For 12 straight weeks Delta State's baseball squad has been ranked the best NCAA Division II team in the country.
Now it is time to prove it on the field.
The Statesman (51-6 overall, 15-1 in the Gulf South Conference) open play at the 29th NCAA Division II Championship Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Univerisity of Tampa (44-14) at Paterson Field in Montgomery, Ala.
"Being ranked number one is something that doesn't bother us, because we have kids who have been through this before," said Delta State head coach Bill Marchant, who is making his fifth appearance in the playoffs and third straight. "We know it is what we do on the field that counts from now on."
If the Statesman win, they would play the winner of the St. Joseph's (46-10) vs. Missouri-St. Louis (37-7) game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Should they lose, they would play the loser of the aforementioned game at 7 p.m. Monday.
This will be Delta State's sixth Division II World Series appeareance, making the most recent trip in 1994 when the Statesmen finished tied for third.
Tampa won't be in awe of Delta State since its has a history of good baseball itself. The team won the Division II title in both 1992 and 1993 and was second in 1987. No other team in the 1996 NCAA field has ever made the championship game, aside from Delta State and Tampa.
The two schools have never meet, but Marchant knows to expect plenty of pitching from the Tampa Spartans. As a team Tampa had a 2.26 ERA and 481 strikeouts, the best stats of any team in the tournament. Coaching that staff is former Ole Miss Rebel pitcher Nelson North, who is an assistant head coach for Tampa.
"They beat a couple of tough teams, Florida Southern and St. Leo, to win their conference," Marchant said. "From what I hear they have great pitching depth and quality."
DSU will counter Tampa's pitcher with its ace Dave Townsend who is 15-0 with a 2.15 ERA on the season.
Several Northeast Mississippians are on the Delta State roster. Including Bruce's Marc Taylor, a three-year starter at shortstop, who was named to the All-South Central Region Tournament team in Abilene, Texas during the team's wins there.
"He really played outstanding defensively," Marchant said. "This is the time of the year that everybody needs to pick up a notch."