By the time the Columbus State baseball team takes the field today in the Peach Belt Conference tournament, it will have been almost two full weeks since the Cougars ended the regular season.
To make the wait even a little longer, the Cougars, as the No. 2 seed, drew the final game of four. They will face No. 7 seed Montevallo in a game scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at Roberto Hernandez Stadium in Aiken, S.C. If the history of baseball tournaments are any indicator, the game is likely to start even later.
"We are chomping at the bit to play," CSU coach Greg Appleton said.
Appleton said earlier this week that he is not sure what his team will do during the day today.
"We will probably watch some of the games and try to get a feel for the tournament," he said. "We'll get a meal in there. Mostly, stay off our feet. The latest game we have played this year was a 7 p.m. start."
The PBC tournament has a different format this year. The top eight teams from the regular season will play in a single elimination tournament with four games Saturday.
The semifinals and finals are Sunday.
Appleton said the condensed format was needed to accommodate the final exam schedule for all of the schools.
CSU (36-14) set a school record with 23 PBC wins. However, Lander was one better with 24, so the Bearcats got the No. 1 seed.
"I don't know if disappointed is the right word," Appleton said when asked about falling a game shy of the PBC's regular-season title. "We had an outstanding year. We were the only team in the conference to win every conference series. Most years, 23 wins would have been enough to win by two or three games."
The Cougars enter the PBC tournament as the No. 3 team in the latest NCAA Division II Southeast Regional rankings. Three teams receive automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, including the PBC tournament champion, plus five at-large teams. Regardless of what happens in the PBC tournament, CSU should receive a bid.
"That makes me feel better," Appleton said. "We talked to our team that we didn't want to put ourselves in a position where we had to win the tournament to get in."
After a slow start to the season and a 3-5 record, the Cougars have been on tear, winning 33 of their last 42 games. The Cougars, who hit .325 as a team, have seven starters who batted .315 or better.
Jackson Oliver led the way, batting .404 with 16 doubles and 53 RBIs. The others included Mike McClellan (.383, 10 homers, 38 RBIs), Blake Edwards (.352, 11 doubles, 34 RBIs), Brendan Collins (.329, eight doubles, 33 RBIs), Dustin Averett (.327, 10 homers, 55 RBIs), Carson Bowers (.323, eight doubles, 25 RBIs) and Jimmy Obermark (.315, seven homers, 42 RBIs).
"We have leaned heavily on Jackson Oliver all season," Appleton said. "He is the guy we want up in a pressure situation."
The pitching staff has been led by Mike McGinnity (6-0, 3.46 ERA), Caden Ferguson (5-4, 3.89) and Bryan Headley (9-2, 4.24). Trey Watson (11 saves, 2.42) is the closer.
"Trey has been outstanding all year," Appleton said. "We get to the last inning or two, we are confident he is going to shut the door."
at Aiken, S.C.
Saturday, May 10
Game 1 -- Lander vs. Francis Marion, 10 a.m.
Game 2 -- UNC Pembroke vs. Georgia College, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3 -- USC Aiken vs. Armstrong Atlantic, 5 p.m.
Game 4 -- Columbus State vs. Montevallo, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 11
Game 5 -- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 10 a.m.
Game 6 -- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 3, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7-- Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 5 p.m.