RUSSELLVILLE — Southern Arkansas isn’t getting to host the Division II Central Region tournament, but catcher Ryan Dardenne thinks being able to stay in the state is the next best thing.
The Watson Chapel graduate will be playing in his third regional in as many seasons with the Muleriders when they face Arkansas-Monticello at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Tech Field in Russellville.
“It’s the closest I’ve been to home in my three years of college,” the junior said. “It’s great, because I get to see my family and they get to come see me.
“My freshman year we were at Central Missouri and last year we were in Minnesota, so this is definitely the closest we’ve been. I expect to have a lot of friends and family there to cheer us on.”
With Arkansas Tech of the Great American Conference hosting this year’s six-team regional, each of the three conferences that make up the Central region will have hosted the tournament in the past three years.
Having played at Central Missouri of the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association and Minnesota State-Mankato of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference the past two years, respectively, Dardenne said he thinks the GAC teams have an advantage this time around.
“I think it’s going to help a lot,” he said. “We’ve had to play at this field before during conference play. Plus going on the plane to Minnesota was a long trip.
“But I think getting to play at an in-conference stadium will give us an advantage.”
SAU (38-17) will face a familiar foe in the first round of the tournament. SAU has played UAM (36-15) five times this season winning three of them, including the GAC Championship Game just last week.
“They have a great team,” Dardenne said of the Boll Weevils. “We beat them in midweek early on. Last series they beat us two out of three, but we beat them in the conference championship game to win our third straight GAC title.
“They have a great team. We have a great team. It should be another great match-up.”
Dardenne, who’s hitting just .169 this season in 28 games, said he’s been fighting injuries a lot of the season but thinks he’s finally getting healthy at the right time.
“I’ve been battling a lot of injuries that have kept me out of the lineup,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot in the cage just doing what I can control. …
“I’m pretty close to being all the way back (healthy).”
If he can finally get to 100 percent, Dardenne said he looks forward to helping SAU reach the DII College World Series for the first time in program history.
“It’s on our board of goals,” he said. “To break through would be huge. It would be one of those things you never forget.
“To maybe get to do something no other (SAU) team has done that definitely makes it special.”
Dardenne said he knows that the Muleriders can’t get caught looking ahead, though, with the Weevils looking for revenge.
“You can look at their season and know they’re dangerous,” he said of the Weevils. “… We want to keep them from getting any momentum.
“We’re going to try and beat them at their own game.”