Twenty-four of the nation’s top NAIA programs converge on LaGrange, Ga., and Shuford Fields for the NFCA’s second NAIA Leadoff Classic Mar. 10-12.
Eighteen of the 24 teams finished the 2005 season ranked nationally, with top-ranked Thomas (Ga.) leading a pool of six teams that held spots in the top 10. Thomas, the 2004 NAIA national champion, topped the final NAIA poll with a 40-5 mark after advancing to the semifinals of the NAIA national tournament where they were eliminated by national runner-up California Baptist.
Mobile, who tied with Thomas for third after also being eliminated by California Baptist, will be playing in the tournament. Mobile finished the 2005 campaign ranked third nationally with a 43-8 record.
Point Loma Nazarene finished the season ranked sixth nationally with a 42-10 record. The team narrowly missed advancing to the double elimination portion of the national tournament with a 3-2 loss to North Georgia in 10 innings.
Seventh-ranked Oklahoma City will be vying for the Leadoff Classic title after being knocked out of the 2005 NAIA national tournament by Columbia and Thomas to conclude the season with a 44-12 record.
Also in the 24-team field is University of Science and the Arts of Oklahoma. Julie Vergenz’s squad advanced out of pool play at the 2005 national tournament and finished the season with a No. 9 national ranking and a 46-17 record after being knocked out of play by fellow tournament competitor Mobile.
Tenth-ranked Columbia also advanced to double-elimination play at last year’s national tournament, falling to Houston Baptist and eventual national champion Simon Fraser. Columbia ended the 2005 campaign with a 47-16 record.
National tournament competitor Williams Woods, who ended 2005 with a No. 13 national ranking, will venture to LaGrange seeking the Leadoff Classic title along with 12th-ranked Spring Hill College, who narrowly missed receiving an at-large selection to the national tournament after being knocked out of the Region XIII tournament.
17th-ranked Ohio Dominican and Lee (Tenn.) will participate in the tournament. Ohio Dominican capped a record-setting season with a second-ever trip to the national tournament. Lee, who finished the season ranked 18th nationally, finished the season with a 40-12 mark, one shy of the school record, after being knocked out of the Region XIII tournament by Leadoff Classic competitor Spring Hill.
Other nationally-ranked teams competing in the tournament include No. 20 Trevecca Nazarene, 22nd-ranked Evangel, No. 24 Southern Oregon, 31st-rated Olivet Nazarene, No. 33 St. Gregory’s, 35th-ranked Faulkner and No. 37 William Penn.
Bellevue, Brevard, Oklahoma Christian, Tiffin (Ohio), Milligan and Virginia-Wise round out the field of 24 teams competing in the tournament.