Bulldogs playing as a complete unit

May 23—Tennessee Wesleyan is a "pretty vanilla" group, described by 17th-year coach Billy Berry.

The Bulldogs (40-16) might not have a standout offensive contributor, but they "play really good team baseball" and have relied on pitching and defense to earn a seventh all-time trip to the NAIA World Series.

"This is just a really good baseball team," Berry said. "I don't know if we have a marquee guy with crazy numbers. It's just a really hard-nosed group of kids that understand how to play the game, and they're playing for one another right now."

Sixth-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan opens the tournament against third-seeded Cumberlands (Ky.) at 11:35 a.m. Friday at Harris Field.

The Bulldogs are the most battle-tested team in this year's field, having faced five World Series participants during the regular season, including their opening-round opponent, the Patriots. Tennessee Wesleyan also played Hope International, Arizona Christian and Georgia Gwinnett.

"We feel like our schedule must've been really good," Berry said. "We already played 50% of the field, and I thought the last month we really put it together and kept it together."

Tennessee Wesleyan's season was a bit of a "whirlwind," according to Berry, starting with the team going 1-3 at the East-West Challenge in Arizona.

The Bulldogs' poor performance in the Grand Canyon State resulted in a steep drop from their top-10 ranking to No. 22 in the NAIA poll.

Tennessee Wesleyan's sluggish start lasted until early March, bringing a 9-9 record into a three-game series with Johnson (Tenn.) on March 8.

The Bulldogs swept the Royals and won 31 of their final 38 games en route to the World Series.

Tennessee Wesleyan won 11 of 14 games in April and is 7-1 in May.

"I don't know if one thing in particular happened that you can put your finger on," Berry said. "We showed flashes in February, and we showed flashes in March. ... I don't know if there was one defining turning moment. I think we just put together what we thought we'd look like."

The Bulldogs' pitching staff isn't deep but has "eight or nine starters who can go deep into the game," according to their skipper.

Blake Peyton is Tennessee Wesleyan's ace on the mound and has an Appalachian Athletic Conference-high 126 strikeouts.

The senior left-hander is also second in the conference in ERA at 2.03.

Peyton is 9-1 on the bump and has recorded double-digit Ks five times this season, recording a season-high 12 strikeouts in a 13-6 win over Milligan (Tenn.).

Senior right-hander Sam Rochard has also found some success in his 71 innings on the hill with a 4.06 ERA and 68 strikeouts.

"I'd put our top eight (pitchers) against anyone else as far as what they bring to the table," Berry said. "That's a big reason we won our (Opening Round) bracket. ... In order for us to have success over the course of the next week, we have to be good up front, and if you look at how we got through the conference tournament and the Opening Round, we've been getting some good starts."

The Bulldogs boast a solid .969 fielding percentage as they travel to Lewiston.

> Tennessee Wesleyan

Location: Athens, Tenn.

Nickname: Bulldogs

Coach: Billy Berry (17th season)

Season record: 40-16

Rank in final NAIA poll: No. 17

How qualified: Won the Kingsport Bracket

Number of appearances; best finish: Seven, national champions (2019, 2012)

> Juice (out of five stars)


Tennessee Wesleyan's pitching staff is highlighted by eight capable starters. Senior left-hander Blake Peyton leads the group with 126 stirkeouts in 75.1 innings.


The Bulldogs try to get as many innings out of their starters as possible. But Gage Vailes has been the best arm in relief, notching six saves.


Tennessee Wesleyan's .969 fielding percentage ranks No. 17 in the NAIA, and its 59 errors are among the fewest in the country.


The Bulldogs don't have a singular individual force in the batter's box. But they led the Appalachian Athletic Conference in home runs (109) and doubles (123).


Berry is the first to admit that the Bulldogs aren't the speediest bunch. Tennessee Wesleyan's 35 stolen bases rank No. 178 in the NAIA.


The Bulldogs have won 13 of their last 14 games. If Tennessee Wesleyan can get quality innings from its starters and some timely hits, it could possibly make a run at Harris Field.