By Chris Chaney
The road has been paved for UC Clermont to repeat as the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series champions once again in 2014 as the Cougars received the No. 1 overall seed in the May 2 selection show.
“What (the seed) means, really, is that we’ll be the home team all tournament, which is nice,” UC Clermont head coach Jack Harbison said. “It puts a pretty big target on our back that you don’t necessarily want, but being the reigning champions we would have it on our back no matter what we do.
“It’s an honor, but I didn’t expect it. Some of the other teams had really good stretch runs and we lost a game the last weekend, which I thought would knock us out of the one seed.”
The No. 1 seed gives the Cougars the opportunity to scout their first-round opponents the morning of their game. They will play the winner of Victory University and Rochester College game — No. 8 vs. No. 9. While Rochester is a familiar opponent, Clermont has not seen Victory yet this season.
In fact, Rochester was the squad that handed the Cougars their most recent loss, which Coach Harbison alluded to.
“We lost to Rochester on Saturday (April 26) and we played really uninspired,” Harbison said. “We came back and played them on Sunday and run-ruled them (11-1) in five innings. The guys were just awesome. I think that if the players can continue to play like they did on Sunday, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The lone loss to Rochester was the Cougars sole blemish over their last six games. And the ensuing win over Warriors was the last live action UC Clermont has seen or will see before the USCAA tournament kicks off on Monday, May 12.
Harbison said that the two-week layoff is a concern, but that he and his staff are going to do their best this week to keep his guys sharp.
“We’ve had a lot of time off between our last game and our next game,” the coach explained. “That’s not good. We couldn’t find any teams that wanted to play us and most other teams are already in their tournaments, so we’re going to play a Red and Black intrasquad series this week. Hopefully, we can stay sharp by doing that.”
Aside from the layoff, Harbison said that the team is healthy and poised to make another run. The next big decision to be made will be how to set a lineup and more importantly, choose a pitcher.
With the possibility of playing five games in four days, the strategic aspect of handing the ball to a hurler is one that Harbison said takes some feel and luck.
“You really have to go by feel,” Harbison said. “Some coaches look at it and think we need to win four games or five games, so we’ll go with our 5-4-3-2-1 (pitchers). I don’t want to get knocked into the loser’s bracket with my No. 1 (pitcher) sitting on the bench, but I also don’t want to throw my No. 1 against a team that my No. 4 could beat. So, you really have to be on your toes and do your homework.”
Harbison said that is one of the advantages of receiving the higher seed. He said he and his staff plan to attend the 8:30 a.m. game on May 12 to see which of their arms matches up the best against their first opponent and go from there.
Looking at their side of the bracket, Harbison said that at this point in the year, there are no easy wins. He expects that his team will be in a position to make it two straight national championships and that trophy that sits back in Batavia is a big confidence-boosting chip that his team holds over their opponents.
“I think (winning last year) gives us a huge edge,” he said. “Penn State Alleghany was there with us last year, so they have the same experience and maybe some more motivation. I expect it to come down to us two again this year.
“I think the main thing having won last year does for us is that it has given us the goal and motivation to repeat since Day One. The guys have rallied around (the goal of repeating) all year and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Cougars will begin their quest to repeat at 4 p.m. on May 12 against the winner of Victory/Rochester. For complete brackets, schedules, game times and box scores, log on to the USCAA’s website at theuscaa.com.