College Baseball

On top of the pile: Niemann, Eagles making most of NCAA tourney experience

By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 31, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 1, 2018 12:40 am

First-hand knowledge can be an advantage. Tyler Niemann put his to good use.

Standing in left field, anxiously waiting for Morehead State left-hander Dalton Stambaugh to record the final out in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game against Tennessee Tech, Niemann thought about where he wanted to be in the celebratory dog pile.

"Have you seen any of the pictures of it?" Niemann said of the snapshots taken after the Eagles won 4-3 to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. "Those are my feet sticking straight up in the air."

That was by design.

"Luckily, I've experienced it before," said Niemann, the Canton, Mo., product who was a freshmen when the Eagles last won the OVC title. "I was stuck on the bottom (of the dogpile) the first time. I knew this time I was going to get in there, get on top and then get out of there."

His approach won't change should the Eagles get to dog pile again.

Morehead State is the fourth seed in the four-team Clemson Regional, which begins Friday with the Eagles (37-24) facing top-seeded Clemson (45-14) in the double-elimination format tournament.

Being an underdog comes as no surprise to the Eagles, who toppled top-seeded Tennessee Tech twice to win the OVC championship. In fact, the Eagles beat the Golden Eagles, who are the No. 2 seed in the Ole Miss Regional, in three of six meetings in the last two weeks.

In one of those victories -- an 8-7 come-from-behind classic the final Saturday of the regular season -- Niemann tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning and won it with an RBI walk-off single in the ninth.

He went 2 for 4 against Tennessee Tech in the tourney title game.

"We had to come through the loser's bracket and ended up playing six games in five days," Niemann said. "After that, we were so physically and emotionally drained, but it was so worth it."

So much so the Eagles jumped in the lake next to Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Ala.

"That just kind of topped it all off," Niemann said.

Actually, things got better.

Unlike three years ago when Morehead State knew it was heading to Louisville for regionals before the 64-team bracket was revealed, there was uncertainty this time.

"We literally had no idea where we were going," Niemann said. "We saw a bunch of predictions where some had us at Coastal Carolina, some had us at N.C. State, a bunch of people hoped we were going out West.

"We had no idea. So the anticipation sitting there watching the TV show was a lot of fun. The whole experience is great overall. To be fortunate enough to experience it twice in four years, that's something I'm real proud of and something I've really enjoyed."

There's an added bonus this time.

Niemann gets to see his sister.

Tori Niemann, a former college basketball player who graduated from Western Illinois University and is four years older than Tyler, is the assistant director of student-athlete development and community outreach at Clemson.

"It worked out really well for our family," Niemann said. "It's cool that we're playing right in her backyard."

The only drawback, at least in Tori's case, is she has to find some neutral colors to wear.

"She literally can't root for either one," Niemann said. "Clemson pays the bills, but obviously she's not going to root against me."

No one is going to bet against Niemann and the Eagles making a little noise, either.

A second-team All-OVC selection this spring, Niemann is hitting a career-high .333 with 20 doubles, five triples, seven home runs and 42 RBIs in 57 games, 47 of which he's started either in left field, at first base or as the designated hitter.

"This is something I've been working for since I was a little kid," Niemann said. "I wanted to play college baseball, be in this environment and be on this stage. It's been a grind. You have to go out there and keep working everyday. This is what you play for, you want to be up to bat when the game is on the line and have the opportunity get the big hit."

Or simply be on the field with the chance to make the final out in a title clinching game.

Niemann didn't end up in that position as Stambaugh struck out the final Tennessee Tech batter, but he was right there to celebrate.

"We knew we had to go out there and get three more outs," Niemann said after Morehead State's Niko Hulsizer homered in the top of the ninth for the lead. "You kind of hold your breath. I don't know if I breathed the whole last inning. We needed that last out. It finally happened and a big ol' dog pile."

And he was right on top, riding high like he hoped he'd always be.

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