While their UW-Whitewater counterparts on the softball side won their Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title last week to qualify for the NCAA Division III playoffs, the Warhawks baseball team won’t have that opportunity.

Mother Nature saw to that.

After the snowstorm that hit most of the state the first weekend of April, the WIAC canceled its annual conference tournament that would have been held starting Friday.

The conference decided to complete its regular-season schedule, making up all the games that were postponed due to the late spring storm, as well as games postponed due to the unusually cold spring.

Making that decision easier is the fact that the lack of teams in the conference took away the automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth for the tournament champion.

“This is the first year we’ve lost the automatic qualifier, because even though we have seven teams this year with Illinois Tech, we will lose them next year and go down to six teams,” Warhawks baseball coach John Vodenlich said. “In order to get an AQ, you need seven teams.

“So the combination of not having any better options and not having an AQ status, we decided the best thing to do was play the 24 (WIAC) games.”

Vodenlich believes that had the WIAC still had its automatic-qualifier status, it would have conducted the conference tournament.

The prospects of having River Falls or Eau Claire reinstate baseball, or having UW-Superior rejoin the WIAC for baseball, are always out there.

“There’s always been a large demand for adding baseball from the baseball community,” Vodenlich said.

“First and foremost, at Madison, but then in our league, Eau Claire is in the position to add baseball; River Falls could be in position to bring it back. Superior has baseball, but they just chose to leave our league because they were struggling to compete.”

The Warhawks don’t have much to worry about without the automatic qualifier berth. They are in first place in the WIAC with a 17-3 record and are 28-5 overall.

UW-Whitewater is ranked No. 1 in the D3baseball.com national poll, so the Warhawks are in a good position to earn an NCAA Division III tournament berth when the field is announced either late Sunday or Monday.

Whitewater concludes the regular season with a pair of scheduled doubleheaders at UW-La Crosse on Friday and Saturday. The Eagles (13-7) are in third place, four games behind the Warhawks.

Oshkosh (15-5) will conclude the regular season with a pair of doubleheaders at Illinois Tech (5-15).

Vodenlich won’t miss not having a three-day tournament determine the conference’s automatic qualifier.

“I’ve always felt the conference champ should be determined by the regular season’s 24-game schedule,” Vodenlich said. “The team that plays the best over the 24-game schedule, in my mind, is the best team.

“To boil the season down to two (or three) days, I’ve never liked it anyway, because I’ve felt our strengths were our consistency and our depth.”

That said, the Warhawks did win five WIAC Tournament titles, including last season at Whitewater.

And the success has carried over again to this year’s squad. If the Warhawks win at least two of the four games against La Crosse, they will be guaranteed at least a share of the WIAC title and a high seed in the national tournament.

“We try not to get ahead of things, but we have one eye on the regional tournament that would start on Wednesday,” Vodenlich said.

That regional will not be at Whitewater. The school did not put in an application to host a tournament because of its ongoing construction of a clubhouse facility next to Prucha Field at James B. Miller Stadium.

The Midwest Regional will be in Duluth, Minnesota.

Let’s hope it’s done snowing there.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.{/span}

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