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Sports: DWU gets No. 4 seed

Four times in the last five years -- including two of the last four as tournament champions -- the Dakota Wesleyan baseball team has strutted out of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament and into Region 3 postseason play.

Four times in the last five years -- including two of the last four as tournament champions -- the Dakota Wesleyan baseball team has strutted out of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament and into Region 3 postseason play.

A common theme in almost each of those runs was this: The Tigers didn't need the help of anyone else to get there.

And while Adam Neisius said this year's GPAC tournament and automatic bid into the Region 3 tourney is anyone's for the taking, the ninth-year Wesleyan head coach said this year more than any other DWU may need to lean on the good deeds of others for the Tigers to advance any further into the postseason.

DWU takes the No. 4 seed into Thursday's GPAC postseason opener and will take on No. 5 seed Midland Lutheran at noon in Hastings, Neb.

While the Tigers earned a bid into the Region 3 tournament last year via the third criteria, which is conference winning percentage to include postseason play, they have pretty much earned their keep on their own the past few years, which was either by winning the regular-season title or the conference tournament.

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A recent run of inconsistent play in nearly every facet of the game, though, has Neisius wondering if the Tigers can be so self-sustaining this year.

"What we need is to hope for Sioux Falls or Briar Cliff to win it and we need to win more games at the conference tournament than Northwestern," Neisius said. "Which, in my book, is depending on a lot of other teams which we haven't done in the past five or six years.

"This year, we need help. And that's just one frustration. I can't stand waiting for help from someone else."

Of course, the Tigers could just win their way through the tournament, which they've done twice in the last four years. But the GPAC postseason truly is a battle of attrition as the Tigers would have to win five games over the course of three days to win another conference tournament title.

It can be done, but Neisius said there literally are seven other teams who are just as capable, including the University of Sioux Falls and Briar Cliff, who tied for the regular-season title with USF taking the honors via tiebreaker and the first automatic bid into the region tournament.

If USF wins the conference tournament as well, the runner-up would earn the second automatic bid into regions with the third going to the remaining team with the highest winning percentage in GPAC play.

"This year, which is kind of strange in the GPAC, I don't think there is a heads-and-shoulders No. 1," he said. "Looking at all the teams and seeing all the games, I don't see a team where you say, 'Man, that's the team to beat this year.' "

Pitching will be key for every team at the tournament, and while Neisius has a solid rotation, getting some consistency on the mound is his prime concern heading into the postseason.

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Freddy Janssen will take his team-leading 5-3 record into the opener against Midland (20-24, 13-9 GPAC), which the Tigers (24-18, 14-8 GPAC) did not face this season.

Janssen is second on team in strikeouts at 48, has a 4.60 ERA and leads the Tigers' staff with two complete games. He also leads the team in innings pitched at 58 2/3 innings and is the owner of the nastiest stuff of the Tigers' eight-arm staff, according to Neisius.

"That's him," Neisius said. "Another reason we decided to throw him is he's the type of kid that can bounce back and probably throw again in the tournament if we needed on Saturday. That's why we're throwing him Game 1 and, right now, he's probably pitching the best."

Wesleyan is riding a rough stretch where its won three games in its last eight tries. Most complexing of all for Neisius is that six of those games were at home and the Tigers lost four of them. For added salt to the wound, the Tigers had won 8-of-10 to stand alone atop the GPAC heap before their quasi-homestand to end the season started April 21 with a doubleheader against Dana at Cadwell Park. The Tigers split with the Vikings, who finished 11th in the 13-team conference and didn't make the postseason, to fall percentage points out of first place and never were able to recover.

"It's been absolute inconsistency," he said. "I can't pinpoint it to just pitching or defense or just offense. It's been one of those three things in some form or fashion.

"We're so capable. We have a really good pitching staff and a really good defense. That's been the most frustrating thing -- it's not from a lack of talent. We have the talent there. It's straight underachieving."

As a team, the Tigers have yet to really turn the corner offensively, although they've shown flashes throughout the season. Jake Roy, though, has been solid throughout, hitting .382 on the year and leading the Tigers in eight major offensive categories: average, slugging percentage (.544), on-base percentage (.503), hits (52), RBI (33), home runs (4), stolen bases (15), and, for good measure, hit-by-pitch (22). Josh Pritt is at .322 on the season.

Roy also has thrown out 13-of-25 attempted base-stealers from behind the plate on the season for 52 percent. Against a team like Midland that ranks in the top five in the GPAC in steal attempts on the season, his arm defensively could be just as important as his bat on offense.

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Neisius said he'll more than likely go with his normal defensive lineup behind the battery of Janssen and Roy with Josh Oltmans in left, Brandon Weber in center and Nevin Sorenson in right. Zach Huston will play third, Josh Pritt will be at short, Vinnie Caputo at second and Shane Cochran will play first.

If the Tigers win their opener, they will take on the winner of the USF-Nebraska Wesleyan game at 5 p.m. Thursday. If they lose, they will take on the loser of the USF-Nebraska Wesleyan game at 7 p.m. the same day.

The double-elimination tournament concludes Saturday.

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