Birmingham-Southern College baseball: How Panthers overcame school closure to reach D3 College World Series

The best story in college baseball might belong to a school that won’t ever offer another class.

Birmingham-Southern College is effectively closed, with its final semester over and the entire operation planning to shut down within days. Birmingham-Southern baseball is very much open for business, with a Division III championship in its sights.

It’s a bittersweet run for the Panthers, who happen to be led by Drake LaRoche, the son of former MLB first baseman Adam LaRoche. The elder LaRoche infamously retired when the White Sox asked him to limit how often he brought Drake, then 14 years old, into the team clubhouse. 

That’s just one layer of a remarkable story unfolding at the Division III level heading into the College World Series. 

Here’s a look at Birmingham-Southern’s storybook run and why the school is shutting its doors.

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Birmingham-Southern College baseball playoff run

Birmingham-Southern fell early in the Southern Athletic Association tournament, losing two games to Rhodes College. But all the Panthers have done since then is win.

The NCAA D-III regionals saw Birmingham-Southern go 3-0 with two wins over host Transylvania University and one over Spalding University. Then the Panthers took care of business in the super regionals with two wins over Denison College.

Birmingham-Southern finished the regular season with 13 wins in its last 14 games, including nine consecutive victories to close out the schedule. The team is 32-14 through Saturday.

The Panthers’ conference tournament struggles evidently didn’t do much to disrupt their momentum despite so much weighing on the team’s shoulders, with the impending closure of the school looming.

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Birmingham-Southern’s offense is led by Jackson Webster’s 13 home runs and Ian Hancock’s 1.028 OPS.

On the mound, no one has been more impactful than LaRoche. The junior right-hander leads the team with 81.1 innings, carrying a 3.21 ERA with 66 strikeouts and two complete games through 13 starts. 

Success for Birmingham-Southern isn’t exactly a new pattern, as the Panthers reached the championship series of the Division III College World Series as recently as 2019. Still, putting this kind of run together in the days before the school’s official close is quite the feat.  

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Why is Birmingham-Southern College closing?

The Birmingham-Southern baseball team was informed on March 26 that the school would officially close on May 31. That happens to be the date of the first game of the NCAA Division III College World Series.

Birmingham-Southern has battled financial troubles since 2007, with the aggressive spending practices of former school president David Pollick shrinking the college’s endowment. The 2008-09 financial crisis also delivered a hit to the school’s endowment. Both were cited by Birmingham-Southern as factors in the school’s financial decline.

Despite fundraising efforts in recent years, Birmingham-Southern wasn’t able to gather enough money to give the school a viable path forward. The final blow was a $30 million loan that did not get through Alabama state legislature. Without that money, Birmingham-Southern made the tough call to close its doors.

Birmingham-Southern was founded in 1856 and took on its current name in 1918. 

Division III College World Series schedule

The Division III College World Series begins on Friday, May 31, with Friday, June 7 as the last possible end date. Just like at the Division I level, the College World Series will feature eight teams.

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While Birmingham-Southern doesn’t yet know its own schedule, the Panthers will get some much-needed rest amid the storm of coverage regarding their run and the school’s closure.

The schedule also means Birmingham-Southern could play on the final day of the school’s existence and continue to play once school operations have ended. It isn’t easy to be the last team standing in a field of eight, but a remarkable run can become a truly unforgettable story if the Panthers can surprise and win the tournament. 

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