It was written in stone.
After being polled in multiple national rankings, including the Collegiate Baseball Division III poll and D3Baseball.com, with top 25 placements and also receiving third in the NCAA Regional ranking, the Montclair State baseball team is moving on to a tournament which is the goal every year for this squad.
Announced today in the selection show for the 2022 NCAA Division III Tournament, the Red Hawks will face the Ithaca College Bombers out of New York in the regional semifinal. Taking place in a double-elimination format, the game will be played at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania on Friday, which is hosting the regional.
Head coach Dave Lorber, who reached 50 wins in his tenure with the Red Hawks this season, is excited to be in the tournament.
“It was well deserving; these guys deserve to be in the tournament,” Lorber said. “The body of work that they have put together through the entire year has been fantastic. [Montclair State] is a resilient bunch, to be awarded a regional bid is something that very few people will understand what they went through to get here.”
In recent memory, reaching the NCAA tournament is uncharted territory for Montclair State, their last appearance being in 2009. But the scenario the Red Hawks faced 13 years ago is similar to the one they are facing now in 2022.
The baseball team, over a decade ago, ended the regular season with a five-game winning streak heading into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Playoffs. The Red Hawks this year ended the season on a four-game winning streak heading into the home game against The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
The 2009 team notched a couple of early wins against the Ramapo College of New Jersey Roadrunners and York College of Pennsylvania before ultimately facing defeat against the Lions of TCNJ, ending their conference run.
For this year’s team, it was the same road but with different obstacles. The Red Hawks got a close win against TCNJ to move on to face the William Paterson University Pioneers. But bad weather postponed the game to two days later, and it ended up in a dominant win for the rival team. Montclair State would then face Ramapo College the next day and lose a low-scoring game.
Both teams at that point could only wait to see how the dominos would fall in the NCAA Tournament bracket. And for both teams, their wishes came true. Senior outfielder Andrew Ollwerther lays out how important this tournament appearance is for the Red Hawks.
“We need to continue to keep preparing well and stay focused on the goal at hand,” Ollwerther said. “Obviously it’s great to be in and we’re going to enjoy it, but tomorrow we’re right back to work, and then we’re going to head out and make some noise and put Montclair State out there. We’re excited to have the chance to do that.”
Focusing on this year’s team, it was one of the best seasons in Montclair State history. The team reached 30 wins for the first time since 2006. As previously stated, they were ranked nationally multiple times. And the offense produced by the team consistently stood at the top of the NJAC.
But even with such high marks hitting the ball, the job was not finished in conference play, with the Red Hawks allowing 20 runs against William Paterson and gaining only one against Ramapo. Lorber knows it won’t be an easy road heading into the NCAA tournament on Friday.
“Baseball is not that easy,” Lorber said. “And we’ve been the other side of a lot of these 20-run games. And sometimes you just don’t have it. We’ll just go back to doing what we do to prepare, and if you do that, 31 times it came out positively and 11 times it didn’t this season. You never get too high or too low and you stick with the plan of what has and hasn’t worked, and adjust based on who you’re playing.”
The Red Hawks will have their hands full with their first opponent, the Ithaca Bombers. Finishing with a 30-12 record compared to Montclair State’s 31-11 record, the Bombers trucked through their conference playoffs within the Liberty League, ultimately beating the University of Rochester 8-7 in 10 innings and then a whopping 18-5 to win the conference championship.
Ollwerther notes that any opponent in the NCAA Tournament will not be easy, no matter what.
“If you don’t play your best, you’re probably going to lose,” Ollwether said. “We have to take it one game at a time, and Ithaca is a very formidable opponent. We do know they won their conference and they’re a 30-win team just like us. If we go in and play our best baseball and prepare our way, I see no reason why we can’t compete with them.”
Ithaca has dominated the Liberty League, leading in batting average, runs, hits and runs batted in, to name a few. A couple of key players to watch out for from the opponent are Buzz Shirley, with a 1.201 On Base Plus Slugging percentage, and Connor Pedersen, whose 69 hits tie the conference lead.
Because of the standout play the Red Hawks had leading up to this moment, they will now be playing for a national championship once again, and their 100th win in Division III Tournament play. And they have a decent chance of winning their first NCAA trophy since 2000.