The Navarro Bulldogs are back in the Region XIV Tournament with the top seed, but head coach Skip Johnson has competed in the tournament enough times to know the seeding is grossly overrated.

“You play late; you get the night games — that’s about it,” said the 13th-year coach. “If you play great, you get to sleep late. If you play wrong, you don’t sleep long.”

The Bulldogs (40-15) will start off playing late in at least one game, taking on the No. 4 seed from the South Zone, Delgado (La.) Community College, at 8 p.m. Saturday night.

If they win they play the winner between San Jacinto and Texarkana at 8 p.m. Sunday night, but first they must get by Delgado — a team that won a best-of-three series against Laredo Community College this week for the right to play in the tournament.

Navarro assistant coach Whoa Dill scouted Delgado, and watched a team that was potent at the plate and above average in the field.

“They can really swing it,” Dill said. “They’re a pretty good club; they kind of remind me of Panola out of our conference. Delgado might have finished second or third in our conference.”

Johnson said sophomore right-hander Jess Todd will get the starting nod against Delgado, while three other proven starters — James Russell, Michael Whitney and Gary Campfield — will be available for the next round Sunday.

On the other side of the eight-team bracket, South champion Alvin will play Panola (No. 4 in East) while Blinn (No. 3 South) will clash with Paris (No. 2 East).

Johnson said the strength and depth of the Bulldogs’ pitchers make the arduous trip through regionals a lot more bearable.

“We have a lot of depth on the mound, and that will help us,” he said. “With the talent and experience we have up there, it helps us in the long run of being consistent.”

As a unit, the ’06 Bulldogs are one of the most talented groups Johnson says he’s had.

“This is as much talent as we’ve ever had,” he said. “What makes them special is every player knows their role, but they’re unselfish about their role.”

In addition to Navarro’s dominance on the mound, its offense has equally carried the load. Freshman shortstop Pat McCrory is sixth in the nation with a .492 batting average, and is second in total hits with 93.

Johnson listed McCrory and sophomore transfer Jimmy Hardinbrook — who has specialized at second base for the ’Dawgs — as pleasant surprises for the team.

Not as surprising was the usually potent hitting of sophomore first baseman Chris Davis, who blasted 17 home runs a year after parking 15. The Arkansas signee will bat ahead of last year’s conference batting champ, Cole Young, who returns from a hand injury he suffered four weeks ago to play in the tournament.

Johnson said all of the Bulldogs are on the same page regarding the team’s ultimate goal — to play for the national championship in Grand Junction, Colo., May 27-June 3. That target follows the team’s initial goal of winning the East Zone championship.

“It’s one of their goals and we’ve talked about it,” he said. “We achieved one and we want to achieve the other. As long as we don’t try to overdo things, we’ll be fine.”

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Joel Weckerly may be contacted via e-mail at jweckerly@corsicanadailysun.com

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