Baseball Eyes Fifth NCAA Regional Appearance Since 2003
May 25, 2011
CHICAGO - The UIC baseball team will travel to Dayton, Ohio this week to take part in the 2011 Horizon League tournament where it will aim to secure its fifth bid into the NCAA tournament under head coach Mike Dee since 2003.
The Flames (27-24, 16-7 Horizon League) enter the field of six as the second overall seed in the double elimination tournament. UIC and Wright State share the 2011 regular season championship, but the Raiders will be the tournament's top seed because of a better overall record against the third seed, Milwaukee.
UIC will play No. 4 Valparaiso at 2:05 CDT Thursday. The Crusaders defeated No. 5 Butler in the tournament's opening game on Wednesday, 9-0. The Flames dropped two of three during the regular season against Valpo, while the final two scheduled to be played at Les Miller Field on May 15 were cancelled because of inclement weather.
Wright State will face No. 6 Youngstown State in the finale on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. after the Penguins knocked off Milwaukee, 4-2, Wednesday. The Panthers and Bulldogs will play one another in an elimination game Thursday at Nischwitz Stadium scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m.
UIC enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in conference play of late. The Flames have won seven straight Horizon League ballgames since May 1 and 12 of their last 14 games in conference play to close out the regular season. The only two losses during that span came against Wright State at Nischwitz Stadium on April 30.
Leading the way for the Flames offensively has been a trio of seniors, who earlier this week each received All-Horizon accolades. Andy Leonard was named the First Team utility player as he's spent time at catcher, third base, shortstop and designated hitter during his final season on the collegiate diamond. Leonard is batting .293 overall this season and during the final seven conference victories, the Orland Park, Ill. native led UIC with eight RBI.
Leonard's classmates, third baseman Jason Ganek and second baseman Matt Serna, were both tabbed for the All-Horizon League Second Team by the conference's head coaches. Ganek led the Flames with seven home runs, 13 doubles and 34 RBI during the regular season, while Serna leads the club in hits (69), runs (34), batting average (.367) and on-base percentage (.428). Serna, who also played first base at times for UIC this year, ranks fourth in the Horizon League in batting average and tied for fifth in hits.
The Flames have also welcomed back senior Steve McGuiggan to the lineup after the center fielder missed more than a month with a hand injury. Healthy once again, McGuiggan, has collected five hits since his return on May 12 and is currently tied with J.P. Moran with 243 hits in a UIC uniform, the most ever.
On the mound for the Flames, junior Matt Heaslip, sophomore Joey Begel and freshman Collin Weyer have each stepped in the last few weeks with strong performances. Heaslip is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 10 strikeouts in his last two outings. Begel shut out Youngstown State through eight innings on Saturday, helping the Flames claim a crucial 2-0 victory in game one of a doubleheader. In his last start against Cleveland State, Weyer fired a complete game, two-hit shutout in which he struck out a career-high five batters.
Senior Eric Wyman and All-Newcomer Team selection Chris Hoffman have been stalwarts in the UIC bullpen this season. Wyman, a left-hander, leads the Flames with 42 strikeouts in 34 innings of work and is tied with Ganek for the team lead with four saves. Hoffman, a right-hander, boasts a 2.43 ERA in his first season with the team, the fourth-lowest mark in the Horizon League this year. The Schaumburg, Ill. native is also tied for second on the team with four wins this season.
Fans have plenty of options when it comes to following the action, even if they can't make it to Nischwitz Stadium. Every Horizon League tournament game will be available for free on the Horizon League Network. Please click on the link at the top of the page for the complete schedule. UICFlames.com will also feature a live interactive blog during all of UIC's contests.