Back in January preseason projections were made for the D-II, NAIA and D-III levels of college baseball. Tea leaves, crystal balls and palms were dutifully read to forecast who would be the elite teams of small school baseball in 2017. Since then thousands of games have been played on diamonds across the nation which have reshaped those rankings. While many of those projections have been (thankfully) on mark, some have turned out to be ill-advised head scratchers way off target.
This week, along with the updated rankings, is a look at how those preseason predictions have played out. For each of the divisions a look is taken at how the early pick for top team has performed. Additionally right-on projections which seem to have been ripped from a page of Grays Sports Almanac are highlighted. Lastly, as my cat loving aunt’s bumper sticker says, “Pobody’s Nerfect,” a regrettable showcasing of regrettable picks are also listed.
Rankings are based on games through Sunday, April 9.
NCAA Division II
Tampa has been the top team for the duration of the season, however their grip on the No. 1 spot isn’t quite as secure as it once was. After the Spartans swept Nova Southeastern mid-March there didn’t appear to be any legitimate challengers to their claim of being the best in D-II. Nonetheless, UT immediately dropped a home midweek game to Valdosta State and could only manage to win two of three against sub .500 Embry-Riddle and a good-but-not-great Florida Tech team. The Spartans also lost a series to an emerging Tusculum last weekend, but they do get a small bit of benefit of the doubt as it was an away series, their first time playing outside Florida this season. With upcoming series against Lynn and Florida Southern, Tampa will re-establish or relinquish their season long top team status.
Neither Lubbock Christian, North Georgia, Emporia State nor Azusa Pacific received much preseason hoopla from either the NCWBA or Collegiate Baseball. Of the quartet, only LCU was placed in either rankings’ Top 25 (20th by NCWBA), yet each received elite preseason projection status by PG and currently reside in the Perfect Game top 10. The Chaps and Hornets have already faced their stiffest regular season competition and, barring their wheels completely falling off their wagons in conference tournament play, will be favorites to host their respective regionals.
Azusa Pacific has a 30-4 record but it comes with a huge asterisk. They haven’t faced a single team that has been in the Perfect Game/Rawlings Top 25 all season and won’t until they play the recently rejected Point Loma Sea Lions in two weeks. Nevertheless, Pablo O’Connor and the rest of the Cougars looked pretty good before the season started and look pretty, pretty, pretty good now.
West Florida and Belmont Abbey looked like busts after slow starts, but each has rebounded nicely and are showing signs of playing more to their projected ability. The Argos were 10-10 in early March but have since gone 13-4 (albeit with a bit of a win-inducing schedule). Abbey was 10-11 after being swept at North Greenville, but have since won each of their series, including taking two of three from Mt. Olive.
No such rebound has been made for Cal Poly Pomona. It wasn’t a good sign when the Broncos shockingly lost to UC Colorado Springs in the Mountain Lions’ program-opening game. CPP can boast wins over Chico State and Point Loma, but each were a part of series losses. Currently at 18-17, the Broncos need to restore their winning ways PDQ. If they aren’t able to win at least three of four against UC San Diego this week their extended postseason chances are pretty much kaput.
The biggest glaring omissions from the D-II preseason picks are two CCAA teams, Chico State and UC San Diego. Both appeared on paper to be not up to their usual snuff, but that prognosis has been proven to be laughingly wrong. The two teams are a combined 52-14 and are running away with their respective conference divisions.
|2||2||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||29-7||4-0|
|3||3||Chico State Wildcats||CA||28-7||1-2|
|4||5||Emporia State Hornets||MO||27-8||3-1|
|6||6||USC Aiken Pacers||SC||27-10||3-0|
|7||4||Angelo State Rams||TX||26-8||2-3|
|8||8||Dixie State Trailblazers||UT||29-9||4-0|
|9||9||Azusa Pacific Cougars||CA||30-4||4-0|
|10||13||Lubbock Christian Chaparrals||TX||26-10||3-1|
|11||16||UC San Diego Tritons||CA||24-7||2-1|
|12||12||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||26-8||4-0|
|13||10||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||24-12||2-1|
|14||14||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||33-7||3-0|
|15||11||Florida Southern Moccasins||FL||26-8||1-2|
|16||17||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||24-5||5-1|
|17||19||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||29-7||3-1|
|18||15||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||26-8||1-3|
|19||20||Delta State Statesman||MS||29-8||4-0|
|21||25||Georgia College Bobcats||GA||25-9||4-0|
|22||22||Lynn Fighting Knights||FL||25-12||3-1|
|23||18||Central Missouri Mules||MO||22-11||2-3|
|24||NR||Wayne State Warriors||MI||20-9||6-0|
|25||24||Belmont Abbey Crusaders||NC||25-15||2-1|
|25||NR||West Chester Golden Rams||PA||17-6||3-1|
Dropped out: Point Loma (21), Millersville (23).
Preseason No. 1 Keiser held the top spot until mid-March when they were usurped following critical conference losses to St. Thomas and Webber International. Nevertheless the Seahawks still look like a helluva club and haven’t lost too much of their luster. Heading into their upcoming showdown with Southeastern, they have a 29-14 mark with consequential wins over Georgia Gwinnet, Northwestern Ohio, St. Thomas and Webber International.
Their 1-2 pitching punch of Daniel Garmendia and Miguel Castellanos may be the best in the NAIA. In 140 1/3 inning pitched the duo have only allowed a frugal 96 hits while issuing 132 strikeouts with a combined 1.78 ERA. KU still sits at a respectable 11th-ranked position, but with a underachieving offense they don’t look like the No. 1 club anymore. That designation goes to newly minted top team, Oklahoma City.
OCU won 38 games last seasons but a late season swoon, in which they went 7-7, kept them out of their usual spot on the NAIA Championship Opening Rounds. As a result, the Stars were overlooked in the NAIA’s official preseason Top 25, but they were listed among Perfect Game’s top 20 teams. The Stars have been dominating opposition all year as their pitching staff has caught up over the offseason with their juggernaut offense. The only team which has truly been able to best them has been Bellevue who toppled them twice early. The Stars have been shooting down formidable opposition among the ilk of York, Texas Wesleyan, USAO, Tabor and MidAmerica Nazarene and undoubtedly deserve the No. 1 ranking.
Other teams that have proven to be poignant picks are OCU’s state-mate Oklahoma Wesleyan, Southeastern and Texas Wesleyan. OKWU and SEU were limited to the “others receiving votes” in the official NAIA preseason coaches’ poll while the Rams didn’t get a single consideration vote, but each was published as a part of the Perfect Game/Rawlings preseason Top 25. The Eagles were positioned 13th in the preseason, quickly made their way to single digits and have been in the top five most of the year. Southeastern, with their new coach, culture, recruits and transfers quickly turned around their program. They currently reside in the top five as it wasn’t until last week that the Fire lost their first series of the year.
Aside from one week Wesleyan has been ranked by Perfect Game the entire year. Last weekend they treated fans to one of the best series of the season as they and now top-ranked Oklahoma City each won a game and took another into 13 innings before it was decided.
Not every pick has gone as swimmingly this season. Lewis-Clark State looked to have another robust roster ready to compete for a national championship. With that they were named the No. 3 team in the PG preseason, a projection that has far failed to meet its mark. While the Warriors still have a nice 23-12 record, it’s not up to the usual LCSC standards and they fell out of the rankings two updates ago. With a soft schedule the rest of the way it will be difficult for the perennial powerhouse to work their way back in.
It has also proven to be a difficult season for two other teams in the West. Westmont and The Master’s University were ranked ninth and 11th respectively before the season started and seemed to be shoo-ins for the postseason. Instead both are in the second half of their conference standings and have already lost a combined 33 games.
|1||2||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||37-5||2-1|
|3||3||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||35-8||2-1|
|6||6||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||29-12||3-1|
|7||7||Webber International Warriors||FL||31-9||3-1|
|8||8||Northwestern Ohio Racers||OH||29-10||3-0|
|9||10||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||32-11||3-1|
|10||11||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||30-14||2-2|
|12||14||Missouri Baptist Spartans||MO||27-10||4-0|
|13||16||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||28-11||2-2|
|14||13||Indiana Tech Warriors||IN||26-9||3-2|
|15||9||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||28-15||1-3|
|17||18||William Carey Crusaders||MS||26-12||2-1|
|19||19||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||26-7||2-2|
|25||25||British Columbia Thunderbirds||BC||22-10||0-0|
Dropped out: Point Park (24).
NCAA Division III
Cortland State was the preseason Perfect Game D-III No. 1 team and for the most part, that pick has been astute. The Dragons have been the top team most of the season, only recently succumbing to Shenandoah. Overall they are 22-5 and are still among the top three teams in the division, which is a relative pick ‘em race as to who’s best of the best. Three of Cortland’s five losses were by a single run, another was in a rain-shortened game and the other was a close loss as well which was propelled by a single bad inning, thus keeping them in the No. 1 position would be difficult to argue against. Should Cortland take care of business against Oswego in a couple of weeks they could re-claim the top position.
The most savvy Perfect Game D-III preseason picks weren’t so much teams that were selected as much as teams that were omitted. Despite playing for the national championship last spring neither Trinity nor Keystone were selected for the PG/Rawlings Top 25. Both clubs were viewed as having banner seasons in 2016 largely due to senior-laden rosters that would be thin on returning talent. Indeed that has been the case as the Tigers are 17-13 and the Giants are 14-8, both respectable marks but nowhere near last season’s success. Another wise exclusion was Ramapo who was positioned 11th early by the NCBWA but currently is submerged below .500 at 9-12.
One sagacious D-III selection which was made was the inclusion of Centenary. Nearly 70 teams received votes in the NCBWA preseason poll, but the Gents weren’t one of them. They were however positioned 24th in Perfect Game’s D-III rankings. They have proven to be all that and a bag of chips as they currently sit sixth with a 26-6 record.
There really haven’t been too many head shaking faux pas with the PG D-III preseason picks. Concordia-Chicago was starting to look like a stinker, but the Cougars have won their last eight and scored double digits in six of those wins. While they still a far cry from being in the top 10 they’re proving to have the ability and moxie of a top team.
A lot of stock was put into Whitworth in the preseason as well. While that doesn’t seems as misguided lately as it did a couple of weeks ago after the Pirates strong together a handful of wins, it looked a lot better before last weekend when they lost three games at Linfield.
|3||3||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||22-5||4-0|
|5||5||Wooster Fighting Scots||OH||16-4||3-1|
|7||7||Oswego State Lakers||NY||16-6||4-2|
|8||8||Tyler Texas Patriots||TX||28-5||3-1|
|11||11||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||20-7||3-0|
|12||14||La Roche Redhawks||PA||19-6||5-0|
|16||25||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||20-6||4-1|
|18||12||UW La Crosse Eagles||WI||10-9||0-4|
|19||16||UT Dallas Comets||TX||22-7||2-2|
|20||NR||Cal Lutheran Kingsmen||CA||21-6||3-0|
|21||17||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||23-12||1-3|
|22*||NR||St. John Fisher Cardinals||NY||15-6||4-0|
Dropped out: Pacific Lutheran (23).
Originally appeared on Perfect Game website: https://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=13748