By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
MIAA champion Missouri Southern will face No. 1 seed Minnesota State-Mankato (35-8) in the first round of the Central Regional tournament Thursday at Mankato.
The Lions (34-20), who received an automatic bid in the six-team field, gathered Sunday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center to watch the NCAA selection show.
No. 2 seed Central Missouri (35-11) will face St. Cloud State (34-9) and No. 3 seed Southern Arkansas (40-15) will play Missouri Western (40-10). Game times and the Lions’ travel plans will be determined today.
Several of the Lions have family ties in the upper Midwest, starting with head coach Bryce Darnell, who was selected to all-state teams in baseball and football when he played at Brooklyn Center (Minn.) High School.
“Going up there wouldn’t be bad,” said Dallas Burke, a native of Davenport, Iowa, while he watched Sunday’s game between the Kansas City T-Bones and the Wichita Wingnuts. “It’s a shorter drive for our parents. I think we were 6-0 against teams at the Metrodome (in Minneapolis) the last two years.”
Catcher Sam Ryan, who hit two home runs Saturday against Missouri Western, is from Lake Elmo, Minn. His three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning of Saturday’s second game sent the Lions into the regional tournament.
Shortstop Thomas Wilson, first baseman Shaun Hoover and infielder Ryan Leonardo also are from the upper Midwest.
“Last year’s team set a tone that we could go to Kansas City and do something with it,” Burke said. “Now that we’ve reached one goal, we put a new goal in front of us and that’s to win on Thursday. We’ll see what happens.”
Hoover, whose defensive skills around first base have contributed to the Lions’ .962 fielding percentage — matching last year’s school record — said a change of scenery would be good.
“Hopefully, it will be warmer than it has been here,” he said. “It will be nice for my parents and family because it’s only five to six hours. They’ll be able to drive there.”
Temperatures in the mid-70s are forecast for Thursday and Friday in Mankato, home of the Mavericks.