ATHENS — When it comes to postseason baseball, you can count on Concord.
The Mountain Lions will be taking what has become their annual May reservation this Thursday when the Mountain East Conference tournament begins at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Concord (33-15, 21-11 MEC) is the No. 2 seed in the South Division and will take on North No. 2 Notre Dame College (25-25, 19-13) at 7 p.m.
It will be Concord’s 22nd straight year playing in a conference tournament.
“We are very proud of that streak,” Concord coach Kevin Garrett said. “I think it gives the current players something to aspire to, and it’s big in the recruiting area. They see the expectations we have of these young men in this program. They want to come here and compete for championships.”
They have every intention of doing that this weekend.
Concord rides a five-game win streak into the tournament. That includes a four-game sweep of UVa-Wise on the final weekend of the season.
Two games separated three teams battling for the second and third seeds, which made for a pressure-filled weekend.
“We told the kids to go out and play our brand of baseball, and I was excited to see them rise to the challenge,” Garrett said. “The South Division had been jam-packed for about four weeks. We had to take it game by game. We told them to not get too upset with losses and not get overly excited with wins, because we knew it was going to come down to the last few weeks.
“What we did this weekend was play our style of baseball, which is putting together key at-bats and pitching well, and they took on the challenge. They didn’t let the moment overtake their goal, which was to qualify for the tournament.”
The Mountain Lions are getting it done in all three phases. They are second in the league in hitting (.345) and pitching (4.81 earned run average) — second to Shepherd in both categories — and are No. 1 defensively with a .969 fielding percentage.
“Pitching and defense — that wins championships,” Garrett said. “And timely hitting. That’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”
Will Guay (6-3, 2.53) was named the MEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday for his performance in an 8-0 win over UVA-Wise last Friday. He threw 94 pitches in the complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits and striking out 11. Guay retired the first 11 batters he faced, including seven of the first nine via strikeout.
Guay has six complete games.
Troy Beckner (6-2, 3.81) and Logan Morrison (6-3, 4.38) have also been dependable weekend starters. Adam Linkous, the starting center fielder, has made 21 relief appearances and is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA and six saves.
Concord lost No. 4 starter Trent Abernathy to injury last month but has received strong performances in his absence. That includes Sunday’s finale, when shortstop Anthony Stehlin made his first start in a 5-2 win over UVa-Wise. He scattered seven hits over six innings, struck out three and walked one to earn the win.
“Pitching depth in tournament play is really huge,” said Garrett, also Concord’s athletic director who is in his second stint as baseball coach. “You’ve been in seven-inning games all year and suddenly you’re in nine-inning games, so pitching depth is crucial. You always have a team that’s hitting is hot, and to expect complete games out of all four starters is not realistic.”
Offensively, Ryan Fralin is hitting .393 for Concord. One point behind him is Evan Webb, who also has 15 doubles, eight home runs and 54 runs batted in.
Garrett is happy with the makeup of this year’s team, which has eight seniors.
“This team jelled pretty early and they really love playing the game,” he said. “Like every team we had moments when we were not playing well, but it never got to the point that it was a long span of time. We would go on a seven- or eight-game win streak, then lose one or two but bounce right back. That’s a good quality to have.”
North No. 1 Shepherd and South No. 3 UVa-Wise will get things started Thursday at noon. Defending champion Charleston, the top seed in the South, will meet North No. 3 Fairmont at 3:30 p.m.
— Follow on Twitter @GaryFauber
Concord fell 7-1 against Notre Dame in the opening game of the tournament at Epling Stadium Thursday night. They will now face Shepherd at 3:30 p.m. Friday in an elimination game for the Mountain Lions.