GREENVILLE, S.C. — The NCAA Division I baseball tournament isn’t the only competition we are keeping an eye on.
In the Division II edition of the event, which began on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina, the North Greenville Crusaders are the top seed in the country, and it’ll be a couple of Central Georgia’s own leading the charge.
“The head coach here called me,” junior shortstop Cory Bivins said. “I got off the phone and was like, ‘mom, I think I'm going to North Greenville University to play baseball,’ and she was like, ‘what is that?’ And I was like, ‘me either, but the coach seemed legit.’”
‘Legit’ would be an understatement.
Over the last five seasons no program in Division II has been better than NGU, and leading the charge for the top seed into this year's tournament are former GMC Bulldog Cory Bivins and former FPD Viking Noah Takac.
Bivins was recruited by NGU as a high schooler, while Takac transferred into the program after serving two seasons with Division I program Davidson.
“Cory had been in the program for two years at the time and I kind of just asked him what it was like,” Takac said. “It seemed like a place that I wanted to go to and now two years after that we're competing for a national championship as the number one team in the country, that's pretty cool.”
But the bond between the two formed long before their days together in Greenville.
Takac, whose brother, Micah, is committed to play at Mercer University beginning next season, met Bivins at seven years old. The two have played baseball together at just about every level going back to their travel ball days with the Diamond Bears.
“We weren't the least obnoxious bunch,” Takac said. “We had a bunch of rug rat kids running around playing baseball. We had some of the coolest uniforms, all black and orange jerseys and they always decked us out.”
Decades later, they’ve traded the black and orange for the red and gray.
But even now, this week and every week represents a chance to put on for the Peach State.
“I've got the Georgia state flag on (my headband), and we both have a lot of family back home and a lot friends that keep up with us,” Takac said. “It's really cool to show out and prove to people back home that even if you're from Middle Georgia, we made it so you can too.”
While this month hopefully ends in a national championship, the boys are back in town soon. Both plan to join the Macon Bacon at the conclusion of the college season this summer, where Cory has already played a season before.
“It’s fun playing in front of the hometown fans,” Bivins said. “The claps they give for the hometown boys are a little louder than the guys from across the country so it's fun having people there that know you and are coming to the games to watch you.”
And whether it be in Greenville or right in their own backyard, it's not about where you do it, but what you do on the way.
“Keep your opportunities and keep your eyes open to such opportunities,” Takac said. “Because there might be a kid at a smaller Division I school that wouldn't dare play North Greenville because it would be embarrassing.”
The Crusaders defeated West Chester Sunday 3-1 in their opening game of the NCAA Division II tournament. Bivins drove in a run on an RBI single in the second inning.
Next up for NGU is five-seed Angelo State on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. The game can be seen on NCAA.com.