In most years, sixth seeds at the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship don't realistically pose a major threat to walk out with the trophy. Most A-Sun sports don't feature six RPI top-90 teams however.
It had been since Jacksonville in the 2003 Baseball Championship that a sixth seed in any sport had won an A-Sun crown before Belmont ran through this year's tournament with a perfect 4-0 mark. No sixth seed had won the A-Sun Championship in undefeated fashion since UCF in 1997
The Bruins, who needed two wins at regular-season champion Stetson in the final weekend just to make the field, beat Stetson, Kennesaw State and Mercer twice to claim their first Baseball Championship. They began the week with an RPI rating of 88, according to WarrenNolan.com, and following the four-game run, moved up to No. 64.
"For us, accomplishing the goal of getting into the [A-Sun] Tournament was a major feat," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said. "This is such a good league, there's so much parity in this baseball league...I mean you can see that in results every weekend. I had that gut feeling that if we got into the tournament that we were going to win it. I kept telling our players that time and time and time again and they responded to that kind of challenge. At the end of the day they got the job done."
The narrow gap in talent among the six teams exemplified itself in the fact that the lower seeded team won eight of the 10 games played. Mercer, Belmont's opponent in the title game, counted three wins towards that total - only losing when facing Belmont.
The conference stands to return to its traditional place as one of the few elite leagues that earn multiple-bids to NCAA Regional play when the 64 teams are announced on Monday. The conference has earned 19 at-large selections since 1990 and placed multiple teams in the field every year from 1999 through 2007. Only one conference in the NCAA features more 35-win schools this year than the A-Sun's five (the ACC, six). The six schools that competed in the A-Sun Championship earned more than 40 victories against RPI top 50 schools and only once conference scored more non-conference victories against the East Division of the SEC than the seven the A-Sun earned.
"I see the league very much like it was 10 years ago when we first got in the [A-Sun] and our conference was getting three teams in a lot of years," Jarvis said. "[The A-Sun] is such a strong baseball conference - and I think it's recognized as a strong conference - but realistically not to the degree of difficulty that is. There is no place that you go in this league that...won't be very difficult situations."
Belmont will be able to relax until Monday afternoon's selection show knowing its name will appear in the bracket, but Jarvis is hopeful that multiple fellow conference members will enjoy the same fate.
"I think that this league deserves a lot of due credit," Jarvis said. "I know Stetson deserves their at-large bid and I really believe that when you look at what Mercer has accomplished with 39 wins, what Jacksonville's accomplished - finishing second in our league - and some of the non-conference wins that these teams have put together - there's no way you can overlook this conference."