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Bison to face No. 1 seed in NCAA tourney

FNS Photo by David Arntson North Dakota State pitcher Shane Bushland, left, delivers a pitch to a Concordia College (Minn.) during Monday’s game at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo.

FARGO — School is no longer in session, but North Dakota State was not done. On Monday morning, it was the baseball team’s turn to watch an NCAA Division I tournament selection show.

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For the ninth time this year, the Bison won a conference title, and this time, they got a date with the No. 1-seeded team in the country. NDSU will play Oregon State at 10 p.m. Friday in the Corvallis Regional in a four-team, double-elimination tourney that came via the school’s first Summit League tourney title.

It was more of a celebration for a program that perhaps has come farther than any other sport at the school.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” said head coach Tod Brown.

Brown recalled lying in bed awake at night in the first month he took the job back in 2007, questioning what he had just done for a career path. But a series of recruiting victories ultimately paid off on Monday during the ESPNU selection show.

“It takes great assistants and great players to get to this point,” he said. “My thoughts are with them as well. … In this department we have 14 sports, and nine have won championships. I’m glad we’re doing something for the department. I feel like I can walk around knowing that we’re carrying our own weight.”

Same goes for junior pitcher David Ernst, who picked NDSU over other opportunities, including being picked by the Chicago Cubs in the Major League Baseball draft as a senior at Fargo South. The Bison averaged 12 wins in their first three years of Division I baseball, but that’s changed over time. NDSU will take a 25-24 record into the tournament.

“When I was in high school making my decision, I started to see what coach Brown was doing with this program,” Ernst said. “He took them from winning single digits to a 20-win program. My freshman year we had a 40-win season. This program has come a long way.”

The NDSU-OSU winner will play the winner of California-Irvine and UNLV. In a contrast to the normal NDSU travel routine, the Bison will take a charter flight west to Corvallis in the same manner as the Bison men’s basketball team did in the NCAA men’s tournament regional in Spokane, Wash.

“I’ve been in this before as a player and an assistant coach,” Brown said of the NCAA tournament. “I wanted something that was special for us. I wanted to get on a plane, not a bus, and go somewhere where we had not been before.”

They got that, and more. The Beavers (42-12) are hosting an NCAA regional for the fifth time and are 23-4 all-time in postseason games at Goss Stadium.

“It’s special,” Brown said. “I can’t put it into words. What it does is legitimizes everything we’ve been saying as coaches and administration. It makes the phone calls easier and it could make a significant difference in recruiting.”

The Bison and Beavers have one common opponent this season in USC. NDSU dropped three to open the season at USC, including two in the last at-bat. OSU dropped two of three to the Trojans to finish the regular season and got the No. 1 seed despite dropping three of its last four.

NDSU, meanwhile, defeated Western Illinois on Saturday for the Summit title.

“I came here to win a conference championship, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of having this chance,” Ernst said.