What do you call a team that will be playing in the NCAA baseball tournament for the first time and got its bid by winning three straight in its conference tournament as the last-seeded team?
"I don't mind being called a Cinderella team," said George Mason catcher Barry Durham, whose team will play eighth-ranked Florida State (57-21) Thursday in the first round of the double-elimination South II regional in Tallahassee, Fla. "Who would expect us to be there?"
Few expected the Patriots to sweep three games in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament last weekend, particularly against East Carolina, which was playing on its home field and was seeded No. 1.
But George Mason (38-21) got a complete game from senior right-hander Dan Atcheson in defeating ECU, 7-2, in the first game, and seniors John Boucher and Franz Ferstl pitched the distance in the final two victories over Iona. Ferstl had completed only two of eight starts during the regular season.
"I think everyone else was surprised, but we weren't," said Durham, whose three-run homer in the seventh inning of the championship game against Iona enabled the Patriots to extend a 4-2 lead and win, 8-2. "Our pitching was the key. We had to loosen up one pitcher in the bullpen the entire tournament."
Durham got help at the plate from the tournament's top hitter, Ralph Schmidt. Schmidt, who batted .324 during the regular season, hit .636 in the tournament, with three homers. "He was just outstanding; there is no other way to put it," said Bill Brown, who has coached George Mason since 1982. "But outside of Schmidt, no one else hit the ball like that."
Against Florida State and other teams in the region -- including sixth-ranked Arkansas (45-13), Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech (39-17-1), Eastern Kentucky (41-27) and Central Michigan (38-17) -- the Patriots will need more than one streak hitter. And Atcheson, Boucher and Ferstl will have to last until the late innings, when the Patriots can bring in reliever Steve Kann (5-0, 2.84 earned run average and five saves), if needed.
"We don't have anybody who can throw past anybody," Brown said. "What they need to do is keep their composure. They have pitched some big ball games, but not like this.
"If we go into our bullpen early, we're going to be in trouble. It could be a quick exit down in Tallahassee."
Said Durham, "We're going to have to play the games of our lives to win. But we can do it."
The Patriots' major advantage is their hitting and the fact that they are not well known south of North Carolina. Atcheson said the other teams in the ECAC tournament "thought we were going down there for the fun of it."
That could help in the NCAAs, too.
"Nobody is going to know a whole heck of a lot about us," Brown said yesterday. "I think we can use it to our advantage. I know for a fact they can win."
The Patriots still will have to overcome the anxiousness of playing in their first NCAA tournament. "I would say we're a little nervous," Durham said. "We'll be playing on TV and their home field."
"They (Florida State) have the big reputation, big name," said Atcheson, a curve ball pitcher who will start against the Seminoles. "But . . . to me, it's just a name."