There might be peanuts and Cracker Jack, but there won’t be hot dogs and brats.
But there will be fans at the NCAA Division III baseball regional tournament at UW-Whitewater’s Prucha Field at James B. Miller Stadium starting today, weather permitting.
The Warhawks and five other teams will compete in the double-elimination regional, with the champion advancing to the NCAA Division III World Series that begins June 4 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Warhawks (37-5 overall) are the No. 2 seed in the regional. They open against No. 5 seed Luther (Iowa) College (31-14) at 2:30 p.m. today.
Tournament play is set to begin at 10 a.m with No. 1 Adrian (32-7) taking on Salem (Massachusetts) State. At 6 p.m., No. 3 seed Texas Lutheran (28-12) takes on No. 4 seed Penn State Harrisburg (28-7) in the day’s final game.
Coach John Vodenlich raves about the way his Warhawks have responded to the various COVID-19 protocols throughout the season. He said the players have taken their responsibilities seriously and have been fun to coach.
The team takes a deep pitching staff, featuring three All-WIAC first-team pitchers—and strong hitting team into the scheduled four-day tournament.
The two main starters for pitching coach Tom Klawitter’s crew are Westin Muir and Matt O’Sullivan.
Both O’Sullivan and Muir were named to the All-WIAC first team Wednesday, with O’Sullivan earning the WIAC Pitcher of the Year honor.
In 10 starts and two relief appearances, the 6-3, 200-pound O’Sullivan has a 9-0 record with a 1.47 ERA. The senior has 109 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings with just 12 walks.
In 11 starts, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Muir has an 8-1 record with a 1.27 ERA. The junior has 76 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings, with 17 walks.
Connor Spear (6-0, 2.26 ERA in eight starts) and Donovan Brandl (6-1, 1.99 ERA in seven starts) and round out the solid list of starters. Spear, a senior righthander, also earned WIAC first-team honors.
Connor Moroder and Cade Lancour also likely will see action as the tournament progresses.
“I certainly feel we have a strong pitching staff,” Vodenlich said. “In a typical year, the first two rounds are all about pitching, and the later you go into a tournament, the less of a factor it becomes.
“If we’re fortunate enough to be around the final days of the tournament, I think it will play in our favor.”
The Warhawks support that staff with a .370 batting average. Sophomore second baseman Sam Vomhof leads the team with a .408 average, including a walk-off homer in last week’s WIAC Tournament. Vomhof was an All-WIAC first-team pick.
Nick Santoro is hitting .385 with a team-leading 52 runs scored, which earned him All-WIAC first-team honors at shortstop. Sophomore outfielder Matt Korman is hitting .379 and leads the team in homers (7) and RBI (59). Senior third baseman Tucker Criswell is hitting .374.
The big news came when the NCAA lifted its attendance regulations. For the first time since the fall sports in 2019, there will be no fan restrictions for tournament play.
There is a $10 admission charge for adults; $8 for senior citizens and veterans, $7 for students and $5 for children 12 and younger.
Vodenlich wonders now that the NCAA allows it, will fans actually come to the games.
“I think a lot of people will assume there won’t be fans,” Vodenlich said. “We’ll see how the word spreads.”
“I’m excited to give them a chance to come and see us.”
Food will limited through the concession stand, per NCAA rules.
“They’re allowing us to open a concession stand with minimum items,” Vodenlich said. “Certainly beverages in closed containers. People need that. Things like candy bars, packaged items.”
But no hot dogs and the Wisconsin “prime rib” of sausages—bratwursts.
“Unfortunately we can’t teach these Texas folks and East coast folks about brats,” Vodenlich said. “Which we should, but we can’t.”
They’ll have to settle for some good baseball and many fellow spectators—and that should be enough after all these months.