when the Dayton baseball team clinched an automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals, their hope was they'd be placed in Gary, Indiana at the Purdue Regional. Instead, they were shipped 1,120 miles away and pitted against Texas A&M at Olsen Field in one of the greatest home-field advantages in the country.
Dayton (31-28) will play in their first ever NCAA Regional in this evening's second game of a doubleheader in College Station, Texas. Although the Flyers are experienced with 10 seniors, they'll be up against a difficult challenge.
They'll face the 8th ranked Texas A&M Aggies (42-10) at 7:35 p.m. EST. The Aggies are 30-10 on the season at Blue Bell Park, and are expecting a terrific atmosphere for today's regional.
A Texas A&M reporter tweeted earlier this week that the Aggies played their home games in front of an average crowd size of 4,348. Dayton's average crowd was 286.
"There's a rumor there's going to be 6,000 people there," head coach Tony Vittorio said. "They said it's sold-out and with lawn seats and all that, it seats 6,000. You can't sense our guys are going to be anxious about (the crowd). You can sense confidence that they're going to be fine though."
Also going against them is the Flyers will be opposed by Aggies ace Michael Wacha (8-1, 2.21 ERA, 107 K's, 106 IP). The 6-6 right-handed starter has a fast ball that tops out at 94 MPH, and the ability to fool hitters with a Major League change-up.
"The key to (tonight's) game is we have to get on base and if we can, we got to do what got us here," Vittorio began. "That's get to second and third base with our running game. It should be like a Friday night conference game, a pitching battle, a defensive battle more than an offensive battle."
Dayton leads the nation in stolen bases (162-for-195) and likes to put the pressure on the opposing defense. Last week, they captured the Atlantic 10 championship by manufacturing three runs, despite being out-hit by Richmond, 7-5.
"They know why we're here, they know what we're going to do," the 13-year UD coach said. "We need to get on base and get to second base and get to third. Another big reason why we do our base running scheme is all of a sudden these guys haven't worked on stopping (opponents) feet all year long.
"The night before a game, on a scouting report, the pitching coach is going to tell them to stop (the opponent's) feet. And the pitcher gets out of his rhythm and timing, and that's exactly what we want. We don't have to steal a base if that happens because if he misses with pitches in the zone, anyone can hit a fast ball if it's not where it's supposed to be at. It doesn't matter how hard it is."
It'll be difficult to disrupt Wacha though, a projected first rounder in next week's draft. The thing going for the Flyers though is they'll be throwing their conference starters at the opposition all weekend. Since the Riverview Inn Challenge in March, Dayton's "weekend" pitching has produced a 27-10 record, or 87% of their victories. Senior Mike Hauschild (7-2, 4.29 ERA, 87 K's, 113.1 IP) will toe the rubber on Friday night and Vittorio is looking forward to seeing how they stack up against the nation's elite with their top pitchers throwing.
"I am really looking forward to that," Vittorio noted. "We've played the bigger games, the Ohio States, the Kentuckys, all as mid-week games. The Hauschilds, (Burny) Mitchems, (Tim) Burys, and (Parker) Schrages didn't really pitch against those guys. At the same time, I remember us scoring six, seven, eight runs against them, but we just couldn't hold them from a pitching standpoint. I'm looking forward to the guys that got us here because they've pitched well on the weekend against some solid competition."
Dayton will need to enter as a loose bunch with everything they have going against them. Vittorio said that will start with him during tonight's batting practice, approximately an hour and a half before first pitch.
"My job is to make sure everyone is loose," he said. "You'll see me in batting practice roaming around, making them laugh before the game like my dad would. My job tomorrow is not to teach someone how to bunt, catch, throw, or steal bases. It's to make sure everyone is loose because we are going to play in front of a dominant crowd. It's been tabbed as one of the best, if not the best crowds in all of the country. They're all going to be here."
Heading into last week's Atlantic 10 tournament, Vittorio said the next step for the Dayton baseball program was to win the conference tournament and make an NCAA Regional. Check. But what now?
"We're here now at the NCAA Regional, you have to reassess your dreams and goals," Vittorio said. "It's simple with this team to do because of the 10 seniors. There's a lot of experience, I wouldn't put it past them to win the regional because there's a lot of experience, they're confident, they're great leaders. I just don't know if the guys are going to be denied, they're going to compete their butts off every pitch until the end."
BLASIK AN ALL-AMERICAN
Senior shortstop Brian Blasik was named a Louisville Slugger Third Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball yesterday. He enters tonight's NCAA Regional with a .344 batting average, 56 runs scored, 46 RBI, and a school record 35 stolen bases.
"Baseball's been played for over 100 years at UD, it's the first All-American in Dayton baseball history," Vittorio noted. "That's outstanding for Brian, it's outstanding for his family, and it's outstanding for the Dayton baseball program."
DIFFERENT KIND OF WEEK
With their first Atlantic 10 tournament championship and first ever berth into the NCAA Regionals, things have been a little more different for Tony Vittorio and his players the past six days. "It's been a crazy, hectic, fun and exciting week," he said. "It's been non-stop, you don't feel like you have enough minutes in the day to get everything done."
Asked how many interviews he has done this week, he replied "15." Asked what a normal week holds for him, he responded, "Zero... But I'm good at it though. I talked with the ESPN guys (yesterday), and they said I'm fun and they can't wait to call our game."
The first pitch is slated for 7:35 p.m. EST and those with access to ESPN3 can watch it in its entirety.