ATHENS, Tenn. — David Bergin hardly can wait to get to Lewiston, Idaho. The Tennessee Wesleyan College baseball pitcher and designated hitter says he’s never played in front of more than a hundred or so people, but he and his teammates probably will have about 6,000 watching their game Friday night against NAIA World Series host Lewis-Clark State.
“I’m very excited to play in front of a lot of people,” said the powerfully built Bergin, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior from Tampa, Fla., who was the Appalachian Athletic Conference player of the year. “Very excited.”
He’s one of nine key juniors in their first season at TWC, which lost seven seniors from the 2010 team that made the program’s first trip to the World Series. Two of last year’s pitchers were drafted by major league teams.
Coming from Florida State College after first going to Georgia Southern out of high school, Bergin has batted .430 with 23 home runs, 11 doubles and 67 RBIs for coach Billy Berry and the Bulldogs. He hit five homers in one game.
The only teammate who has driven in more runs is senior second baseman Cody Gaskill, the 2010 AAC player of the year. Gaskill has hit .365 with 12 homers, 18 doubles and 71 RBIs.
Right-hander Bergin is 9-2 as a pitcher with a 3.43 earned run average in a team-high 84 innings, but left-hander Josh McDaniel is 7-2 with a team-low 3.18 ERA in 79 innings and will start the Series opener against the Warriors. McDaniel is a 6-2, 180-pound transfer from Surry Community College in North Carolina.
“Josh should be a good matchup for them,” Gaskill said, getting a nod from Bergin. “We feel like that’s a statement game for us.”
It’s scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. EDT.
Wesleyan is seeded 10th out of the 10 participants, but 16-time champion Lewis-Clark (36-14) is seeded lower than usual at No. 7 and TWC won its last two tournaments against teams in the top 10 in the final poll — Union College in the AAC tournament and 2010 national champion Cumberland University last week in an opening series at Paducah, Ky. TWC was seeded third at Paducah but opened with a defeat of second seed Southern Polytechnic.
None of those three favored teams is going to Idaho. Wesleyan is, now as a second-timer and having won 10 of its last 11 games for a 40-19 record.
“Putting out Southern Poly and Cumberland, I think that gives us a leg up,” Gaskill said. “And we’ve got more depth this year. The talent was there all along. I just think it took a while for everyone to adjust with all the players who transferred in.”
The five top pitchers in innings pitched, wins and ERA are junior transfers, and three of those lead the team in saves with six, four and four. As a starting pitcher, Bergin gave particular praise to the relievers.
Hitting is the team’s real strength, though, with no average below .319 for the nine players who have appeared in at least 53 games. Transfers Bergin, Sam Munson (.360), Anthony Biox (.337), Stephen Branca (.322) and Jordan Guida (.319) have blended with returners Gaskill, Jon Smith (.352), Ryan Santos (.349) and Rafael Carlot (.323) to form a potent lineup.
Smith and Branca have scored 62 and 53 runs, and Gaskill, Munson, Boix, Bergin and Guida each has scored 47 to 49. Santos has 42 runs. Catcher Carlot has scored only 16, but usual courtesy runner Tanner Quirk has scored 35. Carlot and Smith have 50 and 49 RBIs.
The main goal in practice the past week has been to “get a lot of repetitions,” Gaskill said. “We’re swinging it well right now.”
Coach Berry agreed.
“There’s no fear in these guys,” he said. “We’ve played World Series-caliber teams through the course of the season, and we’re hot at the right time. I definitely think we’re one of the 10 best teams in the country right now. Now it’s up to who carries it over from last week.”