Columbus State University

Fresh off Division II World Series win in opener, Columbus State gets a day off

Columbus State hopes for repeat of Division II World Series opening win when it takes on UC San Diego on Tuesday.
Columbus State hopes for repeat of Division II World Series opening win when it takes on UC San Diego on Tuesday. Brett Friedlander/Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

CARY, N.C.

There were no games at the Division II College World Series on Monday because of torrential rains associated with the outer bands of Tropical Storm Alberto.

That doesn’t mean the Columbus State baseball team took the day off.

Fresh off their impressive 8-1 opening round victory against Mercyhurst on Sunday, the Cougars went about their business as usual despite the wet conditions thanks to an assist from nearby Division I power N.C. State.

Coach Greg Appleton’s players spent the afternoon taking batting practice and throwing bullpen sessions at the Wolfpack’s indoor facility only a few miles from the USA Baseball Training Complex.

It turned out to be a productive afternoon. And not just because it helped CSU stay sharp for tonight’s winners bracket matchup against defending national runnerup University of California San Diego.

“When you start winning, and I feel like we’ve been on a pretty good roll lately, you kind of want to get back on the field as fast as possible to keep everything in a routine,” junior first baseman Frank Wager said. “Rainy days are not the best. For N.C. State to let us get out there, get out of the hotel, get some swings in and do a little more team bonding during this trip was great.”

The Cougars (46-13) got in plenty of good swings in their opening win, including doubles by Wager, Robert Brooks and Drew Webb, along with a triple by Grant Berry.

What made the hitting performance all the more impressive is that it came against Mercyhurst’s imposing 6-foot-5, 235-pound ace Chris Villamont, who topped out at 95 MPH on the radar gun and is expected to be picked in the top five rounds of next week’s Major League Baseball draft.

Appleton is hoping that success will be a boost to his team’s confidence as it faces another top arm against UCSD today.

At least to a point.

“It does give you confidence, but it’s a whole new game,” the veteran coach said. “(UCSD) is a little bit more experienced of a team with guys that have been in the World Series just last year. It’s going to be a chance for us to refocus and see what they’ve got for us.”

The Tritons (43-15) advanced in the winner’s bracket with a 4-0 shutout of Texas A&M-Kingsville on Sunday, a game in which three pitchers allowed only five hits.

Although CSU figures to be a little more relaxed now that it has played a game on the biggest stage in Division II baseball, it will still be at a disadvantage against a UCSD team making its fourth CWS trip since 2009 and played in the national championship game a year ago.

“For them it’s good because they’ve been through this before. For us, playing one game, that’s just one game,” Appleton said. “They’ve been through the tournament and know what it’s all about, gotten themselves into the championship game last year. So I’d say they’re carrying a lot more confidence into this than we are. We’re still just feeling our way around.”

Appleton said he plans to pitch regular Saturday starter Perez Knowles against the Tritons. A senior left-hander, Knowles is 7-3 with a 3.69 earned run average and 118 strikeouts in 105 innings.

No matter who’s on the mound for either team, Wager said the Cougars’ approach will be the same as it’s been the entire season.

“We just try to keep our head straight and not think about anything other than the next game we have so we can keep things going,” Wager said. “We have a plan set and we go out there and execute that plan day-by-day.”

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