If you look through the annals of college baseball history (or any sport for that matter), you’ll find that far more often than not the preseason pick to take home the title will end the season empty-handed. For whatever reason it simply rarely happens. Perhaps pressure plays a part. Maybe it puts too big of a target on a team’s back. Sometimes it’s probably just lazy voters recasting their vote for last season’s winner or selecting “name” teams rather than those with potential.
In the Perfect Game preseason rankings North Greenville, Georgia Gwinnett and Rowan were selected as their divisions top team headed into the season. So far each of the trio has been formidable. Each of the three have stayed in the top five the entirety of the season and the Crusaders and Grizzlies have reclaimed the top spot after temporarily surrendering their ground early in the season.
Along with this weeks rankings is a look at how each of the team’s are doing with an outlook of finishing the season as it began, the top-ranked team.
Rankings are based on games through Sunday, April 14.
NCAA Division II
North Greenville Crusaders
The Crusaders have met their lofty preseason expectations and have spent the entirety of the spring either first or second in the Perfect Game NCAA D-II rankings. They currently sit at an impressive 32-9 despite losing a big road conference series last weekend against perennial power Mount Olive. Although they lost the overall matchup with the Trojans, their win in the finale not only salvaged the series, but clinched the conference regular season championship. Consequently, head coach Landon Powell’s team still remains atop the national rankings based on their overall body of work. Aside from the first three games of the season and last weekend, NGU is 30-5 with quality wins over Newberry (a series sweep), Nova Southeastern (taking two of three), Catawba and a pair of tough Peach Belt schools, South Carolina Aiken and UNC Pembroke.
North Greenville was bestowed as preseason favorites largely due to the potential of their pitching staff, which has not only met expectations, but surpassed them as well. Tucker Burgess, who was a First Team All-American and Hero Sports National Pitcher of Year last season after earning 14 wins and a 2.98 ERA, is at it once again. His skillful numbers put him on pace to replicate last year’s statistics as he leads the team with nine wins and has a 2.40 ERA. He has continued to paint the plate with a brilliant strikeout-to-walk ratio, as after finishing with a 89-to-15 mark last season he has recorded a 78-to-10 difference this year. Ethan Garner, who was the Conference Carolinas freshman of year two years ago and an all conference selection last season, is also putting up numbers which mirror last season’s success, although his walk total has spiked from 13 in 69 1/3 in 2018 to a concerning 31 in 47 this spring.
Despite their accomplishments this season the dominant arm on the staff belongs to Michael Giacone. Last season’s California JUCO Pitcher of the Year has made 11 starts this season and earned a 7-1 record with a tiny 2.16 ERA. In his 58 1/3 innings on the mound he has amassed a robust 88 strikeouts and held opposition to a .161 batting average as he has only allowed a measly 33 hits. It is no wonder why Giacone had been recruited by such acclaimed D-I programs the likes of Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Oregon (his grades weren’t quite as sensational as his throwing ability which kept him off their rosters).
The trio of Burgess, Garner and Giacone have thrown just over half of the Crusaders’ total innings. The remaining staff conglomerate has performed admirably as well. The team ERA is 3.10 which puts them in the top five nationally. In addition to keeping runs off the board, they’ve been efficient as they are currently third nationally with a 1.20 WHIP, seventh with a 3.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio and have held opposition to a feeble .226 batting average.
Offensively the team has been strong as well. Among the holdovers from last season are Jeffery Chandler, Jared Williams and Utah Jones. Chandler is hitting .331, Williams is among the leaders at .358 while being a perfect 22-for-22 in stolen bases and Jones has raised his average to .387 after hitting .358 last season; Jones is also solid with the glove at shortstop. Nevertheless, as with the staff, it is the newcomers who’ve had the biggest overall impact.
Jeremy Whitehead struggled at East Carolina, but has been sensational at NGU. He is batting .391 as the club’s leadoff hitter and has used his freakish speed to race to six triples. Adam Sasser, who was second-team All-SEC at Georgia last season, is now crushing it in the middle of the Crusaders batting order. He is hitting .317 and tied for third nationally with 16 home runs. Yet despite that pair’s excellence, the most impactful NGU debut in 2019 has been by freshman catcher John Michael Faile. Faile is leading the team in hitting with a .418 average and is also topping the team in RBI and slugging percentage.
Considering the Crusaders nearly advanced to Cary last season with a less talented team, they’ll unquestionably be a favorite to make the final eight this year. Aside from an unlikely complete and utter collapse, their spot in the NCAA postseason is already secure. They just need to continue to play loose, stay healthy and hope to get that extra juice for a deep postseason run.
|1||1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||32-9||1-2|
|2||2||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||31-7||4-0|
|3||3||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||29-11||3-1|
|6||7||Lubbock Christian Chaparrals||TX||29-9||4-0|
|7||11||Central Missouri Mules||MO||26-11||4-0|
|8||13||UC San Diego Tritons||CA||26-7||4-0|
|9||8||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||24-14||2-1|
|10||14||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||32-8||4-0|
|12||15||Angelo State Rams||TX||34-7||5-0|
|13||12||Texas A&M Kingsville Javelinas||TX||25-14||2-1|
|14||10||West Florida Argos||FL||28-13||1-2|
|15||21||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||26-12||2-1|
|16||20||St. Cloud State Huskies||MN||27-6||5-0|
|18||18||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||26-13||3-0|
|20||22||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||27-8||5-0|
|21||17||Southern New Hampshire Penmen||NH||27-8||3-1|
|23||NR||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||24-11-1||4-0|
|25||25||Metro State Roadrunners||CO||25-11||2-2|
Dropped out: Embry-Riddle (19).
Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies
The Grizzlies reign at the No. 1 position was short lived. Their initial series was against the third-ranked and defending national champion Southeastern and they dropped the hotly contested series two games to one. Since then the Fire have remained in the top four since reclaiming the No. 1 position this week. Along the way they’ve earned red-letter wins against Webber International (a three-game sweep), a stealthy good Truett-McConnell club, Bryan, Indiana Tech and Lyon. Not only is GGC winning quality games, but they are beating teams in bunches as well. Their record is currently 36-8 and they have won their last 14 straight.
As with most top-level clubs, the Grizzlies are excelling on the mound. Despite accumulating a 50-12 record last season, their 2019 team ERA is nearly a run less than last season at 3.24 (down from 4.12). The statistical drop-for-the-better isn’t too much of a surprise as the staff is largely intact from last season and the arms have continued to develop.
Gregory Loukinen, who earned a 2.73 ERA and threw three shutouts (one of which was GGC’s first no-hitter) last season, is the staff ace once again. He has a 2.27 ERA and tops the team in innings pitched, wins and strikeouts and is holding opposition to a diminutive .173 batting average. Last year’s team leader in innings pitched, Hunter Dollander, has shined in limited action this spring. In seven appearances he is 5-0 with a team-leading 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. Jonathan McKinney and Hunter Caudelle wield a pair of arms that have substantially improved since last spring. Last year they had 5.23 and 8.44 ERAs respectively. This year they are down to 3.03 and 2.62 and have combined to earn a 10-2 record in 104 innings on the mound. Venezuelan import Pedro Garcia, who pitched in the junior college ranks last season, has been a pleasant addition to round out the starting staff. He has a 3.67 ERA and has 51 Ks in 41 2/3.
Like the pitching staff, much of the everyday lineup is experienced and improved this year. Usually when a player’s batting average drops 50 points it is cause for alarm, but not in the instance of GGC’s Cam Coursey. Despite that substantial dip he is still raking at .435 as he hit an astonishing and improbable .485 last season. In addition to his lofty average, he had 13 doubles, seven triples and 16 stolen bases. There are six other GGC players who are hitting at least .331 who have at least 90 at-bats and 30 start on the season. The most remarkable of those batters is Brody Wofford who transferred from Central Florida for his senior season. He is second on the team in hitting with a .374 average and is leading the team with seven home runs. Impressively, Coursey and Wofford have combined to strike out only 29 times in 298 at-bats.
Gwinnett made their deepest postseason run in school history last season when they reached the semifinal round in Lewiston. Both their pitching and starting lineup are better and deeper than last season so anything less would be a disappointment. With their roster and current aptitude they are well on pace to capture their first national title.
|1||3||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||36-8||5-0|
|3||4||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||37-7||3-0|
|6||9||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||34-11||3-0|
|8||9||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||37-10||3-1|
|10||11||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||32-9||5-0|
|12||7||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||31-11||1-2|
|13||14||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||37-8||4-0|
|15||15||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||36-9||2-1|
|18||17||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||26-9||2-1|
|19||18||Indiana Tech Warriors||IN||25-13||3-1|
|20||24||William Jessup Warriors||CA||25-11||4-0|
|21||23||Webber International Warriors||FL||31-16||4-1|
|24||20||The Master’s Mustangs||CA||28-14-1||0-4|
|25||25||William Penn Statesmen||IA||28-7||3-1|
Dropped out: Vanguard (22).
NCAA Division III
Of the three preseason No. 1 teams only Rowan isn’t currently in their division’s pole position. However, they are not far off. They have spent half the season in the No. 1 position (although admittedly not much action took place the first month) and are currently ranked third. After an uninspired performance at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitation in which they went 5-4, they fell to the fifth position, but have since gone a much more Prof-like 15-2 and are a game behind The College of New Jersey for first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. Their current 21-6 record is actually ahead of last season’s mark in which they spent a good chunk of the season as the unanimous No. 1 team, won the NJAC tournament and were at the top seed in the Mid-Atlantic Regional before getting upset.
Anthony Harrold, Dillon Mendel and Alex Kokos were team’s top hitters in batting average last season and have been putting up admirable numbers once again, although each of their batting averages have taken a dip. Nevertheless, they are hitting .365, .354 and .316 respectively, which is more than apt. Two transfers have more than made up for any loss in production from the trio. Matt Woods was a solid player St. John’s last season, but his numbers have soared since playing for the brown and gold. He is leading the team in hitting at .409, home runs with seven, stolen bases with 10 and his .736 slugging percentage far exceeds any other player on the club. Another ex-D-I (UNC Central) signee who is coming up big for Rowan is Mitch Walker. He is right behind Woods in batting at .406 and playing error-free first base to solidify the infield.
Danny Serreino and Andrew DiPizaza had tiny ERAs last season at 1.25 and 1.49 respectively. Each are again pitching well this year with Serreino being absolutely devastating. In 41 2/3 innings he has only allowed 26 hits (.179 batting average) while striking out 70 batters. His 15.12 Ks per nine innings ranks third nationally. DiPiazza’s opponents are batting .202 and have struck out 47 times in 34 1/3 innings. It’s difficult to think of a more formidable pair of arms. They’ve been joined in the rotation by Justin Smith who is putting up numbers that are as daunting as his name is boring. He is leading the staff with a 1.34 ERA, holding opponents to a .172 batting average and has a 37-to-9 strike-to-walk ratio in 33 2/3 innings.
The coup de gras out of the bullpen is closer Andrew Cartier. He has appeared in 11 games, earned five saves and struck out 19 in 12 1/3 innings. What really gives this pitching stuff the extra je ne sais quoi is the fact that each of the four hurlers mentioned are seniors. One of the biggest constants in championship winning teams is a stockpile of experienced leaders looking to end their career on a high note.
The biggest (and perhaps only) question mark to Rowan’s ability to start and end the season as the No. 1 team is how well they will fare against stringent competition. While they have a good quantity of wins, they don’t have much in terms of quality. They don’t have a single victory over a ranked team this season. They’ve only played one team that is currently ranked, a 9-7 loss to Southern Maine in Florida. That could change this week as they will face The College of New Jersey in a pair of games. If they are able to tame the Lions it will do wonders to solidify their status as a title contender and propel them into the postseason with confidence.
|1||1||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||24-3||1-0|
|2||2||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||19-4||3-1|
|6||4||Concordia University Chicago Cougars||IL||21-1||2-0|
|5||5||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||24-8||3-0|
|7||6||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||17-6-1||3-0-1|
|4||7||Wooster Fighting Scots||OH||15-6||2-2|
|22||20||The College of New Jersey Lions||NJ||22-3||5-0|
|23||22||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||21-8||3-1|
|NR||25||Denison Big Red||OH||24-2||3-0|
Dropped out: Cal Lutheran (20).