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Baseball - Tue, May. 8, 2012

KINGSPORT, Tenn. -Play is set to begin in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round - Kingsport Bracket on Thursday at Hunter Wright Stadium, and each of the five teams bring something different to the table.

One team brings offensive firepower, while a couple others rely on their pitching staffs. Still, another team owns one of the NAIA's top defenses, and yet another is solid in all three areas of the game. 

All this means is it should prove to be one fun tournament to watch. Here is some insight on the five teams vying for a ticket to the 2012 AVISTA-NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan (45-11 overall) enters the field with one of the more potent offenses in the NAIA. The Bulldogs rank the top 10 in several offensive categories including home runs per game (second/1.339), total runs batted in (second/446), total runs scored (third/477), slugging percent (fourth/0.535), total hits (ninth/598) and batting average (10th/0.336). Individually, Taylor Oldham leads the NAIA in total RBIs and RBIs per game at 78 and 1.5, respectively, and is third nationally in total home runs with 19 four-baggers. Stephen Branca is tops in the NAIA in total runs scored with 75. In all, Oldham, Branca and Jake Stone all rank in the top 12 in total RBIs.

On the mound, Tennessee Wesleyan ranks fourth in strikeouts (429) and 20th in opponent batting average (.248). The team boasts an ERA of 3.70 with Josh Culler's 2.52 leading the way. Culler also averages 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings to rank him 19th.

No. 2 seed Georgetown (45-9 overall) has used pitching as its strength this season as it sports the nation's top ERA at 2.45. The opposition is only hitting .228 against the Tiger staff and has struck out 402 times. Tyler Arthur leads Georgetown with a 1.60 ERA, putting him 10th nationally. His 10 wins rank him 11th overall.

Offensively, it has been a team effort. Georgetown has scored 359 runs in 54 games for a 6.648 runs per game average. The Tigers are hitting .313 with 93 doubles, 17 triples and 23 home runs. Randy Guite leads the team with a .351 average, while E.J. Murray owns the team's top power numbers with seven home runs and 44 RBIs.

Third-seeded Indiana Tech (39-20 overall) has defense as its strength. The Warriors ranked 17th in fielding percentage (0.963) and are fifth in the NAIA in total assists (629) and total chances (2,104) as well as 12th in total putouts (1,398).

At the plate, Indiana Tech is batting .272 with 96 doubles, 14 triples, 26 home runs and 364 runs scored. Ignatius Mackenzie leads the team with a .335 average and eight home runs to go with 50 RBIs, while Eric Wald helps out with a .279 average, seven homers and a team-best 51 RBIs. Pitching-wise, the team's 3.52 ERA ranks it 20th nationally with Brandon Alger's 2.41 ERA leading the way. Alger, Tyler Snoke, Eric Zagone and Aaron Lewellyn have combined for 31 of the Warriors' 39 victories.

Campbellsville (36-16 overall), the bracket's No. 4 seed, has pitching as its strength as well. The Tigers rank third nationally in ERA (2.600) and fifth in opponent batting average (.223). Ryan Richardson ranks ninth in total runs allowed (19), 10th in total earned runs allowed (14) and 16th in ERA (1.94).

Offensively, Campbellsville owns a .322 average with 100 doubles, eight triples, 31 home runs and 345 runs scored. Chance Kopacz is the Tigers' top offensive threat with a .360 average, 13 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

Fifth-seeded St. Francis (37-15 overall) had used all three phases of the game to get the job done. The Saints rank fifth in the NAIA in batting average (.346), 14th in ERA (3.350) and 17th in fielding percentage (0.963). David Kuhne leads the team in hitting with a .429 average, ranking him 10th in the nation. He also leads the team in stolen bases (22), doubles (16), triples (6) and runs scored (59).  Jesse Gregurich is hitting .410 and has a team-best four home runs and 59 RBIs. Power is not part of the Saints' game as they only have nine home runs as a squad.

Jacob Butler leads the team with a 2.37 ERA and owns a 9-2 mark. The Saints' top three hurlers all have an ERA at or under 3.24 and have combined for 26 wins, five complete-game shutouts and 16 complete games. As a staff, opponents are only hitting .257 against St. Francis.

The tournament will begin Thursday at 11 a.m. with No. 4 Campbellsville taking on No. 5 St. Francis. The full tournament schedule as well as additional information can be found by clicking here.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students each day of the tournament. However, all-tournament passes can be purchased for $25 for adults and $12 for students. Children under five are free.