Say hello to the Christopher Newport Captains, the nation's top-ranked Division III baseball team.
"They know," coach John Harvell said of his players. "They know what they're capable of. … We can win the national championship."
Such confidence is well-founded.
The Captains closed the regular season an outrageous 39-5. Their lineup includes six .300 hitters, their starting pitchers all boast ERAs of 2.26 or better, and their closer allows a hit every two innings.
But as CNU endures a three-week layoff before the NCAA tournament — more on that foolishness later — it's best to go beyond the numbers and look at Harvell's hair.
Or lack thereof. Prior to the USA South Conference tournament, most of the Captains buzzed their locks short and dyed them blonde -- products purchased at the Harris Teeter across Warwick Boulevard from campus.
"It brings people together," said Madden, the project's mastermind. "It's funny and fun."
Harvell resisted but promised to let players cut his hair if they won the tournament. That they did in stirring fashion, defeating then-No. 1 Shenandoah in consecutive games, 10-4 and 5-4.
Most impressive, CNU won late. The Captains scored six ninth-inning runs in the first victory and rallied from a 4-1, sixth-inning deficit in the title contest.
"I was really happy to win it like that," said freshman shortstop Billy Steel, voted the tournament's MVP. "I didn't want to blow them out. I wanted to win it in that ninth inning and have a nice dogpile on the field."
Then, out came the shears as Madden and reserve outfielder Travis Medina did the honors on Harvell in the dugout.
"Those are things that we didn't do last year," Harvell said of winning tight games. "So going into the season I think there was a big question. OK, are we ready to do this?
"To have done it against a team like Shenandoah I think has done nothing but give these guys unbelievable confidence whenever they take the field."
CNU won't take the field again until the NCAA South Regionals open May 18 in Millington, Tenn., the late date an annual concession to teams from the north and midwest that can't start their seasons as early as those from warmer areas.
"It's definitely a disadvantage," Harvell said, "but fortunately for us, in the past it really hasn't affected us that much. Obviously when you're on a roll like we've been on, you want to keep going."
Indeed, in five previous NCAA appearances under Harvell, the Captains are 4-1 in their opening tournament game. In 2002 and '03, they reached the eight-team World Series, placing third and second, respectively.
This team is built for a similar run.
CNU averages 8.0 runs per game with a lineup so stacked that Harvell hits Madden — team-best .406 average and No. 3 nationally with 57 RBI — ninth. Ace Sean Chitsaz, who had Tommy John surgery as a high school senior, is third nationally with nine wins and leads a staff that includes fellow starters Greg Goldsmith and freshman Bryan Bierlein.
Goldsmith and Bierlein are a combined 13-1, and closer Ryan Fleischmann from Lafayette High has allowed only 16 hits in 31 innings — opponents are hitting a paltry .152 against him.
"I knew initially we had a good team," Chitsaz said. "Right after the first game (a 13-0 win over Hampden-Sydney) I thought, wow, we could do something really special this year."
At CNU, special equates to the World Series, to a national championship. So after light workouts to accommodate exams this week, the Captains will return to a six-day-a-week grind as they prepare for the NCAAs.
Four wins at regionals, four wins at the World Series: That's the aim.
"We just have to put eight games together," said Harvell, a 1992 CNU graduate in his 11th season on the job. "Eight games. They understand. … The sense I get from this team is just a lot of confidence, no nervousness. …
"To have told a recruit 10 years ago that if they wanted to compete for a national championship they need to come here may have been little far-fetched. But having been to the World Series twice, I have all the confidence in the world telling them when they set foot on this campus that if they want to compete for a national championship, this is the place to be."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP