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Better Know a Regional Opponent: The Radford Highlanders

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THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE! That's probably still a new an original joke on the Radford campus, right?

Pictured: The traditional Radford "wang-grab" celebration, made popular by men's tennis standout Ronald Wang.
Pictured: The traditional Radford "wang-grab" celebration, made popular by men's tennis standout Ronald Wang.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Radford may not sound like a traditional #2 seed at the 2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament, but the Highlanders may be the hottest team in the college ranks right now. The veteran squad tore through the second half of the season, ripping off 15 straight wins to clinch the Big South title and land in the Nashville Regional. They have only lost three times since the calendar flipped over to April.

That led to Radford's first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, but they'll have one hell of a roadblock on their path to a Super Regional. They're podded-up with the defending national champion Vanderbilt in the Nashville Regional, and a sweet sixteen spot would likely mean beating a Commodore team with three potential top-15 MLB Draft picks on the roster. First, they'll have to get past #3 seed Indiana in the double-elimination tournament.

The Highlanders are loaded with talent and have the wins to show for it, but a low strength of schedule barred them from hosting duties in the first leg of the road to Omaha. Radford played the 93rd-toughest schedule in the NCAA this season. For comparison, the three other teams in their regional - Vanderbilt, Indiana, and Lipscomb - clock in at ninth, 31st, and 159th. Two wins over Virginia Tech and one against West Virginia were the program's only victories over schools from Power Five conferences.

That means they'll have plenty to prove this weekend. Radford's path to the College World Series starts with a Friday afternoon matchup with Indiana. Let's see what the Highlanders are bringing to the Nashville Regional.

The Radford Highlanders

Record: 43-14 (20-4 Big South)

NCAA RPI Rank17th (Vanderbilt is 13th)

All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 0-0. Despite Radford's relatively close proximity (only a six hour drive), these two teams have never met.

Best Win: A 2-1 series win at #20 Coastal Carolina. The Highlanders have plenty of victories on their resume, but 28 of those came against teams with RPIs of 93 or higher. Playing in the Big South afforded them only one opportunity to face off with an NCAA Tournament team in league play. They'll have to show that they can handle the pressure of a major league matchup when they square off with Indiana on Friday.

Worst Loss: A 1-9 shellacking at the hands of #251 East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers dropped RU to 5-5 early in the season after jumping out to an 8-0 lead after four innings. The Highlanders lost just two series all season, to #22 Auburn and #17 Charleston.

Batter to Be Wary Of: Designated hitter/occasional left fielder Patrick Marshall can rake at the plate. He leads the Highlanders in home runs, RBI, walks, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. However, Indiana may have dodged a bullet thanks to the absence of all-conference infielder Josh Gardiner. Gardiner had been averaging more than a run scored per game for Radford before breaking his kneecap on April 29th. The Highlanders haven't lost since then, but they'll certainly miss their .368-hitting senior in Regional play.

Pitchers to Watch: Michael Boyle is a dynamite day one starter (10-2, 2.27 ERA), but the Commodores may not have to deal with him if he takes the hill on Friday against Indiana. Instead, All-Big South reliever Ryan Meisinger Jr. could silence Vandy late on Saturday and beyond. Meisinger led the conference with 15 saves and has a sparkling 62:7 strikeout:walk ratio this season. He has the juice to lock down a multiple-inning save opportunity, so the 'Dores will have to score early if they want to avoid one of the NCAA's most dominant closers this weekend.

Key Stat: .000 - The Highlanders traveled to Alabama and endured an early season sweep at the hands of Auburn. The Tigers won their three games by an aggregate score of 15-3. They'd later go on to drop two games out of three against the Commodores at home. Reductive baseball math suggests that Vanderbilt will have the advantage here, but Radford has come a long way from the 7-9 start that haunted their early schedule.