NCAA Regional: #3 New Mexico Lobos (38-21) vs. #2 Dallas Baptist Patriots (41-17)
WHEN: Friday, June 3 -- 4:00 PM PT/5:00 PM MT
WHERE: Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park; Lubbock, TX
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN3/WatchESPN
New Mexico will have their hands full on Friday afternoon.
Since head coach Dan Heefner took over in 2007, the Dallas Baptist Patriots have won forty games three times, been to five NCAA regionals (including the one they hosted last year), and played in a 2011 super regional. They've had thirteen players selected in the first ten rounds of the MLB Draft, and they've been a factor from independence to the Missouri Valley Conference.
The only thing they haven't done yet is find their Kent State or Stony Brook moment. It makes sense that two of the most well-regarded mid-major programs in the nation will square off for one potential super regional spot, both with their complement of stars on the mound and at the plate. It makes sense that they'll square off in Lubbock, too, which is almost equidistant from both Albuquerque and Dallas.
To learn more about the Lobos' first opponent, I reached out to Reagan Ratcliff, who is the assistant director of athletics for media relations at Dallas Baptist.
Matthew Kenerly: It seems as though the Patriots haven't missed a beat since moving to the Missouri Valley Conference back in 2014, even hosting a regional last season. After losing several key pieces, however, DBU wasn't expected to win the conference. How did that motivate the team throughout the year?
Reagan Ratcliff: Dan Heefner made the remark prior to the start of this season that this will be a good team on Opening Day, but has a chance to be a great team at the end of the season. Those words have proved to be very true, as DBU is playing their best baseball at the end of the regular-season and through the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. I don't think they looked too much at all into the preseason predictions. They were more motivated to build upon the success they had last year, after winning a school-record 46 games and hosting their first-ever regional. Coach Heefner's philosophy is for his players to get one percent better each day and at the end of the season if you've done that, the results will take care of themselves and you'll be in a position to be in the postseason and that's exactly what they've done.
MK: We should probably start with junior Darick Hall, who's been a rare force as both a hitter (.300/.421/.624 in 213 ABs) and a pitcher (8-3, 3.41, 88 strikeouts in 89.1 innings) in 2016. Where did this Player of the Year performance come from, and how will he handle both roles in this regional?
RR: Darick is a pretty rare breed in college baseball as a two-way player at the plate and on the mound. He comes from a baseball family, his grandfather Bo Hall played in the San Francisco Giants organization and was a head baseball coach at Cochise College. He also has an uncle, Shane Hall, and a cousin, Ladd Hall, that each played professional baseball. He's just grown up around the game of baseball, has a passion for it, and plays hard every time he takes the field.
The coaches felt like he was going to be a real force offensively when they signed him out of Cochise College because of the power he possesses and his approach at the plate. He's made a lot of strides since arriving at DBU in the fall, especially on the mound. He had a great fall and became a guy that they felt like could factor into the starting rotation and that's where he's been since the start of the season. He has great sink on his fastball, a sharp slider, and when he stays down in the zone, he gets a ton of ground ball outs. There's no doubt that he's the kind of guy you want to have on the mound and at the plate, especially as you get into the postseason.
MK: It would be hard to overshadow someone who was a perfect 9-0 with an ERA around two and an opponents' batting average of just .209, but Hall nearly did that to MVC Pitcher of the Year Colin Poche. Will he be the one to take on New Mexico's powerful lineup in game one? How does he usually attack hitters?
RR: Colin has been the Friday night ace from Opening Day. He came to DBU last year after transferring from the University of Arkansas and sat out the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Even though he didn't pitch in 2015, he still took on a leadership role within the staff and this year he's the guy that they all look to. He lives with his fastball and also has a slider and a change-up. The biggest asset Poche has is his competitive nature and maybe the best example of that came during his outing versus Missouri State on May 13. After allowing a two-run home run to the second batter of the game in the first inning, he came back to strike out the side and allowed just one more run the rest of the way, while striking out a career-high 14 batters.
MK: I'm not certain how often rematches usually occur in postseason regionals, but the Patriots swept a three-game series in Albuquerque and put together one of the most epic offensive performances of the entire college baseball season in doing so. Is there anything the team saw coming out of those games that's repeatable to win the opener against UNM?
RR: That was a wild series that weekend in Albuquerque and you saw a little bit of everything from great pitching, to offense, to a dramatic comeback. Game one was a pitcher's duel, as DBU led 3-2 going to the eighth inning, before pulling out a 5-2 win. In the 33-run game on Saturday, the Patriots just had one of those days at the plate where everything clicked. They are dangerous 1-9 in the lineup and can hurt you in a lot of ways and that day it just all came together. In the finale, DBU trailed 11-2 going to the fifth inning, before mounting a 12-11 comeback win. That's been a staple of this team all year. No matter what the score is, there is a belief within the dugout that they are going to comeback. New Mexico brings in a very talented team that is also playing their best baseball down the stretch. They feature one of the best offenses in college baseball, so pitching and defense will be huge key on Friday. It should make for a great match-up to start the regional in Lubbock.
MK: Dallas Baptist has very quietly built a formidable foundation that should make the program a baseball force for years to come, but what are the team's expectations this weekend? Is a second straight winless regional acceptable?
RR: One thing Coach Heefner and the team talk about is the fact that there are five championships you can win during the course of the season: the regular-season conference title, the conference tournament title, a Regional Championship, a Super Regional, and the College World Series. They've been able to win the first two of those championships in 2016 and as a program they have their sights set on taking that next step and winning a third championship this year. With that said, they're focus right now is strictly on Friday night and their match-up against New Mexico. Winning game one is important to get into the winners bracket and to set your pitching staff up for the road ahead.