Advertisement

'We believe in what we have': NKU baseball ready for top-seed Tennessee in NCAA tourney

The Northern Kentucky University baseball team gets inspiration from a variety of sources.

The Norse have a championship belt that the current player of the game (during a win) carries around. It has several versions of the Norse logo, led by an older version featuring a Viking ship. It also has a team slogan, oars to represent rowing the boat through rough waters, a picture of a burning ship to represent a Spanish conquistador who faced a lot of adventures and adversity, and a picture of Ryan Mavriplis, who has Down Syndrome and has been the team’s batboy for more than a decade.

NKU players cheer after learning they are playing No. 1 Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in Knoxville. NKU will play Indiana (32-24-1) or Southern Miss (41-18) on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament.
NKU players cheer after learning they are playing No. 1 Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in Knoxville. NKU will play Indiana (32-24-1) or Southern Miss (41-18) on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament.

They also repeat a Buddhist word “mudita,” signifying empathetic joy. Senior Ben Gerl said it represents players being happy for other players who do well.

But their biggest inspiration is encouraging each other. The team bonding and camaraderie has sent the Norse on their greatest adventure yet: The NCAA Tournament.

The Norse (35-22) advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Division I. They got the toughest possible first-round opponent, No. 1 national seed Tennessee (50-11). The teams will play at 7 p.m. Friday in Knoxville. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

NKU will be in a four-team, double-elimination regional bracket. Win or lose, the Norse will play Indiana (32-24-1) or Southern Miss (41-18) on Saturday.

NCAA Division I baseball tournament: Where to find Greater Cincinnati players

Analyzing College World Series bracket: Tennessee leads NCAA baseball tournament field

NKU is there after winning the Horizon League tournament last week at Wright State. Treyvin Moss was the tournament MVP after going 7-for-16 with 12 RBIs in three games.

NKU head coach Dizzy Peyton got plenty of attention at the watch party, but knows his team will be focused in the NCAA Tournament.   “We have a job to do and a game to play, that’s what we’re going to focus on,” he said.
NKU head coach Dizzy Peyton got plenty of attention at the watch party, but knows his team will be focused in the NCAA Tournament. “We have a job to do and a game to play, that’s what we’re going to focus on,” he said.

“We’re super excited for the opportunity,” Moss said. “To get the championship for the program is everything. It means a lot, but now we’re on to the next. We’re very excited to go to Rocky Top. We trust in our guys, we believe in what we have so it’s going to be fun. We’re going to make the most of the opportunity, the experience, go down there and give it everything we got."

NKU lost 11-5 at Indiana March 6. The Norse played two series against Southeastern Conference foes early in the season. They lost all three at Georgia, which is the No. 7 national seed in the tournament, but two of those were one-run decisions. The Norse then won two of three at Missouri, which finished 23-32 overall.

The Norse don’t plan on putting extra pressure on themselves.

“All along, whether we play Georgia or Wright State, anybody on our schedule, we’ve always been intentional about playing our game, working our process and playing a faceless opponent,” said head coach Dizzy Peyton. “We have a job to do and a game to play, that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Said senior pitcher Ben Gerl: “I like our odds against anyone. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere down in Rocky Top. They have some great fans and that’s an incredible team. We’re really excited to get an opportunity to compete against the best.”

Gerl, graduate student Tanner Gillis and senior Clay Brock, a Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy graduate, are the top three starters on the team. They pitched most of the Horizon League games and dominated league foes in last week’s conference tournament.

Moss is the leading hitter at .388 with 11 homers, 66 RBIs and 29 steals. Tyler Shaneyfelt hits .366. Lian McFadden-Ackman, a Mason High School graduate, hits .362 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs. He was Horizon League Player of the Year.

“We got a lot of great guys on this team,” said McFadden-Ackman. “Some of the best hitters I’ve ever played around. It’s hard to pitch to our lineup. I’m so grateful to grow up in Mason and play in that program. They do a great job down there. They really prepared me for college baseball.”

NKU has six regulars hitting .316 or better. Beechwood grad John Odom hits .340 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. The other three regular starters all bat .267 or better.

Moss, one of the top veterans on the team, loves the balance.

The Horizon League championship trophy was on display as NKU had a watch party for the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday at Mac's Pizza Pub in Cold Spring, Ky. NKU earned an automatic NCAA berth by winning the Horizon League tournament.
The Horizon League championship trophy was on display as NKU had a watch party for the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday at Mac's Pizza Pub in Cold Spring, Ky. NKU earned an automatic NCAA berth by winning the Horizon League tournament.

“We prepare the right way,” he said. “The coaches prepare us for success. Top to bottom, we’re tough outs. We’re going to give you a tough at-bat. We look for quality at-bats. We’re not looking for the outcomes: the hits, the doubles. Working counts, seeing pitches, putting good swings on good pitches, then the outcome takes care of itself.”

NKU started 9-0 in Horizon League, then hit a rough patch, losing two of three in the next four league series before rebounding to win two of three in the final three league series.

The Norse carried that momentum into the conference tournament, which Peyton was the most pleased about.

“We started 9-0 in our conference and hit a lull there for a little while,” he said. “I was most impressed with how our guys were able to be resilient and come out of that.”

Peyton teaches his players to focus on the process and not the outcome.

“The main thing for me is them staying in the moment, stay away from distractions, whether they’re good or bad,” Peyton said. “How special they are as people. Some of these guys I’ve coached for five years, six years. My favorite part of coaching is the maturation process, watching them go from freshman year to senior year, then watching them go on to be good husbands, fathers. That’s what we tell everyone in this program. Our main goal is to help them be the best version of themselves, on and off the field.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: NKU baseball players excited for first NCAA Division I tournament