LEWISBURG - Minute by minute, the groans seemed to grow louder.
As the players on the Bucknell baseball team sat at Damon’s Grill early Monday afternoon, they kept expecting to see their name up on the multiple big-screen TVs.
As ESPN unveiled the brackets for the NCAA Div. I regionals, prospective landing spots and first-round opponents kept fading away.
There would be no trip to Tallahassee. Or Nashville. Or Bloomington. Or Gainesville. Or Fort Worth.
Former Bucknell tennis coach Bob Hammerlee — who, like many others affiliated with the Bucknell athletic department, came to the viewing party — finally said, “They’re saving the best for last.”
Indeed, when all of the drama had been sucked away, when the other 15 regional matchups had already been announced, Bucknell finally got the official word: The Bison would be heading to Charlottesville to face host Virginia (44-13) in the opening game Friday at 2 p.m.
Arkansas — the alma mater of Bucknell coach Scott Heather — and Liberty will also make the trip to Charlottesville.
The champion of next weekend’s four-team, double-elimination tournament will advance to one of eight super regionals. The winners there go on to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“We’ve waited four years for this, as seniors,” said Bucknell catcher and team captain Justin Meier. “This is what we worked all offseason for: the opportunity to see our name up on that screen.”
The Bison (30-19-1), the Patriot League tournament champions for the first time since 2010, face a Virginia team that is currently ranked third in the country. The two teams met twice last season in Charlottesville, and the Cavaliers earned wins by 12-4 and 9-1 scores.
“This is going to be an incredible atmosphere,” said Heather, the Patriot League coach of the year in this, his second season at the helm of the program. “We’re going to have to keep the ball down against a quality team and make all the plays defensively in order to have a chance to win.”
“We’ve been (at Virginia) before,” added senior outfielder Corey Furman, who’s out for the remainder of the season with an injury. “We’re going to compete and win a few ball games.”
Bucknell sophomore pitcher Andrew Andreychik, a Danville High School grad, is 5-4 with a 3.56 ERA this season. He’s ready to step on the mound at some point this weekend.
“Coach Heather ... said I was going to start one of the first two games or come in out of the pen,” Andreychik said. “So he’s not going to wait to use me.”
This will be Bucknell’s sixth trip to the NCAA tournament. The Bison’s biggest moment in a regional came in 2008, when they upset top seed and host team Florida State in the first game.
Like that team, this year’s edition of the Bison is jelling just in time for regionals.
“We’ve been coming together all year long,” Meier said. “If we play our best baseball, we can compete with anybody.”
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