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Denison baseball earns first-ever bid to NCAA Tournament

Brian McAuliffe  |  Photo by Jace Delgado
Brian McAuliffe | Photo by Jace Delgado

GRANVILLE, Ohio--  The years of close calls, near misses and second-guessing are over. Denison University baseball will play in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in program history. 

After setting a school record for wins (32) while playing the most difficult schedule in school history, the NCAA selection committee granted Denison one of 16 Pool C bids.

The Big Red will travel to Holly Springs, North Carolina, to compete in one of eight regional tournaments on May 17-20 (May 21 if needed) at Ting Park.  Denison's opening game will be against fourth-seeded Christopher Newport (32-10) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17.  Denison is the No. 3 seed in the South Region and is joined by top-seed Randolph-Macon (31-7-1), No. 2 the College of New Jersey (28-9), No. 5 Alvernia (28-13) and No. 6 LaGrange (28-16).

Denison is one of 58 teams selected to this year's tournament.  Forty automatic bids were extended to conference tournament winners. There were two Pool B (independent) selections and 16 Pool C (at-large) berths.  The winner of each regional advances to the NCAA Division III Championship on May 25-29 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The Big Red brings a sparkling 32-10 record into the NCAA Regional Tournament.  The 32 victories broke the program record for wins (31) that was equaled in 2003 and 2004.  Denison went 11-6 against regionally ranked teams and was 7-0 against the upper echelon of the Ohio Athletic Conference (Otterbein, Marietta, Baldwin Wallace and Heidelberg).

Denison's top three starting pitchers -- Perley Provost (10-1, 2.49 ERA), Danny Brackman (6-1, 2.77 ERA) and Taylor Perrett (8-3, 3.58 ERA) -- have helped the Big Red post a 3.77 team ERA with a conference-best five shutouts.

Tanner Johnson is a five-tool player who is batting .390 with 10 home runs, 53 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases.  Senior shortstop Jack Blanchard is batting .338 and is sixth in Division III with 20 doubles.

NCAA Regional Notebook

Point Break:  Denison broke through with its first NCAA Regional bid by playing the most challenging schedule in program history. The Big Red were 12-6 in games versus regionally ranked opponents. They were perfect against the Ohio Athletic Conference and also had victories over tournament qualifiers North Central, Amherst.

Heading down South to the Land of the Pines:  Denison was shipped out of the Mid-East Region to Holly Springs, North Carolina.  The South Regional tournament will take place at Ting Park, the home of the Holly Springs Salamanders of the collegiate wooden bat Coastal Plain League.  There will be live video with play-by-play and live stats provided by the host institution, William Peace University, for all games at the regional. 

Going Coastal:  Denison has two recent ties to the Coastal Plains League.  Tanner Johnson was a member of the Wilson Tobs last summer. He hit .262 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 31 games.  Additionally, the play-by-play voice of the Denison Big Red, Will Hibbard, was named the CPL's Broadcaster of the Year after spending his summer handling the play-by-play duties for the Wilson Tobs.

The Perfect Weapon:  Junior reliever Mikey Rivera has established himself as one of Division III's top relievers in 2018. Not only does he have a sparkling 1.73 ERA in 26 appearances, he has been incredible when Denison has needed him most.  In 29.1 innings pitched against regionally ranked opponents this season, Rivera has allowed only one earned run, good for an ERA of 0.31 in 13 appearances.

38-Special:  Senior Perley Provost was named the NCAC Pitcher of the Year after tying the program record for wins (10). In 72.1 IP he leads all starting pitchers with a 2.49 ERA.  Provost is the second pitcher from Denison to win the conference Pitcher of the Year award, joining Cam Cowden (2004).

"Skip" to my Lou:  Denison head coach Mike Deegan picked up his second NCAC Coach of the Year award after Denison's breakthrough campaign. He also took home the award after his second season in 2014.  Deegan is 153-91 (.627) in six seasons as the Big Red skipper.  He is only 30 wins shy of becoming Denison's all-time leader in wins. He holds a distinct advantage in career winning percentage.  The second-best career winning percentage is .583.

I'm going to Jackson:  Shortstop Jackson "Jack" Blanchard is wrapping up an impressive career as a four-year starter. After beginning his career at second base, he transitioned to shortstop as a sophomore and has been a fixture ever since. He is ranked sixth in the nation with 20 doubles.  The Denison single-season record for doubles in a season is 21 set by Drew Shamrock in 2004.

Super-8:  Senior centerfielder Tanner Johnson has made his case to become the program's sixth All-American. The NCAC Player of the Year leads the club in average (.390), hits (64), runs (57), home runs (10), RBIs (53), stolen bases (25) and slugging percentage (.720).  He became the fourth player in program history to reach 200 career hits on a 3-run home run against Kenyon in the NCAC Tournament.

Sweat Equity: Senior catcher Sam Frazen should have invested in some real estate behind the plate when he arrived in Granville because that is where he has lived since his rookie year. The rare player who catches nearly every inning of every game, Frazen is having the best season of his career. He is third on the team with a .329 average with 16 doubles and 38 RBIs.  He was named to the All-NCAC first-team for the first time.

We're going streaking:  Jack Blanchard has reached base in 38-straight games and is riding a 10-game hitting streak.  Earlier this season, Tanner Johnson had a 21-game hitting streak which was the second-longest in program history.

Juicy:  With the bases loaded, Denison is batting .431 as a team (28-for-65).

Krush It: Will Krushena has provided some pop in the middle of the Denison order. His 41 RBIs rank second on the team and is tied for second with six home runs.

Keeping them honest:  The Denison outfield has combined for 11 outfield assists this season, led by Nick Pettigrew's six assists.

Scoring Late:  The Big Red is outscoring the opposition 43-15 in the eighth inning this year.

Southpaw Success:  Denison is 8-1 against left-handed starting pitchers and is hitting .312 versus southpaws this season.

Oh Danny Boy:  Danny Brackman established himself in the Denison starting rotation by posting a 2.77 ERA in 52.0 IP. He has struck out 42 and carries a 6-1 record into the postseason.

Slamming the Door:  When leading after eight innings, Denison is 30-0.  Even more impressive, DU has not lost a game when leading after six innings this season (26-0).

Ray of Light:  Denison's home field is lighted so the opening game versus Christopher Newport will be the eighth night game of the season for the Big Red.  DU is 5-2 under the lights.

McDefense:  Brian McAuliffe has taken over at third base in 2018 and has added stability in the field and at the plate. He is coming off a tremendous defensive series on the artificial surface at the NCAC Tournament in Chillicothe.  He led the team with nine assists in three games.  He is also fourth on the team in doubles (13).

Small Ball:  Denison led the NCAC in sacrifice bunts and is ranked 27th in D-III baseball with 36 sac bunts this season. Nick Pettigrew leads the team with seven sacrifices. 

Hahn Solo:  Senior second baseman Noah Hahn has played in 108 games in three seasons with the Big Red.  The Wooster, Ohio native transferred to Denison after spending the 2015 season at Division I Quinnipac.  He was an honorable mention All-NCAC selection in 2017.

Black and Blue:  Denison players have been hit by a pitch 74 times in 2018, ranking them 11th in the nation in that category. Blanchard has been the biggest magnet, having been plunked 14 times.

Having a Record Year:  Aside from setting the program record for wins, DU has also set new single-season team records in RBIs (312), doubles (101), home runs (36), sacrifices (62), and double plays (38).

Polly want a cracker?  Rookie right-hander Taylor Perrett leads the team in innings pitched and is third on the club in ERA at 3.58.  His eight victories are the most ever by a first-year.

No Paine, No Gain:  Junior designated hitter Grady Paine is fourth on the team with a .329 batting average and has hit a career-high four home runs. He was named second-team All-NCAC for the first time in his career.

Bruss Fire:  Senior reliever Andrew Bruss has made 50 appearances since 2015 ranking him third in program history. He boasts a career record of 8-4 with three saves.

Made-Well:  Senior outfielder Joseph Maydwell had his number called by Mike Deegan in the NCAC Tournament elimination game against second-ranked Wooster and he came through with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate and some stellar defense in right field.  He led the outfield with five putouts and an outfield assist.

Extra-Bases:  Vince Walker has proven to have plenty of pop at the plate but he is also a terror on the base paths. He has five triples and one of his six home runs was an inside-the-parker in the seventh inning that led Denison to a win over Marietta.

Previewing Christopher Newport:  This is the first-ever meeting between Denison and Christopher Newport in baseball.  The Captains are members of the Capital Athletic Conference and have matched Denison's record at 32-10. They are coming off a pair of losses to Penn State-Harrisburg in the CAC Tournament on May 5.  Seth Woodard is the engine that makes CNU hum. He is batting .396 with 13 home runs, 63 RBIs and 55 runs scored.  Josh Husby is 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts and Thomas Packert has posted an 8-1 record with a 3.95 ERA.  Packert has 88 strikeouts in 68.1 IP.  Out of the pen, Brian Owens leads the nation with 27 appearances. He is striking out 12.8 batters per 9/IP.  This is the Captains' first NCAA Regional appearance since 2012 and the program's eighth NCAA Tournament bid, overall.