Each season when the preseason rankings are being compiled there is a lot of legwork that goes into measuring of team’s abilities and forecasting where teams will finish. Typically it’s pretty easy to pick the most elite teams – the ones in the top 10 – but filling out the Top 25 can get pretty precarious. All sorts of numbers are crunched with the end game to provide the most complete, comprehensive and unbiased opinion of who the top teams are in the each of the prospective divisions.
What unequivocally does not happen is someone going back to the previous season’s results, remembering who was in the various championships and had the highest winning percentages and that lazy listing of teams gets a slight jostling to provide the illusion of research. It’s not fair to the teams, coaches and players who take to the diamond and play the game.
This process often unearths teams who aren’t on other pollsters’ radars. Along with this week’s rankings is a look at some of these diamonds that Perfect Game unearthed in the preseason. It’s a bit self-serving, but hopefully it also a demonstrative testament to dedication to providing the most responsible and researched objective opinions on the amateur game.
Nevertheless, this week’s rankings don’t just include some braggadocious self pats on the back, but also an unfortunate example of each where there was a swing and a miss when it came to preseason choices. With each rankings update there are a pair of testaments to the Perfect Game preseason rankings process along with one that didn’t quite go as planned.
Rankings are based on games through Sunday, April 8.
NCAA Division II
New Haven Chargers
The Chargers have consistency found themselves as bridesmaids in the Northeast 10 conference, putting together admirable seasons, but usually placing behind traditional NE-10 stalwarts Franklin Pierce and SNHU.
New Haven earned the No. 17 spot in the preseason based on a returns of 10 position players from last year, including Jack Zagaja, who finished in the top 10 in the conference in batting average, RBI and slugging percentage and was a NEIBA all-star over the summer. Remarkably the Chargers are getting it done without another spectacular season by the senior as a handful of other players are putting in big-time numbers this spring, highlighted by Joe Caico, who is leading the team in hitting at .437.
The tandem of David Palmer and Tim Kennedy are putting together another pair of impressive seasons on the mound as Palmer has a conference leading 0.53 ERA and Kennedy is leading the club in strikeouts. Their arms are a major reason the team is topping D-II in team ERA. If those two pitch to their potential it’s hard to not see the Chargers being the team to advance out of the East Region.
The Chargers haven’t been tested much this season, their strength of schedule is extremely low and their only formidable opponent they’ve faced this year was SNHU in a midweek matchup. That changes this week when New Haven visits Le Moyne. The Dolphins are second in the conference in overall winning percentage and are one of only two teams in the conference to have an unblemished NE-10 record. A poor showing won’t tank them this week since Le Moyne is having a dilly of a season of their own, but it will give fodder to their doubters who think they’ve got a lot more to prove.
Belmont Abbey Crusaders
Personally I’m still irked that Abbey missed out on getting an NCAA postseason at-large invite last season and I don’t even have any skin in the Crusaders’ game. It’s just a dang shame the team was ahead in the ninth inning of the Conference Carolinas tournament only to drop the contest in the second half of the frame. The loss was excruciatingly disappointing for a team that had turned their season around, as they had been 10-11 in early March yet finished an accomplished 37-17.
The focused Crusaders entered this season with a senior-laden lineup led by the 2017 Conference Carolinas Player of the Year Nick Beinlich, who erupted to bat .386 with 22 home runs with 34 stolen bases last season. This year he is arguably the team’s fourth best hitter with breakout bashers Colin Rosennaum and Luke Cureton leading the way. In the preseason I stated that the explosive roster should finish the season in the top 10 in runs; they’re currently second in the nation.
The pitching staff doesn’t have any statistical freaks but can boast lots of talent throughout and is grounded in experience. Cameron Busby is irreplaceable on the staff with 64 2/3 innings in 11 appearances.
At this point another postseason slight seems impossible with the Crusaders being ranked in the top 10 with seven total wins over Catawba, Wingate, Mount Olive and North Greenville, but stranger things have happened. They’ll be looking to insure their postseason berth as they close with solid matchups against Lincoln Memorial and Erskine along with a sweepable Barton series.
Minnesota State Mavericks
This pick looked pretty disastrous a few weeks ago but the Mavs are picking up steam and starting to look like the team they were predicted to be in January. MSU was fourth in the preseason rankings but fell to an unimpressive 10-7 in late March after dropping a series to Minot State. Since then the Mavericks have won 10 in a row and are climbing back up the NSIC standings.
The Mavs have a tremendous starting pitching staff with four hurlers with sub 2.62 ERAs and collectively have struck out 162 batters in 142 innings. However, the lineup lacks overall pop with only six collective home runs in 831 at-bats (they finished with 63 last season) and a good-but-not-great .313 average.
The Mavericks don’t look bad by any means, but they’ve only been a shadow of their predicted position. Big series over St. Cloud State and Augustana later this month would propel them back in to the Top 25.
|1||1||Florida Southern Moccasins||FL||29-4-1||3-0|
|3||3||Delta State Statesmen||MS||28-6||4-0|
|4||4||Georgia College Bobcats||GA||27-7||3-0|
|5||5||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||31-6||3-1|
|6||6||Azusa Pacific Cougars||CA||27-3||0-0|
|8||10||West Chester Golden Rams||PA||17-7||3-1|
|9||11||Belmont Abbey Crusaders||NC||30-7||2-2|
|10||8||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||23-9||2-1|
|11||14||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||27-4||4-0|
|12||12||New Haven Chargers||CT||22-4||2-1|
|13||13||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||28-6||1-1|
|14||15||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||23-9||3-0|
|15||16||St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans||NY||20-7||3-0|
|17||NR||USC Aiken Pacers||SC||24-13||3-1|
|18||9||Lubbock Christian Chaparrals||TX||22-12||0-4|
|19||18||Central Missouri Mules||MO||26-9||2-2|
|20||NR||St. Mary’s Rattlers||TX||24-10||NR|
|21||21||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||26-10||4-1|
|23||25||Texas A&M Kingsville Javelinas||TX||24-8||3-1|
|24||NR||West Florida Argos||FL||25-11||2-1|
Dropped out: St. Leo (22), Angelo State (23), Flagler (24).
Cumberland had a tremendous 2017 as they won 43 games and the Mid-South Conference Tournament Championship and head coach Brad Shelton took home the MSC Coach of the Year award. Noah Gapp had one of the best seasons in the division on the mound, earning 10 wins and finishing in the top 10 in ERA and innings while striking out 121 batters. With Gapp’s graduation official NAIA pollsters must have figured the team was going to lose a step, but his absence was the only major void made following the season.
With plenty of pitching remaining, the offense returning five starters and three top JuCo prospects added over the summer, the team looked better as a whole on paper headed into 2018. With that the Pats were placed 19th in the preseason rankings. It was a position which the team has proven to be worthy, and if anything, an underestimation. The Pats entered the top 10 this week following their 26-game winning streak which moved them to 34-4 on the season.
It’s been an all-around effort for the team as the lineup is hitting a seventh-in-the-nation .346 and out homering opposition 44 to 14 thanks to their solid pitching staff, whose 3.54 ERA is 16th in the NAIA. Zach Hurley has taken over as staff ace as he has thrown shutouts in four of eight starts this spring and leads the team in wins and strikeouts. The defense is playing solidly as well and is fifth in the county in fielding percentage.
Antelope Valley Pioneers
Despite finishing 2017 with an overall record of 37-18, a conference mark of 24-6 and earning the program’s first ever NAIA national tournament berth, the Pioneers were relegated to the “receiving votes” potion of the official NAIA rankings to start the season. However, with UAV bringing back four of their top five hitters from last season, punctuated by their first ever preseason All American and Golden Spikes Watch List outfielder Tyler Pittmon, the team was positioned in the second half of the Perfect Game Preseason Top 25.
The Pioneers have solidly been in the rankings all season long and reached the top 12 this week after winning a hotly contested series over Benedictine Mesa in a battle of top California Pacific clubs. It was a stamp of authenticity for UAV who also took a pair of games from perennial favorite Lewis-Clark State earlier in the season.
The Pioneers offense is electric with Pittmon being one of four everyday hitters batting at least .370. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, stealing 78 bases which have powered them to having out-scored their opposition by a hundred runs so far this spring. Clayon Rabiej has been an invaluable ace on the mound, earning the win in nine of 11 starts, and has a 3.11 ERA, which is practically microscopic considering the hitter friendly conference he throws in.
Even if the season were to end today, head coach Jacob Garsez considers this season a success. He has a long range vision for the program and they’ve already taken the next step, if not two or three, this spring.
“When I took over the program in the summer of 2015, the immediate goal was to create a culture that would promote success in the community, the classroom, and on the baseball field,” Garsez explained. “The vision was and will always be to win national championships, with a focus on the building blocks. From then, until now the coaching staff and men in this program have progressively improved that culture.
“The first season we ended with a 38-14 record, including two top 10 wins near the end of the season. Last year we built on that success, by making it to the opening round and winning our first game, followed by losing a back-and-forth game with then second ranked Bellevue. This year’s team has taken the next step in building this culture and because of that this season will not be a bust regardless.
“Our goal is to keep focused on the day to day of building our culture. If we continue to do that at the right pace, I like our chances.”
Coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons, seven consecutive NAIA opening round appearances and a runaway North Star Athletic Association title with a 23-1 conference record, there were sky-high projections for the Bruins to be a contender this spring. That pedigree, combined with six position players, three starting pitchers and a quality recruiting class earned Bellevue a No. 3 ranking heading into the season. The exception seems far from on target at this point.
The Bruins started the season 7-11 and have righted their ship a bit as they currently are 22-18, but that’s still a far cry from the Bellevue norm. The Bruins are one of a few teams that can boast a win over Oklahoma City and also have quality series wins over Tabor and Jamestown, but a loss to a perpetually bad Texas College team and lopsided losses – like a 15-1 drubbing at Doane and a 21-0 crushing by OCU – are puzzling. The team could still earn an extended postseason berth by winning the NSAA Tournament but advancing deep into May play seems unlikely.
|3||3||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||38-4||4-0|
|4||6||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||29-5||2-1|
|5||5||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||29-8||1-3|
|6||7||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||36-4||5-0|
|8||8||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||29-7||4-0|
|10||9||William Carey Crusaders||MS||25-13||0-3|
|12||13||Antelope Valley Pioneers||CA||29-10-1||2-2|
|13||10||William Jessup Warriors||CA||31-13||1-2|
|15||16||Point Park Pioneers||PA||29-2||4-0|
|17||14||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||26-7||2-2|
|18||18||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||31-12||3-1|
|19||19||Indiana Southeast Grenadiers||IN||27-8||3-1|
|23||NR||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||28-13||3-0|
Dropped out: Keiser (21).
NCAA Division III
Despite starting last season with an unimpressive 13-13 record, the Beavers put together an extraordinary second half of the year to establish a school record for wins and earned the team’s first NCAA regional appearance where they earned four wins and eliminated three before having their upstart season come to a close.
Babson finished last year with some NCBWA Top 25 love, but were without “others receiving votes” consideration to start this spring. Nevertheless, the team was not overlooked in the preseason Perfect Game rankings where they started the season position at No. 19.
That optimistic outlook was based on the fact that the overwhelming bulk of the roster was back, a group that won 16 of their final 18 games. Ryan Areana set the standard on offense last season as he set the school record with 13 home runs. He’s back to his old tricks this season, raising his average to .363 and is topping the team in hits, runs, doubles, home runs and RBI. His average, along with Sean Harrington’s team-leading .371, are a major reason the team is batting at a healthy .311 clip this spring.
The trio of Michael Genaro, Connor Gill and John Floegel are Cerberus-esque on the hill, accounting for nearly half of the inning pitched on the mound for the second straight season. In a recent outing against top-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, Genaro threw eight solid innings but suffered the defeat thanks in large part to four of five runs scored by the Warhawks being unearned.
While none of the trio puts up video game numbers, each simply gets out which is all that head coach Matt Noone could ask for. The lack of recognition in the preseason or in any weekly rankings don’t discourage his team in the slightest.
“We don’t worry too much about polls and long range goals,” coach Noone explained. “We are just trying to be the best team we can be each day. We have always worked really hard and focused on trying to get better day in and day out. As long as we do that, I like our chances against anyone.”
While the team as a whole still has yet to prove they’re ready to be mentioned among the absolute elite, they certainly are one of the top teams regionally and should continue to give opposition fits the rest of the season. I certainly like their chances any team as well.
Christopher Newport Captains
The Captains had a marvelous start to 2017, but dropped six of their last nine to have their season come to an unsatisfying close without an invite to the NCAA postseason. That freefall must have been the reason some voters soured on including them in the preseason Top 25, but with seven of nine everyday lineup slots able to be filled with experienced players, CNU was firmly entrenched in the Perfect Game prognostications.
Despite the experience and maturity on offense the Captains biggest weapon may be their dominating pitching staff. Logan Harrelson and Thomas Packert are fanning batters at a prolific pace and are undefeated on the season in 16 starts. Nevertheless, the most stunning stats are being generated by their closer, Brian Owens. He has appeared in 18 of CNU’s 30 games, throwing 31 2/3 innings while only allowing 15 hits with 51 strikeouts.
Last month head coach John Harvell’s team entered the top 10 and with a 25-4 record headed into this week, the Captains must be included on the short-short list of teams with the potential to take home the national title at the end of the season.
UT Dallas Comets
The Comets were a bit of a stretch to be positioned in the Perfect Game top 10 to start the season as they were unranked to finish 2017, but they had compiled a 33-11 record last season despite having only three seniors on the roster. As such, a lot of stock was bought on UTD having a breakout season.
The Comets lost their first four games but quickly rebounded to win nine in a row and get back on path. Nevertheless, another four-game losing streak put the Comets back near the .500 mark, a record they’ve retained much of the season. While not a bad team by any means, they certainly don’t seem rankings-worthy.
|3||3||Wooster Fighting Scots||OH||15-3||4-0|
|4||4||Concordia University Chicago Cougars||IL||14-4||0-0|
|6||8||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||19-6||3-0|
|7||6||La Roche Redhawks||PA||14-5||1-1|
|8||9||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||25-4||3-0|
|12||11||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||24-7||3-1|
|14||14||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||20-3-1||4-0|
|15||15||Case Western Spartans||OH||20-3-1||4-0|
|18||19||North Central Cardinals||IL||12-6||3-0|
|19||21||Tyler Texas Patriots||TX||20-10||3-1|
|20||24||Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets||OH||17-7||2-1|
|23||23||Alvernia Golden Wolves||PA||17-8||2-2|
|24||20||Frostburg State Bobcats||MD||15-8||2-2|
|25||NR||Oswego State Lakers||NY||16-5||5-0|
Dropped out: Mount Union (18), Concordia (22).
This article originally appeared on the Perfect Game website here: https://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=15089