BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor is making its 10th straight playoff appearance, with 21 postseason victories to its credit in the last nine years.
That wasn’t always the case, though, for the Crusaders, who went 0-for-2 against Trinity in their first two trips to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
“Things pick up around here come playoff time,” UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday at Andersen Field House. “After a couple of times trying to get past Trinity, rising to the occasion has been our mode of operation.”
The second-ranked Crusaders (10-0) get another chance to rise up when they host Redlands (7-2) from California in a first-round game at noon Saturday at Crusader Stadium.
It will be the first NCAA playoff game in the history of the new venue, where UMHB is unbeaten in six games. The Crusaders, however, have more things to worry about than their home record.
“Being one of 32 teams left and the top team in our part of the bracket and playing in a great venue are really, really nice,” Fredenburg said. “But they don’t mean anything if you don’t come out and play hard.
“We’re anxious for a big crowd and all of those things. But the reality is that we have to crank it up and play between the lines.”
UMHB always has — and likely always will as long as Fredenburg is at the helm — put a major emphasis on pressuring the opposing team’s quarterback.
The Crusaders are averaging 3.8 sacks per game, and half of their total of 38 has been recorded by the trio of tackle Silvio Diaz and ends Korey Steward and Teidrick Smith.
Meanwhile in the back end of the defense, the Crusaders have picked off 23 passes, including six by Cody Jones and four each by Brodrick Crain and Baylor Mullins.
“To be able to play our coverage and get pressure with our front four is the epitome of what we’re looking for,” Fredenburg said. “Anytime you have to send a linebacker, you weaken your coverage.
“When you blitz, somebody’s band is going to play. You always want to make sure that it’s your band.”
As for how much Fredenburg plans to rotate his defensive linemen to keep them fresh, it depends on the player.
“You can platoon your linemen and we often play a lot of guys, but there’s a difference between Silvio and everyone else,” Fredenburg said of the American Southwest Conference career sacks leader. “You can try to keep him fresh, but the reality is that he’s a little better than anybody else as far as rushing the passer. You don’t like to have him on the sideline.”
Sophomore Marcus Wimby, UMHB’s leading receiver and the guy who makes its Wildcat formation go, has a shoulder injury and is questionable for Saturday’s game.
“He’s sore,” Fredenburg said. “He has an AC (acromioclavicular joint) sprain. We’ll find out more in the coming days.”
Jones was named ASC defensive player of the week, and teammate Chad Peevey took home the special teams honor.
Jones, a senior free safety, had two interceptions and a team-high nine tackles in last week’s win at Mississippi College.
Peevey, a senior punter/kicker, averaged 56.7 yards per punt and had six of his nine kickoffs go for touchbacks.
Tickets for Saturday’s game will be on sale to season ticket holders from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and to the general public 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 7:30 a.m.to noon Friday at Gate One of Crusader Stadium.
Online ticket sales will begin at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and can be accessed through the school’s athletic website.