With the Continental Navy seemingly headed for surrender, Captain John Paul Jones responded to a request to surrender to British forces with a resilient retort of “I have not yet begun to fight!” The fiery naval commander rallied his crew from defeat and captured the enemy vessel and sailed into American history and immortality.
The spirit of Jones’ unlikely triumph echoes today as college baseball clubs’ early season missteps have turned in their favor for remarkable success.
Along with the updated rankings for each of the three small school divisions, a team is highlighted who, despite early predictions of prosperity, started the year looking like their season could be lost at sea. The three teams were a combined 16-25 and fell from their prime positions in the rankings to the outskirts and land of the also-rans. Yet, each of the trio has transitioned back to playing as prognosticated and appear ready to challenge for the national title once again.
When it comes to baseball, it is far better to be playing well late than early, and these three schools are each in a position for a remarkable postseason run.
Delta State has long been one of the premier programs in NCAA D-II baseball. The Gulf South stalwart has advanced to the D-II Baseball Championships 12 times, including five since 2000. Their alum include six national Player/Pitcher of Year winners, including Zach Shannon, who earned the honor in both 2017 and 2018. They also have a fervent fan base who fill the stands by the hundreds at each home game.
Despite a sluggish 2020 season under new head coach Rodney Batts, much was anticipated from the Statesmen this spring with a solid experienced roster and influx of exciting transfer talent, even despite losing Tanner Propst, who signed with the Colorado Rockies last June. However, following their series loss at home against an upstart Lee team, their fourth such setback in five series, DSU’s expectations plummeted. They went from being ranked No. 15 in the preseason to a dismal 6-10. They were expunged from the rankings as other teams from the GSC conference, including Lee, West Florida and Shorter, made their entrances.
Yet the ides of March smiled upon the club from Cleveland, Miss. With a midweek win over Arkansas Monticello, the Statesmen would win 11 games in a row and 15-of-16 to turn their season around. In game one of a doubleheader last Saturday against Montevallo, the Statesmen bashed a season-high six home runs. In the nightcap, DSU rallied for seven runs with two outs in the ninth to earn the series sweep. With the wins, DSU moved to 21-11 and have made their way back into this week’s Perfect Game Top 25.
The Statesmen are led on offense by small-in-stature but big-on-ability second baseman Jake Barlow. In 2019 he hit .322 with 13 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs to amass 124 total bases and a .588 slugging percentage. This year his average has dipped to .284, but he is leading the team with 12 home runs (six of which had been hit in the past two series). Kirkland Trahan, a transfer from Jones County JC, is topping the team with a .378 batting average and 19 extra-base hits. Hayden White, who batted .303 his first two seasons at DSU, is second on the team in hitting at .362 and also second on the club with eight home runs.
The pitching staff does not have explosive stuff, but can dominate. Hunter Riggins was an All-American in 2019 when he threw 110 innings with a 1.88 ERA. He had been dependable this season with each of his starts going no fewer than six innings. He has two complete games and a 2.82 ERA. Josh Lewis, a late addition to the starting staff, has been excellent in four starts despite not earning a win. He has a 3.38 ERA and has only issued three walks in 21 1/3 innings. However, the crux of the staff is their bullpen. TJ Childree, Charlie Darnall, Kris Peet and Evan Bynum have a combined 41 appearances. Each has a sub 2.00 ERA (Childree’s is a wee 0.57) as they only have allowed six earned runs over 47 2/3 innings.
Delta State has two more critical series left before the GSC tournament. They’ll play Alabama Huntsville and Mississippi College and need to continue to accumulate wins to earn a strong seed in the GSC tournament. While conference rivals Lee and West Florida likely have berths in the D-II South Regional locked up, DSU and Shorter are vying for what could be a final selection in the national tournament.
|1||1||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||24-2||2-0|
|2||2||Central Missouri Mules||MO||27-4||3-0|
|3||3||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||29-4||3-0|
|5||5||Angelo State Rams||TX||24-5||3-0|
|8||12||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||27-6||3-1|
|9||6||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||28-8||3-2|
|10||10||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||22-4||4-0|
|11||7||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||26-9||3-3|
|13||13||Azusa Pacific Cougars||CA||21-7||3-1|
|14||16||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||25-3||4-0|
|15||15||West Florida Argos||FL||24-7||1-0|
|16||18||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||21-10||4-1|
|17||17||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||21-9||2-1|
|19||22||Missouri Southern St. Lions||MO||24-7||3-1|
|20||21||Metro State Roadrunners||CO||25-7||4-0|
|21||25||Seton Hill Griffins||PA||15-1||3-1|
|22||14||Texas Tyler Patriots||TX||21-12||0-4|
|23||23||Charleston Golden Eagles||WV||24-4||3-1|
|24||19||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||24-12||1-3|
|25||NR||Delta State Statesmen||MS||21-11||4-0|
Dropped Out: No. 24 Shorter
Expectations for Indiana Southeast were very high headed into this season. The Grenadiers were off to their best start in school history in 2020 with a torrid offense that had hit .362 and a sterling staff that stymied opposition from the first to last out. IUS was positioned 10th in the Perfect Game NAIA preseason rankings – a mark which at the time frankly seemed a bit underrated.
Like Delta State at the D-II level, IU Southeast struggled mightily to start the season. After sweeping their first series against Pikeville, they went 2-10 and lost six in a row, which included a four-game home sweep against a good, but not great Huntington team. Then came a sweep at the hands of Tennessee Wesleyan in which they suffered two mercy-rule losses by a combined score of 28-2. Even despite their losing performances on the diamond, IUS never fell out of the Perfect Game Top 25 rankings because it was unquestioned that the bunch was better than the final boxscores.
Since March 3, the Grenadiers have only lost three games, two of which were by one run. They’ve gone 27-3 through last weekend, and at the time of this writing they are on the cusp of a mercy-rule win over Thomas More. They’ve climbed their way back up the rankings and instead of being on the cusp of being removed from the Top 25, they are now on the verge of reentering the top-10. They are running away with the River States Conference regular season title with a 20-1 record. They should clinch the crown this week with a home series against Midway.
The Grenadiers’ offense is led by Clay Woeste, who had accumulated a .357 batting average over three seasons headed into this season. He is batting .404 this season and is combustible on the basepaths as he has successfully swiped 74 bases in 130 games. Brody Tanksley and Matt Monahan give the team a pair of long ball threats. Tanksley carried a .329 batting average coming into the season, but had only hit a single home run in each of the past three seasons. This year he is leading the team with 14 blasts while batting .385. Monahan was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year for St. Xavier in 2019. He is hitting .416 with 13 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs for IUS. Marco Romero, who had put up big numbers for 2018 NJCAA D-III National Champion Oakton CC, is continuing to batter the ball in New Albany. He is batting .368 with 37 walks for a .511 on-base percentage.
The pitching staff had some outings early which inflated their numbers for the worse, but has been solid overall. They don’t have hurlers with high strikeout-to-inning ratios or diminutive ERAs, but they get the job done. Cousins Trevor Reynolds and Cade Reynolds lead the team in innings and have 3.15 and 3.33 ERAs, respectively. Hunter Kloke has a high ceiling and had been slated to pitch in front of scout-filled stands in the Cape Cod League last season. Over 19 games and 15 starts the past two seasons he has a 3.27 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings.
With upcoming series against Midway and Brescia to close the regular season, two schools who are a combined 16-50 on the season, IUS should continue to rack up wins and earn the opportunity to host an opening round of the NAIA national tournament, or at least a top seed, in hopes of advancing to the NAIA World Series for the first time in school history.
|1||1||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||39-3||4-0|
|5||5||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||33-4||5-0|
|6||6||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||37-3||6-0|
|7||7||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||29-9||0-1|
|9||9||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||31-3||2-1|
|11||11||Indiana Southeast Grenadiers||IN||32-13||3-0|
|12||15||Benedictine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||24-7||4-0|
|17||17||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||26-12||3-0|
|18||13||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||28-13||1-3|
|19||19||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||23-12||3-1|
|20||20||Hope International Royals||CA||24-12||0-0|
|23||24||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||30-16||4-0|
|24||NR||Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats||IN||36-11||6-0|
|25||25||William Carey Crusaders||MS||25-10||4-0|
Dropped Out: No. 22 Taylor
The Adrian Bulldogs were ranked No. 10 in the Perfect Game Preseason rankings, and for good reason. They had a 37-9 record in 2019, inarguably their best in school history, with a 4-0 record against ranked teams and finished as the runner-up in D-III regional play. Much of their stout offense and starting pitchers were back on campus and hurler Mo Hanley had gained momentum as one of the top pitching prospects in not just D-III baseball, but all of college baseball. However, with a 5-5 record out of the gate and Hanley sidelined due to COVID, the ‘Dogs were nearly expunged from the rankings and slid all the way to the No. 24 position.
Things turned around against Albion in their first home game of the season with a 18-8 thrashing of the Britons. Adrian swept their next three series and have only lost one game since their slow start – a narrow 3-2 loss which was avenged with a walk-off, extra-inning win later in the day. With winning 14-of-15, Adrian has begun to climb back up the rankings and have been positioned at No. 15 the past two weeks.
Offensively, Adrian is hitting .314 as a team and out-slugging their opposition .495 to .322. They boast four starters who are hitting at least .340, topped by Kevin Cardentey, who didn’t play in the first eight games of the year. Cardentey went 6-for-11 last week to raise his season average to .490. Fifth-year starting catcher Gunner Rainey, who batted .411 in 2019, has continued to elevate his game and is hitting .437 with 18 extra-base hits. AJ Miranda, who only had a single hit in seven at-bats last season as a freshman, wields a behemoth stick in the heart of the lineup. He is leading the club with five home runs in only 59 at-bats and has a .322 average. Mad props must be given to Brady Wood, the team’s five-year veteran at second base. Not only is he hitting .318, but more importantly he has only made nine errors in 442 chances.
The pitching staff was supposed to be a three-headed monster with Hanley, Maxwell Denney and Pierce Banks, but Hanley has suffered UCL damage in his pitching elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He had astonishingly struck out 27 batters in 14 2/3 innings this season. Denney was the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year in 2019 when he had a 2.10 ERA and 9-0 record, but he has struggled to a 7.30 ERA and issued 17 walks over 12 1/3 innings. Fortunately, Banks has been able to carry the load with help from other arms who have stepped up to contribute. Banks has a 1.70 ERA, three complete games and 54 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings while only allowing 31 hits. With three four-game series remaining on the schedule, Adrian should challenge the 2019 edition for school record for wins. They’ll need to win the bulk of the contests on their set schedule, and combine that with strong runs in the MIAA postseason tournament and opening round of the NCAA national tournament. If their pitching holds up, they could find themselves two wins away from advancing to Cedar Rapids.
|6||8||North Central Cardinals||IL||19-5||5-0|
|7||3||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||17-6||2-2|
|9||12||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||15-3||4-0|
|12||9||North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops||NC||23-5||0-2|
|14||7||Cal Lutheran Kingsmen||CA||3-Feb||0-2|
|16||16||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||14-6||3-0|
|20||21||Washington & Jefferson Presidents||PA||23-1||3-1|
|21||22||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||3-Jul||2-0|
|25||NR||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||16-7||5-0|