While college baseball is often depicted as having its strongest base in the southeast region of the country, it’s important to remember that quality baseball exists in the Pacific Time zone. Consequently, along with the latest small school rankings some of the top schools west of the Rocky Mountains are featured. These clubs and their conference mates annually prove they are just as formidable as their eastern opposition. However, due to travel and time circumstances they don’t get to play each other aside from early season matchups.
Two years ago a team from the west took home the title in both the NAIA and D-III divisions, and a D-II representative advanced to the quarterfinals. Although the small school collectively were shut out last season, Oregon State was the champion at the D-I level. Consequently, the odds are strong at least one of these teams will be among the last schools standing in their respective divisions finals.
Rankings are based on games through Sunday, April 21.
NCAA Division II
UC San Diego Tritons
The Tritons have long been one of D-II’s premier programs west of the Rocky Mountains. Over the last 10 seasons the team has averaged nearly 40 wins and made trips to the NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament in each of the last two seasons. The last decade has also seen UCSD add five California Collegiate Athletic Association regular season titles to their trophy case. However, their ways of the bullying CCAA opposition are quickly coming to a close as the student body voted overwhelmingly to move to D-I. The transition will take place after next season, and the school would love add a D-II title before their move to the Big West.
The Tritons are currently the only team west of Grand Junction, Colorado to make an appearance in this year’s Perfect Game D-II rankings. They started the season 17th and made their way into the top 10 halfway through the season. They were penciled in for a top 5-position this week, but were a bit befuddled by an upstart Cal State LA team which not only split a four-game series with UCSD, but raised the Tritons’ team ERA from a second-in-the-nation 2.54 mark to 2.99 by virtue of 25 earned runs. Nevertheless, the team remains one of the top programs in D-II baseball and the one of the favorites to advance to final eight for the third year in a row.
The Tritons’ success this season has been by their familiar combination of top-shelf pitching along with awe-inducing defense. Preston Mott should at least have a share of the UCSD career record for starts for a pitcher by season’s end, and he’s making the most of the achievement. This season he is 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA and leads the staff with 48 strikeouts in 52 innings. He and Brandon Weed, a transfer from nearby Southwestern College, give the team an apt pair of arms capable of keeping any game within reach. Weed is leading the starters with a 1.97 ERA and has yet to suffer defeat with a perfect 7-0 record.
Overall the rest of the staff has respectable numbers as well. They don’t overpower opposition with an obscene K-ratio, but with few exceptions each pitcher allows less than a hit per inning and the team’s total of 112 walks allowed reinforces how difficult it is to get on base, let alone score, against the Triton staff.
The offense is surprisingly subdued considering the team’s 28-9 record. The team batting average is .278, which is good for only eighth in the CCAA, and their total runs scored puts them just inside the top half of the conference. That’s not to say the kids can’t hit. Shay Whitcomb was the CCAA Freshman of the Year last season and is in contention to be the outright conference Player of the Year this spring. In addition to batting .338 he is tied for the team lead in home runs, leads UCSD with 18 doubles and has been solid as the team’s shortstop. Blake Baumgartner, who is hitting .331 this spring, and Alex Elipulos, who had 72 RBI last year, also wield formidable bats.
Azusa Pacific Cougars
The Cougars have yet to break into the Perfect Game Top 25 this season, however, they have received regular consideration. They have a 31-10 overall record and their 21-3 mark in the PacWest has them substantially ahead of their conference brethren. They have an upcoming series with Fresno Pacific and then will face Point Loma, the No. 2 team in the conference standings. Provided they win each of those series it seems highly likely that the Cougars will find their wy into the rankings at some point, a position in which it is far better to be in at the end of the year than the beginning.
Their continued winning ways are a part of what could be a third consecutive season in which they reach 40 wins. The past two years the club has gone an imposing 83-23. Also they were stopped short of reaching the final eight both seasons when they were bested by the aforementioned Tritons.
The odds of them taking the next step this spring are high with a club which is tops in the PacWest in slugging percentage, as the team’s 61 home runs is nearly twice as any conference competitor. Osvaldo Tovalin, Cole Kleszcz and Griffen Herrera give the team a trio of batters with an OPS over 1.000. Tovalin is topping the team in batting at .406 and Kleszcz is among the nation’s leaders in home runs with 17.
Pitching-wise APU has some brilliant performers as well. The staff has three starting hurlers who have started at least seven games with an ERA below 3.00 and another with a 7-1 record. Their 3.54 team ERA is tops in the conference as is their .975 fielding percentage, an unconventionally high mark for a club with such already impressive bats and arms.
Western Oregon Wolves
The Wolves are an enigmatic entry in the D-II baseball realm as they are a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, an 11-school group in which only a half dozen programs field a baseball team. Of the six, WOU is unequivocally the perennial favorite to win the conference. The Wolves have won the GNAC regular season crown three of the last six seasons and earned the tournament title in four of those years.
However, despite their dominance in the northwest corner of the country, national accolades have been far and few between. This is primarily because, aside from the first couple of weeks of the season, the Wolves rarely get to play schools outside of their conference and showcase their regard as an elite baseball school. Their home in Monmouth, Oregon makes it impractical to play midweek games against outside competition as there are no other D-II schools within a seven-hour drive. Thus, they are stuck playing the same handful of teams the bulk of the year.
Consequently, for the Wolves to gain attention and unequivocally secure an NCAA West region postseason bid, they have to absolutely pulverize their competition, an accomplishment WOU, nor any other GNAC school for that matter, has done significantly enough since 2012 to be good enough to earn an at-large invitation.
The Wolves once again look very good this season. They have a 22-10 overall record and are tied with Montana State Billings at the top of the conference standings. Their .327 team batting average is far and way the best percentage in the conference (besting MSU Billings by 30 points) and their 4.55 staff ERA is the GNAC’s pole sitter as well. Earlier this month Alex Roth, a junior pitcher for the Wolves was named the NCBWA Division II Pitcher of the Week after striking out 15 batters in seven shutout innings. Nevertheless, WOU would seem to be a long shot to receive an at-large NCAA postseason invite and a break a long standing anti-GNAC bias unless they end the season with a fury of awesomeness.
In order to remove doubt they are deserving, WOU would likely need to steamroll their remaining regular season schedule and finish no worse than the runner-up in the GNAC conference tournament, that’s still making things pretty iffy.
They have eight games left against Concordia and St. Martin’s, a pair of sub-.500 clubs, who the Wolves can use to puff up their win total, but who offer little in regard to being substantive wins. Doing that and reaching the conference finalsmight be enough, but it seems unlikely that the GNAC would get two out of six slots in the West Regional should they be upset. They would have to hope that relatively weak overall results in California Collegiate Athletic Association and PacWest could give them the break they need to play for a chance to earn a trip to Cary. Therefore, in reality, winning the GNAC tournament and securing the automatic bid would be imperative.
|1||1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||36-9||4-0|
|3||2||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||34-8||3-1|
|5||3||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||29-14||0-3|
|6||10||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||36-8||4-0|
|7||6||Lubbock Christian Chaparrals||TX||30-11||1-2|
|8||7||Central Missouri Mules||MO||28-12||2-1|
|9||8||UC San Diego Tritons||CA||28-9||2-2|
|10||12||Angelo State Rams||TX||38-7||4-0|
|12||9||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||27-15||3-1|
|13||16||St. Cloud State Huskies||MN||31-7||4-0|
|14||15||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||28-13||2-1|
|15||14||West Florida Argos||FL||29-14||1-1|
|17||20||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||29-9||2-1|
|19||23||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||28-11-1||4-0|
|20||13||Texas A&M Kingsville Javelinas||TX||25-15||0-1|
|21||18||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||28-15||2-2|
|23||21||Southern New Hampshire Penmen||NH||28-10||1-2|
Dropped out: Metro State (25).
Before Robert Ruiz took over as head coach for Westmont the program was in tatters. From 2006 to 2009, the Warriors were an abysmal 40-141. After Ruiz took over the wins not only increased, but they increased exponentially. Within four years the team finished a season over .500. The next year they went an unprecedented 39-19, won the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament and advanced to the NAIA Opening Round Tournament for the first time in school history. Over the past five seasons the Warriors have won 185 games and 2019 is shaping up to be the best ever. The Warriors are currently 31-10 and are among the NAIA leaders in several elite categories such as fielding percentage (first at .977), slugging percentage (20th at .484) and ERA (21st at 3.84).
Incredibly the Warriors are making their waves this spring without the same production that All GSAC pitcher Grant Garner supplied last season. In 2018 he threw 104 2/3 innings and had a 3.01 ERA. However, this spring he has been often battered about, four times allowing at least six earned runs in a contest to have his season ERA balloon to a husky 5.07 mark. Should he regain his form, it would unquestionably be a feather in their cap for a title run.
While Justin Sanders has been admirable as a starter, going 7-1 with a 2.89 ERA, what really makes the team formidable is the bullpen. Bailey Reid, who struck out 22 in 13 2/3 while only allowing a single earned run in the California Collegiate League over the summer, has continued his torrid pace. In 14 games he has yet to surrender an earned run, thrown 12 2/3 innings with 23 strikeouts and only allowed three hits. Kody McLain has also been stellar in a relief role as well. In 14 appearances he has a 3-0 record and has held opposition to a .194 batting average in 29 1/3 innings.
Tyler Roper, an experienced, exceptional catcher, is leading the team in hitting with a .392 average. He is one of five regulars hitting over .300. Outfielder Bryce Morrison is the team’s most dangerous hitter. After only batting .286 last season he has raised his average to .370 and has a .740 slugging percentage thanks to his 11 doubles, eight triples and 10 home runs. It would be remiss to not acknowledge the contribution of Nick Sablock who transferred from CSU Northridge. He is batting .310 and leads the team with 16 doubles, which puts him in the neighborhood of the national leaders.
This postseason the Warriors will be looking to exorcise demons that plagued them at the conclusion of last spring. Westmont had appeared to be on the fast path to Lewiston but were quickly eliminated from the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament after losing two of three. They had hoped to regain their winning ways in the NAIA Opening Round, but dropped their first two games, which included allowing LSU Shreveport to rally for seven runs in the eighth inning to get eliminated.
William Jessup Warriors
As with Westmont, Willam Jessup was a floundering team until a change in coaching put an end to their losing ways. In the three seasons leading up to last, WJU only managed to win 22 games while suffering defeat on a dreadful 108 occasions. After introducing Jake McKinney as coach prior to the 2018 season, the Warriors earned a 41-17 record, took home the Golden State Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles and nearly advanced to the NAIA World Series.
Coach McKinney left at the end of the season to take a job with the Milwaukee Brewers, but the wins have kept on coming. The Warriors are 28-12 and are engaged in an all-out catfight at the top of the GSAC standings with Westmont, Arizona Christian and a trio of other clubs. Nevertheless, the Warriors will be unrelenting and have a resume that is just as good as any team in the Pacific time zone. So far this season WJU’s impressive win total has included multiple victories over Westmont and The Master’s University, two California teams currently in the Top 25, as well as Antelope Valley, the school that usurped their Lewiston bid last spring.
The Warriors are unquestionably a team built on offense. They are strong from the first batter to the last and the talent is fairly evenly distributed throughout the order. The club is batting .325 on the season (good for 22nd overall) and ranks in the top 15 in hits, doubles and home runs per game, as well as 28th in runs scored. The Warriors have eight players this season who have started at least 29 games and each of them is batting a minimum of .309. That lineup not only is exceptional at scoring runs, they’re great at stopping other teams from crossing the plate. WJU has a .967 fielding percentage which, not coincidentally, is only surpassed by Westmont, the only west coast team ahead of them in the rankings.
It is fortunate that the team is so stellar at the plate and with the glove because the pitching staff has been a bit generous this spring. During last season’s breakout run the club ended with a good, but not great, 4.53 ERA. This spring they are allowing over a run per nine innings more per contest. The staff has a 5.76 ERA and is allowing opposition to hit at a .302 clip (up from .265 in 2018). Not a single regular starting pitcher has an ERA under 5.00 and no pitcher has a mark under 3.00. Those numbers will absolutely, positively have to drop if WJU is going to make another deep postseason run.
Lewis-Clark State Warriors
The Warriors were dropped from the Top 25 early this season as they started the year 5-8-1. Nevertheless, they’ve rebounded and put together a string of box scores much more in line of what is expected in Lewiston. LCSC is currently 30-12 and has only lost one game to an NAIA opponent since March 21, and that loss was in extra innings.
Like Western Oregon in D-II, the Warriors suffer from a lack of competitive variety as they are situated in the northwest where there are not a multitude of college baseball programs. Instead of playing midweek series to round out and give flavor to their schedule they have to play the same opponents multiple times – British Columbia and the College of Idaho make up 16 of the Warriors’ games this season alone. Nevertheless, the Warriors have something the WOU doesn’t have, an automatic pass to the postseason. By virtue of Lewiston being the long-time home of the NAIA World Series, the Warriors get an automatic entry into the final cast of 10 teams (although starting in 2022 they’ll only get a guarantee to host one of the opening round sites). Consequently the Warriors will have a puncher’s chance to win the title the next three World Series.
The Warriors’ pitching staff can be very, very good. The team ERA is 3.37 (ninth nationally) and opponents are hitting .224 (seventh in the NAIA) so the team is not to be taken lightly in the NAIA World Series, regardless of how they entered their invite. Gerald Hein has made eight starts this season and has put together a tidy 2.27 ERA with 57 Ks in 47 2/3 innings while only allowing 34 hits. Tyler Burch has been masterful in his 10 outings, throwing a team-leading 57 2/3 innings of baseball with 49 strikeouts and only allowing 46 hits. Lalo Porrasa has only allowed 29 hits in 42 2/3 innings with 57 strikeouts, although he has walked 41 batters, which kinda negates the low opposing batting average.
Admittedly LCSC’s current offense is very unWarrior-like. The team is only batting .250 with only a trio of players who have played in 20 games batting over .300. If they are to get behind in any of their games its hard to image them having the ability to fight back with such a limited arsenal.
It’s not out of the world to think that LCSC can play spoiler this season in the series and upset a team or two, but to consider them more than a long shot would be very optimistic. Nevertheless, the Warriors routinely play their best ball at the end of the season. Playing in front of a raucous crowd can do wonders for a team as they look to add another national title.
|2||1||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||36-9||2-1|
|3||3||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||39-7||2-0|
|6||6||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||36-11||2-0|
|7||8||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||41-10||4-0|
|10||10||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||36-9||4-0|
|12||12||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||35-11||4-0|
|13||15||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||39-9||3-0|
|16||18||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||30-10||4-1|
|17||13||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||37-12||0-4|
|18||20||William Jessup Warriors||CA||28-12||3-1|
|19||19||Indiana Tech Warriors||IN||25-13||0-0|
|21||21||Webber International Warriors||FL||33-18||2-2|
Dropped out: The Master’s (24), William Penn (25).
NCAA Division III
Starting in the late 90s and throughout the first decade of this century, Chapman wasn’t simply recognized as just one of the premier D-III programs west of the Rockies, but nationally as well. The Panthers regularly earned win totals upwards of the mid-30s and were crowned national champions in 2003. During that time, for better or worse, the Panthers were guided by Tom Tereschuk, a head coach who would eventually be removed in 2013 from his position due to what some labeled as questionable motivation methods. The investigation and aftermath left the program unsettled and Chapman suffered their first sub-.500 record in nearly 20 years.
To pick up the pieces Scott Laverty was hired to re-align the team and so far the transition has been nearly seamless. The Panthers’ winning percentage has steadily increased the last couple of seasons and seems to be crescendo-ing this spring. Last year, the Panthers finished 35-13, won their first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title in program history and made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011. This season to date has been a continuation of those winning ways. Chapman is currently 24-9 and leading the SCIAC standings. Their two remaining series are against Pomona-Pitzer and Caltech, the two teams currently bringing up the bottom of the conference. A potential sweep into the postseason would give them 30 wins with the SCIAC and NCAA tournaments remaining to increase their total.
Tyler Peck, who had 98 strikeouts last season and threw the first 7 1/3 innings of what would become the Panthers’ first no-hitter since 1973, has been dominating on the mound in 2019. In 71 2/3 innings he has only allowed 64 hits while striking out 99, which is second nationally. Peck is backed in the rotation by Jonathon Hernandez and Mason Collins. Each of the three are seniors who are finishing their careers with their best seasons to date. When the trio takes it to late innings they hand the ball to Nick Garcia, a dominating closer who has a 5-0 record and four saves in 17 appearances. He has only allowed 19 hits in 30 1/3 innings while striking out 54 and his ERA out of the bullpen is a tiny 0.89.
Offensively the team’s numbers are surprisingly down from last season. In 2018 the club batted .308 as a team, but this spring they are only hitting .275 as a unit despite having much of the same players. Their home run total has also dropped significantly, down from 41 last year to 11 currently. Considering they face two of the more batter friendly teams the next two weekends those numbers should improve, but not enough to match last season’s pace. Nevertheless, when the pitching staff is consistently putting up zeroes on the scoreboard the lineup won’t have to do much to for an extended postseason run.
While Linfield has traditionally been the winningest member of the Northwest Conference, the Wildcats are having an uncharacteristically dismal season. With that the Whitworth Pirates have been more than happy to take over the mantle as the conference’s pacesetter. Their results over the past several seasons have been a mixed bag. If you were to chart their winning percentage over the past decade it would look a bit like a heartbeat with peaks (a 30-13 record and NWC title in ’16) and valleys (a 13-22 with a team game losing streak in ‘14). This year has been one of the crests for the club as they are 22-12, have already secured the conference regular season title and will host the tournament in an effort to secure an automatic invite into the NCAA playoffs.
Like most successful teams the Pirates are getting the job done with a mix of timely hitting, shipshape pitching and quality defense. Their pitching staff can boast being the only club in the conference with a sub-4.00 ERA as they are currently leading the nine-team league with a 3.68 mark. Offensively they also have bragging rights as Whitworth is the only team with a batting average over .300. Their .310 average is more than 20 points higher than any NWC rival. Additionally, the Pirates are leading the conference in fielding, coming in at a lofty .977 mark with only 29 errors in 34 games played.
Nicholas Nerud, Taylor Poffenroth and Tyler Bailey lead the offense. Each is batting in the .380s and has double-digit double totals. Nerud is particularly spry on the diamond, leading the team with 17 stolen bases and is the club’s invaluable shortstop. On the mound Matthew Young has developed into a true No. 1 pitcher. After earning second team All-NWC recognition as a freshman pitcher in 2017, his numbers were inflated last season when his ERA jumped to a robust 6.61. However, this season he earned an 8-3 record with three complete games and limited opposition to a .217 batting average in 77 1/3 innings.
Two other pitchers who have been indispensable to the team’s winning ways are relievers Mathew Pulliam and Brett Thomas. Together they have combined for five saves and only allow 42 hits in 50 innings with 2.01 and 1.93 ERAs, respectively.
|1||1||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||27-4||3-1|
|2||2||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||23-5||4-1|
|4||4||Concordia University Chicago Cougars||IL||26-2||5-1|
|5||5||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||27-8||3-0|
|7||6||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||17-7-1||0-1|
|10||7||Wooster Fighting Scots||OH||18-8||3-2|
|20||20||The College of New Jersey Lions||NJ||25-5||3-2|
|22||22||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||25-9||4-0|
|25||25||Denison Big Red||OH||27-3||3-1|
Dropped out: None.