The New Jersey Institute of Technology is playing in the school’s first ever NCAA Baseball Regional. Shortly after the team’s workout at Baum-Walker Stadium the day before the Highlanders were set to take on national one seed Arkansas, head coach Robbie McClellan noted that his players were glad to finally be at the tournament site after a long day of travel on Wednesday.
“I can definitely tell you, that’s probably the nicest ballpark that any of them have ever played in and probably the biggest,” McClellan told reporters. “It was exciting to see where we’re gonna play tomorrow.”
Biggest indeed. McClelland revealed that the crowd at NJIT’s final regular season game was around 75. Over 11,000 tickets have been sold for Thursday afternoon’s matchup between the Hogs and Highlanders. But senior catcher Paul Franzoni appeared to dispel any notion that the visitors from the northeast are awed by their surroundings and the challenge they’re facing when he declared on Twitter, “We’re not scared of Arkansas.”
McClelland did his best to put that quote in context. “He sets the tone for our team from a leadership standpoint,” the head coach explained. “College athletics is all about winning or losing. Two teams show up every single day and both teams expect to win. I think what he was trying to say is that we want to give a good effort and we’re not afraid of competition and we’ll see where it falls at the end of the day.”
Upsets do happen even when no name teams from little known conferences take on well publicized top seeded teams. Three years ago Maryland-Baltimore County out of the same American East conference as NJIT, became the first ever 16 seed to knock off a one seed (Virginia) in the NCAA Basketball tournament. McClelland was asked if he had reminded his players of that upset.
“No,”‘ he answered, “but we know that one of the things that makes our team really special is that we all believe in each other. We just had a little chat at practice. Tomorrow will be an opportunity just like every single game that we’ve played and if we can execute pitches and stay together for nine innings we’re gonna give it the best shot we’ve got and we’ll see how it ends.”
The Highlanders started out looking like anything but a post season team. They opened up 1-5 with four cancelled games and stood just 7-17 by early April.
“We huddled up as a group after the Maine series where we did not play good at all,” McClelland recalled. “We said for us to make a run at this we need to go 16-8. I think we went 17-7 and 18-4 over the last 22.”
Most of the losses involved injury problems, according to the McClelland, who pronounced his team heathy for the Fayetteville Regional. Healthy enough to work up a big appetite following their time on the practice field.
“It’s great,” McClelland said of the team’s mood. “We’re gonna have some barbecue here pretty quickly.”
“Do they have barbecue joints up in New Jersey?” he was asked. “Well, they have one but it’s not very good,” the head coach answered.
Fayetteville is known for its quality barbecue. Razorback fans are hoping that these visiting players and coaches will quickly find out that the college baseball team here is top quality as well.