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National powers coming to Troy

Troy’s Trojans may be hosting the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship tournament next week, but the Trojans will not be the only team looking for an NCAA Regional bid.

There will possibly be four teams in contention for an at large bid to the regionals. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid into the regionals, but the other three teams ranked in the top of the RPI standings will have to impress at the tournament.

“We have four teams that are in the regional, at-large selection mix,” Troy head coach Bobby Pierce said. “If you don’t win the tournament then it comes down to whether or not your body of work throughout the entire season plus the tournament warrants you getting an at-large bid. And at-large bids are hard to come by.”

Pierce said the Sun Belt Conference has been receiving one or two at-large bids a year.

“We have four teams in the mix and I don’t think we will get all four teams in the regional, so it is a race right now.”

In a head-to-head battle the Trojans would get a bid over Middle, but not Western. And Pierce said having four of the top RPI teams in the nation in Troy for the Sun Belt tourney should prove to be exciting.

Another interesting aspect of the tournament can be found in the bottom half of the tournament pool.

“Those teams in the bottom four have one thing going for them in this tournament,” Pierce said. “It is their last shot. When you enter the tournament knowing there is no at-large opportunity you know you have to win the tournament or your season is over. And that is an interesting dynamic in itself how that shapes out.”

And finding the team with the possible at-large bid and that hunger to win the tournament is the rare mix that every coach would love to have.

“You sometimes have the bottom four teams playing hungrier than the top four teams and when you are coaching you are hoping to have a Top-4 hungry team,” Pierce said.

With quality teams come quality players, according to Pierce.

“I just think people should know that there will be several All-Americans here,” he said.

Middle Tennessee sophomore Bryce Brentz is leading the Sun Belt in six of the 12 offensive categories. He has a .473 batting average with 89 hits, 26 home runs, 185 total bases, a .539 on base percentage and a .984 slugging percentage. He is also in second with 66 RBIs and third with 62 runs scored. On top of the offensive dominance, Brentz is 5-3 and is tied for the lead with two complete games on the mound for the Blue Raiders.

Tyler Townsend, a junior from FIU, is right behind Brentz in many categories. Townsend trails Brentz in batting average at .428, hits with 83, home runs with 21, total bases with 162, on base percentage at .508 and slugging percentage at .835.

He leads the Sun Belt in RBIs with 69. Townsend is tied for eighth in runs scored with 51.

Brentz and Townsend lead the pack of hitters from other teams coming to Troy next week.

Matt Hightower is a senior pitcher for Western Kentucky Hilltoppers who is tied for fifth in wins on the mound with a record of 6-1 and is leading the Sun Belt with a 2.97 ERA. He is second with a .246 opponents’ batting average.

Hightower leads the pitchers coming to Troy.

The tournament will open May 20 at 9 a.m. and will run through May 23, but the teams and seeds will not be determined until Saturday night.

Troy will host a Family Fun Night May 19 beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the Sun Belt awards at Riddle-Pace.

There will be a home run derby and a fireworks show after the awards.