KEENE, N.H. – The text message from
senior catcher Anthony Cipolla to Keene State Associate Baseball
Coach Marty Testo came at 5:53 a.m. Monday morning: “We live
to play another day.”
Like the Phoenix arising from the ashes, the Keene State baseball team awoke Monday to the news that their season isn’t over just yet. Despite an early exit from the Little East Championship, the Owls have earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Moved out of the New England region, Keene State (26-15-1) will be fifth seed in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament that will be held at Falcon Park in Auburn, N.Y., and hosted by Cortland State and the Auburn Doubledays, a minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. KSC opens up with a first-round game against fourth-seed Skidmore College on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
“I’ll go to California if that’s where they want us to play,” said an ecstatic Keene State Coach Ken Howe. “We’ve been given a second life, and now we have to go out and play like I know we can.”
Seeded second in the LEC tournament, Keene State quickly saw its championship aspirations and bid for the conference’s automatic berth dashed with consecutive losses to UMass-Boston, the eventual winner, and Southern Maine. “I thought this team deserved more than losing its entire season based on one day,” said Coach Testo. “At the end of the day, we didn’t do what we were supposed to do, but somebody thought we deserved another chance.”
A good reason for that second chance stemmed from Keene State’s strong schedule. According to Howe, the Owls played the toughest schedule in the New England and the third toughest in the country. KSC also played well down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 11 regular-season games and beating six tournament teams.
“We’re a much more respected program on the national stage now,” said Testo. “We’ve also been to the national tournament twice, and the Little East gets a ton of respect in Division III.”
In 2007, KSC earned an at-large berth to the NCAAs, advancing to the championship round. The following year, the Owls captured their first LEC championship and received the conference’s automatic berth.
The Keene State players were more than happy to push back their summer plans. “I think everyone is excited to get another chance,” said junior Bobby Doyon.
“The way we went out in the LEC tournament left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” said senior Jeff Raymond. “This gives us a chance for a better ending.”
“I’m very excited,” said Cipolla, a two-year captain. “Going to New York and getting away from all the LEC teams in the New England region could be the best thing for us.”
Except for Castleton and Brockport State, who they played during their spring week trip to Arizona, the Owl coaching staff knows little about the remaining six teams in the tournament. Both Howe and Testo have been burning up the phone lines and scanning web sites to gather information.
Top-seed Cortland State (32-8-1) is making its 18th-straight trip to the tournament, while Skidmore (30-13), the Owls’ first-round opponent, earned its third NCAA Tournament bid after winning the Liberty League Tournament this past weekend. The Thoroughbreds are led by a strong pitching staff that ranks second nationally in Division III in hits allowed per nine innings and third in team ERA.
“I never worry about other teams; I worry about what we’re going to do,” said Testo. “When we’re playing good baseball, we’re darn tough to beat.”
There are 55 teams competing in eight regionals for the right to advance to the Division III World Series that will be held May 28–June 1 in Appleton, Wisc.