After an all-night flight, coach Geoff Loomis and the Pacific Lutheran University baseball team walked off the airplane at 6:20 a.m. (EDT) Tuesday.
It was already a sultry 70 degrees in Atlanta.
Welcome to a completely new part of the country for the NCAA Division III championships.
PLU, the regular-season champion in the Northwest Conference, made the 56-team field as an at-large selection. The Lutes (30-12), ranked No. 1 in the West Region, were shipped off 2,800 miles to the South Region as a No. 2 seed in their six-team pod.
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The 19th-ranked Lutes open against reigning NCAA runner-up Emory on Wednesday at Piedmont College’s Loudermilk Field (12:30 p.m. PDT).
Loomis said he tried to calculate all the possibilities on where PLU could end up, if it got into the NCAA tournament. This one never showed up on his radar.
“Of all the plans I made possibly going to another region,” Loomis said, “the South never crossed my mind.”
It is certainly a tough bracket to navigate. Rhodes (32-11) is the top seed, and is ranked No. 6 by d3baseball.com. Third-seeded Birmingham-Southern (34-10) is ranked No. 7. Fourth-seeeded Marietta (28-16) and fifth-seeded Emory (26-12) are unranked, but sixth-seeded Methodist (32-8), the USA South Athletic Conference champion, is ranked No. 12.
“It is an unbelievable regional,” Loomis said. “If we can come through this regional, we know we have a great shot to win a national championship.”
The past 48 hours have been quite hectic for the Lutes, who are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
They found out they made the tournament Monday morning. Then Loomis and athletic director Laurie Turner scrambled to find flights to Atlanta, and booked a red-eye flight out of Sea-Tac Airport later that night.
They were able to check into their team hotel at 7 a.m. (EDT) to get a few hours of sleep before holding a late-afternoon, two-hour practice at Piedmont College.
“I am worried about (the three-zone time change), for sure,” Loomis said. “We are the team that flew the furthest in the entire field. Changing times zones, that is always a challenge.
“The momentum from being here will certainly help.”
PLU has never faced Emory, or any of the other schools in the South Region. The Eagles, whose campus is just 75 miles from Piedmont, have an overall batting average of .291. They also like to be aggressive on the bases with 99 stolen bases this season.
“To be completely honest with you, I do not know anything about the South Region,” Loomis said. “But I am excited.
“I mean, we faced Linfield five times. We faced Whitworth five times. We faced La Verne twice. They are all in the West Regional.
“I think it is great we can play five teams we’ve never seen before.”