When the University of South Carolina Beaufort landed a 2012 NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round regional, it was natural to assume the Sand Sharks might face some opponents they don't normally see.
But when USCB takes the field today for its first game, the faces in the other dugout will be familiar. The Sand Sharks face Sun Conference foe St. Thomas at 2 p.m. at the Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
"It is a little strange," USCB coach Bryan Lewallyn said. "You kind of expect to see a couple of teams from other parts of the country. So it's definitely a little out of the ordinary to face a team you're so familiar with."
St. Thomas took two of three from USCB during the regular season on its way to a Sun Conference title.
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No matter who the Sand Sharks play, Lewallyn says winning Game 1 is the goal.
"The winner's bracket is where you want to be," Lewallyn said. "You do whatever you have to do to stay there. The fewer games that you have to play, the better you are. It's huge."
Lewallyn says the Sand Sharks will throw their ace -- Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year, senior left-hander Michael Heesch -- in their first game. Heesch is 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA and five complete games in 15 starts.
Senior left-hander Adam Miller likely would draw the start in USCB's second game.
"We need to pitch well and play good defense, play fundamentally in order to win," Lewallyn said. "We believe we're just as talented and as capable of winning as any team here."
A look at the teams
No. 1 Faulkner (Ala.) Eagles (49-11): The fifth-ranked Eagles won their first Southern States Athletic Conference regular-season title and ended the regular season on a 20-game winning streak. They lost their conference tournament title game 13-0 to No. 2 Lee (Tenn.).
SSAC Pitcher of the Year Corey Black, a junior San Diego State transfer, and Will Dismukes anchor the pitching staff. Black is 11-1 with a 1.23 ERA in 13 starts, while Dismukes is 9-1 with a 1.98 ERA.
Senior shortstop Craig Massey hit .422 with nine homers and 60 RBIs to lead Faulkner, while Daniel Cayton blasted 11 home runs. The team likes to swipe, with 182 stolen bases for the year.
No. 2 St. Thomas (Fla.) Bobcats (43-12): The No. 12 Bobcats won the Sun Conference tournament title and took two of three from USCB in the regular season.
Senior center fielder Joel Capote, the Sun Conference Player of the Year, hit .404 with 39 RBIs and 39 steals, while third baseman Victor Madrazo hit .383 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs.
Junior riight-hander Danny Sanchez (8-2, 2.60 ERA) and Emilio Ogando (6-0, 3.24) are the Bobcats' top two starters, while All-Sun closer Dane Stone has 16 saves and a 1.23 ERA on the year.
No. 3 USC Beaufort Sand Sharks (35-16): The 15th-ranked Sand Sharks finished the regular season on a seven-game winning streak before a quick two-and-barbecue in the conference tournament.
USCB's undisputed leader is the mohawked senior left-hander Heesch, the Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year. He has given up just 88 hits in 99 innings pitched. The Sand Sharks' bullpen duo of Andrew Barrineau (4-0, 2.17 ERA) and Beaufort's Junior Delatorre (0-0, 0.40) has been a strength all season.
The USCB offense is led by All-Sun senior catcher Dylan Nasiatka (.333, 22 RBIs), second baseman Gabe Torres (.319, 14 RBIs) and LF Ty Main (.315, 3 HRs, 28 RBIs). Erik Armstrong (.278, 4 HRs, 38 RBIs) is the Sand Sharks' biggest power threat.
No. 4 Union (Tenn.) Bulldogs (37-17-1): The Bulldogs won 19 of their final 23 games and won their second straight TranSouth Conference Tournament title.
Cody Drew is Union's best pitcher. He pitches out of the pen and could pitch in every game. In 60 2-3 innings over a school-record 34 appearances this season, he's 11-1 with 10 saves and a team-leading 2.23 ERA.
Seniors Brett Pawlan (.397, 3 HRs, 47 RBIs, 18 SBs), Danny Grimm (.362, 29 RBIs, 12 SBs) and Doug Joyce (.304, 7 HRs, 51 RBIs) lead the Bulldogs' offense.
No. 5 Asbury (Ky.) Eagles (18-37): The Eagles reached the tournament by winning their first Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletics Conference title, despite an 0-17 start.
Senior Danny Olszowy (.383, 3 HRs, 38 RBIs, 21 SBs) leads the Eagles at the plate, while freshman reliever Micah Pace (.406, 4-0, 2 saves, .193 average against) has been a bright spot on the mound.
2012 NAIA BASEBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP OPENING ROUND
When: Today-Saturday (Monday, if necessary)
Where: Richard Gray Sports Complex, Hardeeville
Tickets: Daily -- Adults $10, Students $5; Tournament -- Adults $25, Students $12 (Children under 5 are free)
Game 1: No. 4 Union (Tenn.) vs. No. 5 Asbury (Ky.), 10 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 St. Thomas (Fla,) vs. No. 3 USC Beaufort, 2 p.m.
Game 3: No. 1 Faulkner (Ala.) vs. Game 1 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 5: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 winner, noon
Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 1 p.m. (if necessary)