Drexel baseball clinches first tournament berth | The Triangle

Drexel baseball clinches first tournament berth

Outfielder and second baseman Sean McPartland readies to swing earlier this season. The Drexel baseball team is competing in the North Atlantic Regional Tournament.
Outfielder and second baseman Sean McPartland readies to swing earlier this season. The Drexel baseball team is competing in the North Atlantic Regional Tournament.

In case you were unaware, Drexel has a men’s baseball team to counter its women’s softball team. You can’t find the team’s information on the official athletics website — the Drexel Club Baseball Program is a club team.

But after a huge win over reigning national champion The Pennsylvania State University to cap an impressive season, you will be able to find the team in south central New York for the North Atlantic Regional Tournament starting Friday afternoon.

The upcoming appearance in the NAR Tournament is Drexel Club Baseball’s first in program history, and it came as the result of a furious finish to the spring season.

The Dragons put the finishing touches on what is now an eight-game winning streak this past weekend, beginning May 3 with a doubleheader at home against Towson University.

In the first game, starting pitcher and first-team All-NAR winner Varun Padmanabhan threw seven scoreless innings as the team rolled to a 5-0 victory.

In Game 2, the Dragons went with second-team All-NAR pitcher John Durkee on the mound, who allowed three runs over seven innings of work but had more than enough run support to pick up the win. Third baseman Chris Commons and outfielder Brian Iannuzzi both exploded at the plate, each registering four hits in the 6-3 win.

After the two dominant outings against Towson to conclude the conference schedule, the team had just one more game on the docket — one that would seemingly make or break the season.

To clinch the at-large bid, the Dragons needed the win May 4 over Penn State despite entering the contest with a 19-9 record to the Nittany Lions’ 13-7. It was more a matter of leaving no shadows of doubt in the selection process.

But if the pressure was felt, the team’s bats certainly didn’t show it. The Dragons drove in six — count ‘em, six — runs in the top of the first inning.

“We came out swinging,” Chris Martin, a sophomore pitcher and catcher, said. “They came out there looking like they were going to roll over us, but we came to play.”

The team batted around in the first inning, setting the tone for the afternoon as well as setting the Dragons up with a huge cushion from the get-go.

They quieted down after the early explosion, but those six runs would prove to be more than enough, as Jake Moss and Troy Reinhardt silenced the Nittany Lions with three scoreless innings to close out the 9-3 victory.

The Dragons clinched the tournament’s at-large bid after finishing the season with a 20-9 record, including going 8-4 in conference play in the North Atlantic Region East of the National Club Baseball Association. Their in-conference record was good enough for second in the NAR East, finishing behind only the University of Delaware, which finished the year 18-3, going 10-2 in conference play, to clinch the NAR East’s automatic tournament bid.

The other two teams competing in the NAR Tournament are the NAR North champion University of Massachusetts and the NAR West champion University of Pittsburgh. The Dragons will take on Pitt in the first round of the double-elimination tournament May 9 at 4 p.m.

Pitt finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country with a record of 14-2 overall, going 8-1 in conference play.

The Dragons know they have their work cut out for them if they plan on making it out of the NAR Tournament and into the NCBA World Series in Tampa, Fla., later this month.

But Martin said he believes his team has what it takes to topple the Panthers.

“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year with timely hitting,” Martin said. “Pitchers don’t necessarily need to hold them to zero runs — all year our team has battled.”

“I absolutely think we do,” Martin said when prompted on whether the team has a good chance of coming away with a win on Friday. “Penn State beat Pitt earlier this season, and we just smoked them. … I really think we have as good a shot as anybody.”

And the biggest victory of all this season might come off the field.

After the school’s varsity baseball program was terminated in 2003 due to Title IX rules, the Drexel Club Baseball Program has been striving toward being re-recognized as a Division I program. Martin said he thinks that this season’s success is going to have a lasting impact on the program for years to come.

“I think this definitely gives us credibility and shows we’re on an upward trend,” Martin said. “This team has come from five, six years ago being the epitome of a club sport … to this year we have two coaches who aren’t former players and our head coach has 10 years of coaching experience.

“The club sports office has been very supportive of us this year, supporting us through these playoffs,” Martin continued, “so I hope we can keep winning these next couple of years and then see where we’re at.”

If Drexel baseball continues to find itself in regional tournaments and competing with big-time schools like Pitt, there’s a good chance they will like where they are. If the team winds up in the NCBA World Series, the school might even make room for them on the athletics website.