HICKORY, N.C. — The Catawba Valley Community College baseball team starts the chase for its third-ever World Series appearance on Friday when play at the Region 10/Southeast District tournament starts in Greenville, N.C.
The Red Hawks finished their regular season with a 32-19 overall record and 15-7 mark in Region 10 games.
Fifth-year CVCC head baseball coach Paul Rozzelle said this spring season has been filled with many ups and downs for he and his players, including a nine-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak.
"Each season, you're going to have periods where you play really well, periods where you play really bad and then periods in between. This year, we've had a lot more in between than maybe we'd like," Rozzelle said. "Obviously, we had a run there where we won nine straight, and we had some runs there that weren't great. This group is unique because we have the ability to do whatever it is that we want to do, but we've got to be consistent in our execution day in and day out."
Rozzelle said his team's biggest struggles this season have involved offense, including approach at the plate and belief in what his players are doing offensively.
"When we do those things well, we are really, really good. When we don't do those things, we are really, really average," Rozzelle said. "Going into the tournament, it's going to be about figuring out which team we are going to be — either the really good team or the really average team. At this point, it's on the players to figure out which side of the coin they are going to fall on. I hope and believe that they are going to come out and play extremely well. If that's the case, I really like our chances when we head down to Greenville."
The original site for the Region 10/Southeast District tournament was Morehead City, N.C., but due to damage left in the wake of Hurricane Michael this past fall, the location was changed to the Minges-Overton Complex on the campus of Pitt Community College in Greenville, N.C.
Rozzelle said the change in tournament location doesn't change anything for his team.
"It doesn't really matter where we play," Rozzelle said. "Wherever they tell us the tournament is at, that's where we are going to go. The only thing that changes is the logistics of it."
The Red Hawks' first-round tournament match up is against Southeastern Community College (25-23, 15-9 in Region 10) — a team that won 2-of-3 games played against the Red Hawks in early April in Hickory, but each of those games were decided by two runs or less.
"(Southeastern) coach (Daniel) Britt does an unbelievable job and runs an unbelievable program," Rozzelle said. "I've enjoyed watching him kind of rebuild Southeastern from afar. He's done a heck of a job. He's a great young baseball mind and somebody that I'd like to think I could call a friend. It's been nice to watch him work down there.
"It is a tough match up," he added. "They've got some threats in the line up for sure that have the ability not only to hurt you, but to make adjustments. Of course that's why they've got guys hitting .400. If you prove that you can get them out a certain way, they're going to change what they're going to do because they're not going to let you do that to them the whole game. That's just the mark of a good hitting team. They just compete their tail off."
Rozzelle also said the Rams' pitching staff can be deceptively good.
"On the mound, they have nothing that's crazy overpowering, but their guys compete and battle," Rozzelle said. "With Daniel Britt as your head coach, that's something they're going to do. It's going to be a fun match up. It's going to be a very, very tough one for us. They came into our place this year and took two of three. They should have all the confidence in the world. To our guy's credit, the games we lost to them were very, very close and tight games. We were one swing or pitch away from sweeping the series. Even though we lost two out of three, they were very close and hard-fought contests. I know our guys should have confidence going in there facing them. It's going to be fun and a tough game, but that's what the four (seed) versus five (seed) game is supposed to be. The four-five game should be your most competitive game."
The winner between the Red Hawks and Rams will likely face top-seeded Brunswick (37-9) — last year's tournament champion.
Rozzelle believes the Dolphins are the favorite to win the tournament championship.
"If we're going to get to where we want to go, we're going to have to beat Brunswick — whether it's in the second round or the championship round," Rozzelle said. "Someone is going to have to beat them because they've gone out and proven throughout the course of the regular season that they are the best team. Those guys play hard. They are probably the toughest at bats we've faced. Their hitters just don't give in and make you fight, scratch and claw. They're going to get you eventually. They compete their tail off on the mound, too."
Rozzelle said regardless of wins or losses and potential match ups, every game going forward will be difficult.
"When you get to a tournament setting like this, you are going to have to beat somebody eventually that you are going to have a tough time with," he said. "You can't escape and avoid having to play somebody."
As for his team's key to winning the Region 10/Southeast District championship, Rozzelle believes it all boils down to hitting.
"We've got to hit," he said. "If you look back through our season and you look at times where we had good stretches, won a lot of games and did a lot of good things, it was because of our offense. Our offense does so much more for our pitching. We believe we have the best pitching in the league, but time in and time out our pitching has to go out there in really tight, close games, and they feel like they have to be perfect. Now, one mistake can now lead to a loss. All of a sudden that hurts confidence level.
"If the offense goes, it just opens and frees everything up," he added. "Our pitchers can relax and know that they can go out there and pitch their game and hand the ball off to the bullpen. Without the offense, we don't stand a chance, but if we swing it, we can do whatever we want and go to the World Series."
The winner of the Region 10/Southeast District tournament advances to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) DII World Series, which takes place May 25-31 at the David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Okla.
Below is a look at the tournament bracket:
Region 10/Southeast District tournament (at Minges-Overton Complex on campus of Pitt CC)
Friday, May 10
No. 1 Brunswick (37-9) vs. No. 8 Guilford Tech (16-15), 10 a.m.
No. 4 Catawba Valley (32-19) vs. No. 5 Southeastern (25-23), 1 p.m.
No. 2 Paul D. Camp (28-14) vs. No. 7 Wake Tech (28-13), 4 p.m.
No. 3 Pasco-Hernando (28-14) vs. No. 6 Pitt (21-13-1), 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 11
Game 5: Brunswick/Guilford Tech loser vs. Catawba Valley/Southeastern loser, 10 a.m.
Game 6: Paul D. Camp/Wake Tech loser vs. Pasco-Hernando/Pitt loser, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Brunswick/Guilford Tech winner vs. Catawba Valley/Southeastern winner, 4 p.m.
Game 8: Paul D. Camp/Wake Tech winner vs. Pasco-Hernando/Pitt winner, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 10
Game 9: Game 7 loser vs. G6 winner, 10 a.m.
Game 10: Game 8 loser vs. Game 5 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 11
Game 13: G11 Loser vs. G12 Winner, 3 p.m.
Championship game: G12 Winner vs. G13 Winner, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 12
Game 14 (if necessary): If Game 13 winner defeats Game 12 winner in Championship Game, 1 p.m.