College Baseball

USC Beaufort baseball team eager for first test at NAIA World Series

Sand Sharks face Rogers State today in opener

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comMay 25, 2012 

Michael Heesch couldn't avoid facing his future before his college baseball career finished.

The Chicago Cubs called, inviting the University of South Carolina Beaufort left-hander to work out at Wrigley Field in advance of June's draft. The 22-year-old Chicago native said no. At least, not yet.

The Sand Sharks' ace postponed several tryout offers when his team made the NAIA World Series. And if USCB sticks around Lewiston, Idaho, long enough, he won't have a chance to reschedule.

That would be OK with the Sand Sharks' strikeout king, who helped lead USCB to a regional championship with a strong outing in the final game on three days' rest. Eighth-seeded USCB opens the World Series today at 3 p.m. (Eastern) against No. 9-seed Rogers State (Okla.).

If the Sand Sharks are eliminated, USCB has arranged to fly Heesch wherever he needs to go. That could be the Windy City.

"As much as I try to keep it away, it is exciting to possibly have a chance to play on professionally," said Heesch, who broke his own record for strikeouts in a season, with 108 this spring. "My main goal is to finish this season, get through this and finish my college career, and then once that's done, I'll worry about that and everything."

The Sand Sharks aren't ready for their run to end.

They're in the midst of the young program's most successful season, its 40 overall wins and 20 Sun Conference victories the best in four years. USCB qualified for the NAIA National Championship Opening Round for a second time, and won its host regional after losing the opening game.

The way it won -- eliminating top-seeded Faulkner (Ala.) and highly regarded St. Thomas (Fla.) on the way -- provided an extra measure of confidence as the Sand Sharks venture into new territory.

Winning their summer league is as close as any Sand Shark has come to this type of stage.

"It was a surreal weekend, to say the least," catcher Dylan Nasiatka said. "We were down to our last strike at one point. The way we did it, I think, just kind of adds to what we have on this mission we're on, it adds fuel to our fire."

Nasiatka, who leads the team in batting average, has had the pleasure of catching two guys consistently around the strike zone. Heesch averages less than a walk per game. Adam Miller averages 1.71 walks per game. Each is going for his 10th victory in Idaho.

Heesch said the control has been the key to the starting rotation's success, that the Sand Sharks' defense was kept alert knowing pitchers would be around the plate.

Research for the Sand Sharks' potential World Series opponents has been limited to strikeout-to-walk ratios and other basic statistical analysis done for every game, Heesch said. He said the Sand Sharks believe they are just as talented as the other nine teams in Idaho.

And while Sand Sharks celebrate the program's first senior class, the team hopes to continue making history.

"We're definitely setting a standard on how this program is run and how things are supposed to be done," Heesch said. "I'm excited to see a couple years down the road. It could be (at the World Series) next year. It could be there the year after that."

Avista-NAIA World Series

(All times Eastern)

At Harris Field, Lewiston, Idaho

Today's games

No. 7 Point Park vs. No. 10 College of Idaho, noon

No. 8 USC Beaufort vs. No. 9 Rogers State, 3 p.m.

No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan vs. No. 5 Embry-Riddle, 6 p.m.

No. 3 Oklahoma City vs. No. 6 Lewis-Clark State, 10 p.m.

Saturday's games

Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 3, noon

Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 4, 3 p.m.

No. 2 Lee vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.

No. 1 LSU Shreveport vs. Winner Game 2, 9:30 p.m.

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