University of Jamestown baseball's Dakota Nelson was pretty amped up to learn the Jimmies are flying to sunny Southern California this week.
The senior starting pitcher calls Oregon home, which should make it easier for family and friends to watch Nelson and the Jimmies compete in the NAIA Opening Round tournament just down the coast. The NAIA revealed the nine, five-team opening round brackets on Thursday, May 9, with Jamestown earning the fifth seed in the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Bracket.
UJ will open play at 9 a.m. local time on Monday against 25th-ranked Arizona Christian University at Westmont College's Russ Carr Field.
"It's nice to go back to the West Coast," Nelson said. "It'll be kinda like a home feeling, I guess. Hopefully some of the family and stuff can make it down.
"I'm just looking forward to being in some nice weather."
The Jimmies won't have enough time to surf Rincon Point, but there will be time for at least three days of baseball if UJ is able to make a run at winning the double-elimination bracket. The Santa Barbara field also includes seventh-ranked University of Science & Arts (Okla.), University of Antelope Valley (Calif.) and host Westmont College.
Jamestown (35-16) is familiar this season with Antelope Valley (34-17-1) and Arizona Christian (38-19), having played both in March at the Tucson Invitational Games in Arizona. The Jimmies beat Antelope Valley 5-3 in nine innings and lost to Arizona Christian 8-6.
The winner of the Santa Barbara Bracket advances to the NAIA World Series on May 24-31 in Lewiston, Idaho.
"They're a good team, scrappy team," said UJ senior third baseman Jaden Yackley on Monday's opponent, Arizona Christian. "I think they only beat us by a couple runs, but we played very good against them so I'm excited to play them again."
The Jimmies' journey begins Friday morning on a bus to Minneapolis, where they then will board a flight to Los Angeles. Jimmie baseball coach Tom Hager said the team will hold a practice Saturday in Ventura, Calif., and a second practice Sunday at Westmont College.
"Monday morning we're going to be ready to play," Hager said. "You play all year to get to this point. This was one of our goals, and on top of that our goal was to get to Lewiston and the college world series. This is how you get there."
The Jimmies nearly reached their third NAIA World Series last season, defeating Oklahoma City 7-4 in the opening round in Oklahoma City. But the host team Stars bounced back to top the Jimmies 4-0 in a winner-take-all title game of the Oklahoma City Bracket.
"We were all so close last year and it's kind of a bittersweet feeling," Nelson said. "I mean, that taste is still kinda in our mouths and we don't wanna be flying back kinda hanging our heads. We wanna be flying back getting ready for the world series."
The Jimmies rode a bus 14 hours to get to last year's national opening round in Oklahoma City, and the closest destinations this spring for the 45-team tournament were in Tennessee and Kentucky. Combine that with this season's late spring forcing many games south and a conference headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa, and it's probably safe to assume the Jimmies are looking forward to a little time in the sky.
"The guys are excited," Hager said. "I think they were certainly curious about where they may be sent, and the fact it's in California and a flight-as opposed to a bus ride-I think is making everybody pretty happy. We've had plenty of bus rides this year."
Competing as a fifth seed, UJ will be looking to play the spoiler. Yackley believes the Jimmies are up to the task.
"Honestly, just keep playing the way we have been," Yackley said. "Just stay relaxed and not let the moment get too big for us."
NAIA Opening Round
Santa Barbara (Calif.) Bracket
Hosted by Westmont College at Russ Carr Field
(Central times listed)
Game 1: (4) Arizona Christian (38-19) vs. (5) Jamestown (35-16), 11 a.m.
Game 2: (2) Westmont, Calif. (34-14) vs. (3) Antelope Valley, Calif. (34-17-1), 2:30 p.m.
Game 3: (1) Science & Arts, Okla. (43-10) vs. Game 1 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 Loser, 11 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 2 Winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 6 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 winner, 1 a.m.
Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 4:30 p.m.
Game 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 2 p.m., if necessary.