Last year, the Southern Conference placed a record three teams into the NCAA baseball playoffs.
The Citadel won the league’s automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament, and Elon and College of Charleston earned at-large berths.
And the SoCon has sent at least two teams to the regionals in six of the past seven years, earning a reputation as one of the better mid-major leagues in the country.
But as the 2011 season hits the stretch run, the SoCon finds itself scrambling for a team worthy of a second bid to the NCAAs.
Heading into this weekend’s play, only first-place Elon (30-18) has an RPI high enough to be fairly certain of an at-large bid, at No. 36 according to respected website boydsworld.com.
College of Charleston, which has won seven straight games, is playing its way back onto the bubble with a record of 30-15 and an RPI of No. 59. Samford (27-18, No. 71), Georgia Southern (25-19, No. 81) and UNC Greensboro (25-17, No. 107) are currently on the wrong side of the RPI bubble.
So if Elon wins the SoCon tournament, set for the end of this month at Riley Park, and the league’s automatic bid, finding a second bid could be problematic.
“I would hope that we would get at least two teams in,” said Cougars coach Monte Lee, whose team hosts UNC Greensboro this weekend. “I think we are worthy of at least two teams getting in. I think there are several teams in our league good enough to play in the postseason.
“But that’s really out of our hands when it comes to the NCAA selection committee. I know our RPI is down as a league (No. 14), and RPIs across our league are down from last year. But hopefully, a couple of us finish strong and we can get a couple into the tournament.”
Aside from league-leader Elon, which is at The Citadel this weekend, the Cougars certainly have the best shot at an at-large bid. Eight of Charleston’s final 11 games are at home, including SoCon series with UNCG and Appalachian State and single games with The Citadel and Presbyterian.
According to boydsworld.com, a 9-2 finish would put the Cougars inside the top 45 in RPI rankings.
Baseball America’s latest projection has the SoCon gettting two bids, with just Elon and College of Charleston in.
“Suddenly, College of Charleston has caught fire, winning seven straight games,” writes Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt. “Charleston’s remaining schedule is favorable, with two of its last three series at home (starting with a big one this weekend against equally hot UNC Greensboro), and we’re anticipating a strong finish from the Cougars, which will land it in regionals.”
Said Lee: “It all depends on how you finish. And how you finish in the last 10 games is something the NCAA looks at. We need our starting pitching and bullpen to step for us down the stretch if we are going to make a run.”
As for defending SoCon champ The Citadel (20-24), the Bulldogs’ only hope for the NCAAs is to win the SoCon tournament. First, The Citadel has to make the eight-team field. The Bulldogs are eighth at 8-13, a game ahead of Western Carolina (7-14).