Husson University of Bangor will still be eligible to compete for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship by virtue of a merger between the conference the City University of New York Athletic Conference beginning with the 2019 season. Credit: Monty Rand Photography | Houlton Pioneer Times

The North Atlantic Conference baseball champion will face an additional challenge to reach the NCAA Division III tournament beginning next spring.

The NAC traditionally has held its own automatic NCAA berth in baseball, but the conference will fall below the minimum seven schools needed to maintain a bid in that sport in 2019 as Castleton (Vermont) University; Colby-Sawyer College of New London, New Hampshire; and New England College of Henniker, New Hampshire, all left what was a seven-school league last spring.

For at least the next two years, the NAC champion will face the winner of the City University of New York Athletic Conference in a best-of-three series with the winner receiving an automatic NCAA tournament berth.

“Obviously the positive is it still gives us the opportunity to compete for an automatic qualifier to get into the NCAA regional, and at the end of the day that’s what your hope is,” Husson University baseball coach Jason Harvey said. “The conference is hurting for members in the sport of baseball right now, but this still allows us to do everything we want to do.”

The NAC will have just five baseball-playing schools next spring — Husson, Thomas College of Waterville, the University of Maine at Farmington and Northern Vermont University-Lyndon (formerly Lyndon State College) along with newcomer University of Maine at Presque Isle.

The State University of New York-Canton is scheduled to join the NAC as a sixth member for baseball in 2020.

The CUNYAC also will have five baseball schools in 2019: Baruch College, City College of New York, John Jay College, Lehman College and College of Staten Island.

“We’re hoping that sometime in the next two years, while we still have this agreement and the automatic qualifier’s still somewhat within the conference, that we can find and hopefully lock down another school that sponsors baseball to allow the NAC to keep that AQ within without having to play what I call a crossover championship,” Harvey said.

The format for the qualifying tournament, scheduled for the second weekend of May, involves a single game Friday and one or two games Saturday with a rain date that Sunday.

The NAC champion will host the inaugural title games in 2019 with the CUNYAC winner to host in 2020.

“I look at it as an opportunity to play a couple more games of baseball,” Harvey said. “If you’re fortunate enough to get in that position to win the NAC side and compete for the joint championship, it gives you that extra week of baseball.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...