NORFOLK, Va. (NSUSpartans.com) - On the heels of its first-ever MEAC baseball championship, the Norfolk State baseball team will take part in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship for the first time this week as one-fourth of the Greenville Regional hosted by East Carolina. The Spartans face regional No. 1 seed and national No. 17 ranked East Carolina at noon Friday at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
No. 2 seed and 25th-ranked Charlotte and No. 3 seed Maryland comprise the rest of the Greenville Regional field.
One for the Ages
You would be hard-pressed to find a more dramatic championship game win that NSU's 7-6, 11-inning walk-off victory on its own field over North Carolina Central on May 22. The Spartans trailed 4-2 in the eighth, but scored single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to send the game into extras. NCCU took a 6-4 lead with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th, but after an error opened the door for NSU, Alsander Womack and Ty Hanchey hit consecutive RBI singles with two outs in the 10th to tie the game again. NSU then won it when Womack hit a bases-loaded RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, giving NSU its first-ever MEAC title.
If at First You Don't Succeed
NSU was making its 10th MEAC Tournament championship round appearance two weeks ago before finally breaking through for its first title. The Spartans were making their fourth championship round appearance in the last five MEAC tournaments.
The Spartans - winners of five of the last six MEAC Northern Division regular-season titles - became the first school from that division to win a MEAC baseball title since Howard did it in 1998. The Bison have since disbanded their program. Since 1999, only Bethune-Cookman (16), Florida A&M (2), North Carolina A&T (2) and now Division II member Savannah State (1) have won MEAC baseball championships.
Spartans vs. The Field
NSU has seen two of its regional opponents before. The Spartans are 0-5 all-time against East Carolina, with the last meeting coming in coach Keith Shumate's first year at NSU, a 9-1 loss in Greenville in 2018. NSU is 0-1 all-time against Maryland, with a 1-0 loss in 2012 in College Park. The Spartans and Charlotte have never faced one another.
Five Spartans earned a total of six spots on the All-MEAC teams, with senior RHP/IF Danny Hosley picking up NSU's second-ever MEAC Player of the Year honor. Hosley also became the first Spartan ever to be named All-MEAC at two positions, earning first-team All-MEAC honors at shortstop and second team at pitcher. 2B Alsander Womack, 1B Mason Velasquez and OF Dionte Brown joined Hosley on the first team and LHP James Deloatch was a third-team selection. NSU's six All-MEAC selections matched the 2007 and 2016 teams for the most in school history.
Hosley an Olerud Award Finalist
In addition to his MEAC accolades, Hosley also gained distinction when he was named one of five finalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, given nationally to the top player who both pitches and plays another position. Other finalists are Garrett Delano of Mercer, Dylan Nedved of Iowa, Spencer Schwellenbach of Nebraska and Justin Campbell of Oklahoma State. The award will be presented by the College Baseball Foundation later this summer.
Like Father, Like Son
Alsander Womack's walk-off RBI single in the MEAC Championship win proved that heroics run in the bloodlines. His father, Tony Womack, played parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues. He is perhaps best known as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks for his game-tying ninth-inning RBI double off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
MEAC in NCAA Tournament Play
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams with the current regional and super regional format in 1999, MEAC teams are 5-42 in NCAA postseason play. Bethune-Cookman has all five of those wins, including a 3-2 mark in 2017 when the Wildcats took eventual national champion Florida to the final "if-necessary" game of the Gainesville regional. B-CU also won single games in 2002 and 2014.
Twice is Nice for Shumate
Head coach Keith Shumate made a little history of his own last month when the Spartans won the MEAC title. He became the first coach in MEAC history to lead two different conference programs to the MEAC baseball title. The 2021 MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Coach, Shumate also did it 2005 with North Carolina A&T, which oddly enough defeated NSU in the championship round that year. The championship game win over North Carolina Central was the 375th win of Shumate's career at the Division I level.
Coming from behind and winning in dramatic fashion, as the Spartans did in the MEAC championship, is not a new concept for NSU. The Spartans have come from behind in 14 of their wins this year and the NCCU title game win was their third walk-off victory, all coming in a span of eight days. NSU also notched walk-offs in game 2 (8-7 on 5/14) and 4 (10-9 on 5/15) of the final regular-season series, against Delaware State.
History Did Not Repeat Itself
The Spartans made sure to exorcise some demons in the MEAC final. This year marked the second straight tournament in which NSU advanced to the MEAC Tournament championship round as the victor in the winner's bracket. In 2019, NSU held a 4-3 lead over Florida A&M in the title game before the Rattlers took the lead on a two-out hit, and FAMU turned around and won the second and deciding game to deny the Spartans their first MEAC title. This year, NSU again advanced out of the winner's bracket and trailed North Carolina Central 4-2 in the eighth inning before rallying to force extra innings, then won in the 11th.
MEAC Tournament Recap
NSU won every which way in the MEAC Championship two weeks ago, capturing their first-ever MEAC title in their 10th time advancing to the league finals. A quick recap:
NSU 8, FAMU 3: The Spartans trailed 1-0 after the first, but overwhelmed the Rattlers with an 18-hit attack. Winning pitcher Danny Hosley hit the go-ahead two-run double in a four-run third inning. Alsander Womack and Ty Hanchey each had four hits, Jacob Council three, and Mason Velasquez homered. Hosley allowed three hits and two earned runs in seven innings, striking out nine.
NSU 1, NCCU 0: James Deloatch won a pitchers' duel with NCCU strikeout specialist Austin Vernon, tossing a complete-game shutout. Hosley hit a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth for the only run. Deloatch allowed just four hits and fanned five.
NSU 7, NCCU 6 (11): The Spartans never led until the final play, a two-out RBI single by Alsander Womack off MEAC Pitcher of the Year Ryan Miller in the bottom of the 11th. NSU trailed 4-2 in the eighth but forced extra innings thanks to an RBI groundout by Council in the ninth. NSU then trailed 6-4 in the bottom of the 10th before Womack and Hanchey hit two-out RBI singles to extend the game to the 11th. Womack went 3-for-6 and Hanchey 4-for-5.
Womack won tournament MOP honors, while Hosley, Hanchey and Deloatch were also all-tournament team selections.
Climbing the Ladder
Despite missing two-thirds of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, Alsander Womack has made his mark in NSU's record book. He is sixth in school history with 207 hits, three shy of tying Omari Venable for fifth. Womack is also tied with former teammate Stephen Baughan for sixth in NSU history with 40 doubles, one shy of Chris Mitchell and Antoine Jackson for fourth place. Womack is also tied with Venable for sixth with 153 singles, three shy of Juan Serrano in fifth place.
Thick as Thieves
NSU has excelled in swiping bases under Keith Shumate. In each of his three full seasons as head coach, the Spartans have stolen at least 100 bases (101 in 2018, 124 in 2019, 107 this year). The Spartans rank seventh nationally heading into the NCAA tournament with 2.1 per game. Four Spartans rank in the MEAC top 10 in steals: Dionte Brown (1st, 19), Alsander Womack (2nd, 17), Ty Hanchey (5th, 13) and Danny Hosley (T-8th, 9).
No K Zone
The Spartans boast two of the nation's top 50 toughest hitters to strike out. Danny Hosley ranks 10th in the category (one every 13.3 at bats) and Alsander Womack is 41st (1 every 10.4).
Virginia is for Ballers
NSU is one of a record five baseball teams from Virginia to make the NCAA baseball postseason this year, joining nearby Old Dominion, Virginia, Liberty and VCU in the 64-team field. The Commonwealth's diamond success hasn't been limited to baseball this year: another of NSU's neighbors, Virginia Wesleyan, won the Division III Softball World Series on June 1 and James Madison is in the Division I Women's World Series this week.