With just two games separating the No. 1 seed and the No. 6 seed heading into the championship and four one-run games on the season’s final day, most observers saw the tournament shaping up as one of the most competitive in A-Sun history.
They would have been right. The match-up between top-seeded Belmont and sixth-seeded Stetson on day one set the tone, lasting 15 innings before the Bruins escaped with a one-run victory. Two runs or less decided six of the tournament’s first nine games. Three teams, each with one loss, advanced to championship Saturday as FGCU, Kennesaw State and Belmont will duke it out for the title.
“Every game is going to be against a quality opponent. These teams participating in the A-Sun Tournament are high quality teams that have been there and done that against other good teams,” Belmont head coach Dave Jarvis said. “This league stands on its own merits up and down, top to bottom on what it has accomplished.”
Jarvis is right. Only five conferences feature more teams in the RPI top-100 than the A-Sun which places all six tourney teams inside the top-100. The Atlantic Sun consistently ranked between 9th and 12th among the nation’s 31 conferences this season.
“This league is very strong and the players are very talented. To me, it’s not upsets or surprises, we are just competitive. Many of the teams in our league can play in some of the major conferences,” stated Kennesaw State’s Mike Sansing.
The strength of traditional powers like Stetson and Jacksonville forced programs like Belmont to improve or forget about entertaining title hopes. The league’s newest teams only added to the formidable lineup.
Not only were the teams great against each other, notable non-conference wins abounded. FGCU beat three ranked teams in a seven-day span in April including No. 2 Florida State while Belmont defeated 2011 College World Series participant Vanderbilt. Stetson took one from Florida State as well while North Florida knocked off Florida and Mercer claimed a win off Mississippi State just to name a few.
“In the last eight or 10 years, I have seen so many good wins against non-conference opponents and so many great programs in our league that it doesn’t surprise me to see the wins. Players in this league feel comfortable playing against other good teams,” added Jarvis.
Championship Saturday gives the A-Sun one more chance to showcase the excellence of its baseball.