BEREA, Ohio — The long postseason drought has ended for the Baldwin Wallace University men’s basketball team.
After a 13-year absence from the Division III NCAA Tournament, the Yellow Jackets (20-8) fought their way to the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Championship and the league’s automatic bid to the field of 64.
“We’re thrilled to be back in the NCAA Tournament,” coach Tom Heil told WKYC.com.
“We’re excited. I think we’re ready. We’re battle-tested. This league is an absolute grind, and you go through this conference and get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, I think we’ve seen just about everything and we’re as ready as we can be.”
Junior guard Michael Quiring added, “Just seeing the support from the alumni and from the community, it’s really special to be able to represent BW, the OAC and the Cleveland area in the NCAA Tournament. Just being able to compete with the seniors another time, it’s just a great opportunity, and we’re hoping to keep it going for another couple weeks.”
The Yellow Jackets earned their return trip to the NCAA Tournament the hard way.
As the No. 5 seed in the OAC Tournament, Baldwin Wallace had to win three true road games over a five-day period to claim the automatic berth, which was a path similar to the 2004-2005 Yellow Jackets took to the NCAAs.
The ’04-’05 team won three games in a week, and two of those were true road games. The third win was a neutral-site victory in the OAC semifinals.
“I think it takes a certain degree of toughness to win on the road, and for us, we have tough guys,” Heil said. “We have mentally, physically, emotionally tough young men in our program. I think that starts with our leadership, and it starts with our two seniors. The other thing that we have, our guys are tight. They love each other.
“They spend an incredible amount of time together, on and off the floor. I think we have great chemistry and really good people that are a part of our program and we love to be around each other. I push these guys hard, and I think I’ve been able to do that all year because of how tight they are, and they are still excited to come to practice.”
Quiring added, “It kind of had the road warrior feel and that underdog-type feeling and we embraced it. We knew not a lot of people thought we could do it and we were like, ‘We’re going to prove these people wrong.’ It was a great mindset from the coaches and the seniors.”
When the field was revealed Monday afternoon, the Yellow Jackets were placed in the Oswego State pod, where they will face Salisbury (19-8) out of Maryland with the winner moving on to play either the host school or Salem State in the second round Saturday night.
“I know first-hand, if you’re not ready to play, you will lose,” said Heil, who led Defiance College to one of the biggest upsets of the last decade in Division III, a road win over the defending champion University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, what seed you are. If you’re not ready to play, you lose.
“Salisbury is a very seasoned program. They’ve been in the NCAA Tournament the last few years. They’re very, very good. Athletic guards that can score. Length, size, strength and toughness. They’re going to be a tough first game for us, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”