UW-Whitewater and UW-La Crosse must have felt they spent the last two weeks locked into a postseason series.
The Warhawks and Eagles, engaged in a battle for first place all year in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, split a pair of doubleheaders April 28 and 29, though Whitewater held on to win the league title.
That meant the Warhawks hosted the league tournament this weekend, and eventually that meant UW-W and La Crosse locked horns three more times.
The Warhawks won 1-0 on Friday, meaning the Eagles needed to beat the Warhawks twice Saturday. They got the first one, 10-2, but Whitewater won the second, 11-1 in eight innings.
If you’re counting at home, that means Whitewater essentially won a best-of-seven series to add a WIAC tournament title to its regular-season crown.
That’s fun, but not entirely strange, UW-W coach John Vodenlich said Sunday. In fact, the two teams were waiting Sunday night to find out, one, if they were in the NCAA Division III Tournament, and two, if they might be placed in the same regional, setting up another potential meeting or two.
“It’s been pretty common, actually, if you look over the past 10 years,” said Vodenlich, who recently picked up his 600th victory. “It’s not always La Crosse, but in years past we’ve done stuff like that with Stevens Point and Oshkosh. Many years, we see them in the regional, as well, so it might not be over yet.”
First, the Warhawks were left to make sure they were in the DIII field.
Because there has been some turnover in the WIAC in recent seasons, the league does not currently have the status needed to give an automatic bid to a conference champion. UW-Superior left the league, and the league added Illinois Tech. Illinois Tech since left, and now Finlandia is part of the league. If that becomes a stable scenario, the NCAA can then grant automatic-bid status back to the WIAC.
(Note: a story in Sunday’s Gazette erroneously reported UW-W’s WIAC title meant they earned a berth.)
“I stopped predicting things years ago, when we were the defending champs and went 31-10 and didn’t get in,” Vodenlich said. “But I think, number one, we have a nice facility, and number two, we’ve put together a nice year. I hope that they’ll consider us, and we’d be excited if we could host.”
According to the NCAA website, a selection show to reveal the Division III field is scheduled for 11 a.m Monday.
New this year is a format involving 16 regionals—13 four-team, double-elimination regionals and three two-team, best-of-five series.
Whitewater sits with a 34-10 record and could get one of two “Pool B” bids to the tournament. Pool B bids go to teams that are either independent or part of conference without an auto bid. D3baseball.com predicted Whitewater would receive such a bid.
If not, Whitewater and La Crosse, and any other WIAC team, would also then be eligible for a Pool C bid—essentially 16 at-large bids.
Barring a complete snub, the Warhawks will make the DIII bracket for the 14th time in Vodenlich’s 16 seasons. And they’ll do so coming off winning a 12th WIAC title during that stretch.
“We’re playing at a higher intensity than in weeks past,” Vodenlich said. “I still don’t think our entire offensive lineup is clicking. That’s the bad part. But the good part is, if we get them all hitting at the same time, hitting is contagious and good things can happen.
“We’re playing hard and playing focused, but I still don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet.”
Whitewater should get a chance to reach its peak when the bracket is announced. Hopefully they’ll get another weekend to do it at home. And perhaps it would even include another date with La Crosse.