When the No. 8 Marietta College baseball team plays Otterbein Thursday in the first round of the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, it will begin the team's quest for a third straight league tournament title.
The Pioneers (28-10) won the tourney in 2011 and 2012 as the tournament's top seed, and again will host all of the games at Don Schaly Stadium.
The two-time defending Division III national champions posted a 15-3 record in the OAC this season to claim the regular season crown.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Marietta College shortstop Ryan Hanahan catches a routine pop fly against Wilmington during OAC baseball action at Don Schaly Stadium lat Friday. The Pioneers took two by the identical score of 14-3. MC is scheduled to host Otterbein in an OAC playoff game Thursday.
Now the Etta Express has its sights set on postseason success. An OAC Tournament title would clinch a spot in the Mideast Regional Tournament and, of course, a top finish in the regional would mean a shot at the World Series in Grand Chute, Wisc.
First things first, however.
The Pioneers will look to start the postseason off with a victory over the Otterbein Cardinals (24-15) at 1 p.m. Thursday. Otterbein was 10-8 in the conference this season to earn the fourth seed in the tournament.
The Cardinals' pitching staff will have its hands full with the Pioneer offense, led by seniors Alex Toth, Jordan Grilliot and Aaron Hopper.
Toth hit a team-leading .431 this season and drove in 34 runs. From the leadoff spot, Grilliot led the team with four homers and also batted .375 with 33 runs batted in. Hopper led everyone on the Brian Brewer-coached club with 40 RBI and also contributed a .342 average and three long balls.
According to Brewer, freshman Jason Byers will start on the mound against Otterbein and senior Mike Mulvey will start the first game on Friday. From there, the Pioneers have options on who could start games. Senior Evan Brockmeier may get a start if the Pioneers get to a third game unless he is used out of the bullpen in the first two games. Freshmen Mike Finlan and Christian Herstine are also capable of starting.
"We're only as good as the guys on the bump," Brewer said. "If our pitchers perform well and we catch the ball behind them, the offense will take care of itself."
Following the Marietta-Otterbein game, second-seeded John Carroll will square off against third-seeded Mount Union at 4 p.m.
The winners of each game will play Friday (11 a.m.), as will the losers of each game (2 p.m.). Then, the winner of the losers' game and the loser of the winners' game will play an elimination game (5 p.m.). The winner of that game will have to defeat the top team twice on Saturday (noon, 3 p.m. if necessary) for the championship.
"I think it's a good field," Brewer said. "I think (the OAC) is arguably one of the best conferences in Division III. We're excited to have these guys coming in."
The Pios put together a 15-3 record at the comfy confines of Schaly Stadium this season, and should benefit from having home field advantage.
"It's a huge advantage," Brewer explained. "We get to play on our field, sleep in our beds and play in front of our fans.
"It's the reward for winning the regular season title."
The MC skipper is hoping the stands are packed come game time. "We hope everyone can make it out and support us," he said.
NOTES: The Marietta College baseball program has won a league-record 29 OAC titles, including 18 of the 28 championships since the tournament changed to its current four-team double elimination format in 1985...The Pioneers will host the championship for the 20th time since 1985...The Etta Express is making a record 41st overall and 30th consecutive appearance in the OAC Tournament...The Pios' all-time OAC Tournament record stands at 96-32-1.