Dan Douglas can safely say now he and his freshmen teammates on the UW-Stevens Point baseball team didn’t know any better in 2010. Playing in the Division III College World Series? Hey, that was easy. It’ll happen every year.
So when the Pointers finished fifth that season in the national tournament, Douglas wasn’t worried. He would be back. He was sure of it.
“Coming in as a freshman, it happens and then you kind of expect it every year from there on out,” said Douglas, now the Pointers’ senior shortstop. It was kind of like we were spoiled as freshmen coming in going that far, making it to the World Series.”
By Stevens Point standards, the next two seasons were considered a disappointment in comparison. The Pointers won nearly twice as many games as they lost (57-29) but failed to reach the College World Series. Last season, they didn’t even make it out of the conference tournament.
Perhaps that is why Douglas and the rest of his senior class cohorts can truly appreciate where they will be this weekend. Three years later, the Pointers have returned to the World Series, one of eight teams remaining in Division III college baseball.
Stevens Point (39-9) will play Manchester (Ind.) University (39-5-1) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis.
“We were like, ‘Are we ever going to make it back?” senior pitcher Jake Herbst said. “It’s nice to go out how we started.”
This year’s team has defined itself by its work ethic, Douglas said, which is why he knew the Pointers had the potential for a special year even during the offseason.
“We started doing a lot more team stuff, whether it was off the field, on the field, early morning workouts, being together consistently,” Douglas said. “We did a lot of 6 a.m. workouts in the fall, which we had gotten away from in the past. We did them my freshman year. I think that brought us closer as a team.”
On the field, Stevens Point has been dominant at the plate and on the mound. Eight players are batting at least .300 for the Pointers, led by Jimmy Coady’s .398 average. The team is collectively batting .338. Not surprisingly, that average ranks in the top 10 nationally in Division III baseball this season.
Conversely, opposing hitters are batting just .248 against Stevens Point pitchers. The team’s two workhorses, sophomore JP Feyereisen and Herbst, are a combined 15-3, and neither has an ERA above 2.78. Feyereisen was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year this season.
Herbst’s story has been especially uplifting for the Pointers because he had been pitching strictly in a reliever’s role throughout his career. This season, Stevens Point coach Pat Bloom said the coaching staff decided Herbst’s stuff was simply too good to save him for the final three to six outs of a baseball game. During the first conference series of the season against UW-Platteville, they let him loose as a starter. And they haven’t looked back.
Herbst had started two games at Stevens Point in his career prior to this season and wondered if he would get another chance to start a game. But on that day against Platteville, he lasted 7 1/3 innings, surrendered just two hits and struck out 12 batters.
“Those two hits were in one inning,” said Herbst, who is 9-1 this season. “If it wouldn’t have been for that second inning, I would have been going for a no-hitter. I think coach was a little surprised.”
His emergence has helped to offset the loss of standout pitcher Cam Seidl, who suffered a season-ending elbow injury and required Tommy John surgery. Last season, Seidl had the lowest ERA on the team (1.67) while pitching the most innings (75.1). He finished 5-3, and opposing batters hit just .179 against him.
The Pointers certainly have earned their way into the College World Series this season, winning 26 of their last 29 games. Three of their four victories in the NCAA Midwest Regional came by one run, including two that required 10 innings.
“Playing in one-run games where you’re biting your nails for almost every pitch is not the most comfortable thing to do,” Bloom said. “But our guys have found a way to get through some of the adverse moments within games that we’ve played here down the stretch and they’ve come together.”
Stevens Point players are expecting more of the same on Friday. Manchester has won 15 consecutive games and has nine players batting over .300, although the Pointers know little about their next opponent beyond studying box scores and statistics.
All that matters now is that Stevens Point is back in the College World Series. Players don’t intend to take it for granted this time. And they intend to stay longer than their last trip there.
“The main focus is just trying to get our game right, keep our pitching going,” said Sean Gerber, who leads the Pointers with 12 home runs. “If we do that, I feel like we can beat any team in the country.”