The Owls, who had never previously qualified for the NCAA tournament as a Division I program, made it to this point by winning last week’s regional in Tallahassee, Fla., getting past the likes of Alabama, Florida State and Georgia Southern.
Kennesaw State will begin play against Louisville on Friday at 6:30 p.m., and the best-of-three series will continue Saturday at 7 p.m., with a potential third game to be played Sunday at 6 p.m.
All three games will be nationally televised, with the first two on ESPNU, and the third on ESPN2.
Ward, a former Cherokee High standout, and Bruce, a product of Woodstock, said it was hard to describe the feeling of going to the super regionals.
“This is the first time in history that we have made it to the (Division I) postseason, and to make it this far is unbelievable,” Bruce said. “To think that, if we have a few more wins, we can make it to (the College World Series in) Omaha is unbelievable.”
Ward, a freshman pitcher, said he’s just trying to soak it all in.
“This doesn’t happen all the time,” Ward said. “Hopefully, it will happen again, but you never know. It’s just great to experience this.”
Because the Owls haven’t had any recent history of reaching the NCAA tournament, Bruce said he hasn’t felt much pressure to perform. That showed Monday as the junior outfielder came through with the go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning of Kennesaw State’s decisive win over Alabama.
“We are just trying to make it as far as possible,” Bruce said. “It’s kind of a win-win for us. We have already accomplished our goal, and to make it past that, you can’t really explain it.”
Bruce said the Owls haven’t improved much since he was a freshman. Rather, they got the wins at the right time this season.
After finishing second in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament each of the last two seasons, Kennesaw State swept through the A-Sun tourney this time around and won three of four games at the Tallahassee regional.
“The past two years, we have had great teams and made it to the conference tournament championship,” Bruce said. “Finally, we won it in the third year. We have had great teams the past two years, but this year, we played together as a team, and that helped a lot.”
Bruce has helped fuel Kennesaw State’s success, starting 60 of 62 games this season. Batting .277 with 12 doubles and 28 RBIs, he’s also one of the Owls’ top base-stealers with 12 steals in 18 attempts.
Kennesaw State opened the season 13-18 before putting together a 16-game winning streak. Ward said it was the team’s goal to win the conference championship, but even he doubted whether or not it could do it at times.
“Obviously, we have gone further now,” Ward said, “but we didn’t start out so well, and I wondered if we would even make the conference tournament. Then, we started playing really well.”
Ward said to experience this level of success as a freshman has set the bar high for future seasons.
“It will definitely be in the expectations for sure,” he said. “Now that we’ve made it this far, this will be the goal next, and to make it even further, to play better and be better.”
Even though he is a freshman, Ward has contributed as a reliever. He pitched 10 1/3 innings over 10 appearances, maintaining a 4.36 ERA and striking out eight batters.
Though Ward hasn’t pitched since May 13, he says he’ll be ready if called upon.
“Every time I get the call, I go in and do the best I can,” Ward said. “I support everybody else that is out there, every single game, playing their heart out.”