June 8, 2011


Patriot Games

Dallas Baptist Relishes Trip to Super Regionals

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Growing up in Iowa City, Dan Heefner (left) knows a thing or two about Omaha.


He remembers watching the College World Series on TV, back when Oklahoma State and Wichita State were frequent visitors to Rosenblatt Stadium. He remembers making his first trip to Rosenblatt when he was 14 and going back several more times during his high school years. And he remembers 2004, when he was an assistant baseball coach at Creighton, coaching games at Rosenblatt and working all the games of the College World Series as Cal State Fullerton claimed a national title.


Now the coach at Dallas Baptist, Heefner and his Patriots are one of 16 teams remaining in pursuit of the College World Series. Two wins against California this weekend in Santa Clara, Calif., and Dallas Baptist – a Christian school of about 5,500 students – will go to Omaha to play for a national championship.


“Not really,” Heefner said Tuesday night when asked if the Patriots’ Regional win in Fort Worth had sunk in yet. “It seems pretty unreal.”


A day after Dallas Baptist held on for an 11-9 win over Oral Roberts to reach the Super Regionals for the first time, the Patriots were eating lunch together at a restaurant when they saw the logos of all the teams in the Super Regionals on the TV.


“It’s a who’s who of college baseball,” Heefner said. “Virginia, Vanderbilt and all those guys. And you see our logo up there. I think that’s when it started to sink in. This is the real deal.”


The same can be said for Dallas Baptist.


The Patriots (42-18) were one of the final teams selected for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. An independent – a team without a conference – in its sixth year of Division-I play, Dallas Baptist had to wait until the final Regional was revealed to find out it had reached the tournament for the second time. 


The Patriots responded by beating Oklahoma and ace Michael Rocha 3-2 on Friday. They came back and beat Matt Purke and TCU by the same score – their third win over the Horned Frogs. And after dropping a game to Oral Roberts, they scored eight runs in the first inning and held off Oral Roberts 11-9 Monday night to set up the most unlikely Super Regional matchup: a newbie to Division I against a Pac-10 program that was dropped, only to be saved from the chopping block.


“Honestly, I know a lot of teams talk about going to Omaha,” Heefner said. “That’s something we never talk about.”


Heefner stresses the importance of the game right in front of his team. With no conference tournament, the Patriots have no shot at an automatic bid. Without a conference, scheduling can be near impossible.


So midweek games against the likes of TCU and Rice become critical to DBU’s chances at qualifying for a Regional. The Patriots kept that mindset in Fort Worth over the weekend, focusing on “this game right now,” according to Heefner.


“Did I ever think about it [Omaha]? No, that’s probably because we’ve had to be so focused on what’s right in front of us,” he added.


Starting pitchers Brandon Williamson and Jared Stafford, under the guidance of respected former Michigan pitching coach Bob Keller, combined to allow four runs in 17.1 innings against the Sooners and Horned Frogs. And closer Chris Haney (right) saved all three games in Fort Worth, striking out TCU’s 5-hole hitter Josh Elander to end that game with the tying run on third base and stranding runners on second and third against Oral Roberts with strikeouts of middle-of-the-order hitters Chris Elder and Brandon King (both of whom had homered in the game).


“It probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that those strikeouts were probably the biggest two at-bats in the history of Dallas Baptist baseball,” Heefner said.


Offensively, the Patriots are aggressive and pound the ball, something Heefner did plenty of at NAIA Olivet Nazarene (Kan.) University where he led the nation with 22 homers and 102 RBI in 2000. Dallas Baptist entered the tournament ranking 12th in the country in average (.316), sixth in homers (60) and third in slugging percentage (.495).


Jason Krizan and Landon Anderson had game-winning hits against Oklahoma (Austin Elkins tied the OU game in the ninth to force extra innings) and TCU, and along with Ryan Behmanesh (left) had huge games in the Regional final. 


“Our goal and what we’ve thrived on is that we do drive the ball,” Heefner said.


The Patriots were hoping that QuikTrip Park about 15 minutes from campus in Grand Prairie would be suitable for the NCAA, which chose Santa Clara University instead. Dallas Baptist also looked into using Dr. Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders, but Frisco has a night game Saturday and the NCAA scheduled all night games for the Golden Bears and Patriots.


“It was up in the air for a while,” Heefner said. “Our administration worked all day on that. It [QuikTrip Park] would have been a really good place to play at, but we’re excited to go to Santa Clara.”


As is the entire Dallas Baptist faithful.


As of Tuesday night, Heefner was still trying to catch up on messages, e-mails and text messages from well-wishers. Former DBU star Ben Zobrist, now of the Tampa Bay Rays, checked in, as did J.J. Trujillo, a former Patriot who made it to the big leagues with the Padres in 2002. Other Patriots major leaguers like Freddy Sanchez, Jason LaRue and Lew Ford surely were proud of the Super Regionals’ biggest surprise.


“We’re definitely in a unique position at DBU, but I think it allows us to do some special things,” Heefner said about being a baseball independent that plays a great schedule. “To have the faith side of it as well. It’s not just a school thing, it’s a huge part of our baseball team as well…Unique is the only way I can describe it, and it’s something very special.”


(photos courtesy of DBU)