With April turning into May teams are starting to do a little scoreboard watching, especially those for whom an extended postseason has not yet been secured. While there are a number of postseason worthy teams, there are only a limited number of precious positions available in each division’s national tournament. Consequently there are a handful of bubble teams who are hoping to see their fellow fringe schools suffer an extra loss to help propel their own candidacy.
For example, top teams from the Peach Belt Conference were breathing a sigh of relief to see North Greenville, Mount Olive, Catawba and Newberry finish as their conference tournament winners and runner-ups. If a different school from this quartet would have advanced it would have hurt their diminishing opportunity to play in the Southeast Region tournament.
For the most part each team currently listed in the Perfect Game Top 25 should make it into the postseason, yet nevertheless there always seems to be a school or two that has unfortunate circumstances end their season disappointingly short. Along with the rankings this week we profile a team from each of the three divisions that is teetering on the edge of receiving an invite to the postseason. Each of them are quality clubs that have unquestionably earned the right to play on, but still need to earn a few wins to have their season come to a bitter end.
Rankings are based on games through Sunday, April 28.
NCAA Division II
The Sunshine State Conference has traditionally been one of D-II baseball’s premier conferences, winning seven of the last 14 national titles. Despite the conference’s overall success, the winnings ways have not radiated into the roster of the Eckerd Tritons. The small St. Petersburg, Florida school has only had a winning record once since 2014 and can’t claim an SSC’s top three finish since way back in 1998. Nevertheless, the Tritons have arguably been one of baseball’s best teams this season, already earning 28 wins, the most in program history since 1989, with four regular season games still on the schedule.
The Tritons have been particularly hot the past month. Three weeks ago they swept Embry-Riddle and usurped their spot in the Perfect Game rankings. Those victories were followed by series wins over perpetually ranked Nova Southeastern and a very good St. Leo club. Subsequently, EC was positioned fifth in the latest South Region rankings. Despite this their spot in the extended postseason is far from secure.
This upcoming weekend the Tritons have their biggest series of the year as they face the second-ranked Tampa Spartans (the winner of a quartet of those aforementioned titles) on the road. If the Spartans were to sweep the upstart Eckerd team it could be disastrous for the crew – it would push their loss total to 18 games as well as sink their in-region winning percentage. That, combined with a potential surprise winner of the Gulf South Conference and an automatic invite for the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference winner, could push them out of the last eight in the region. A single win could go along way in making sure the NCAA postseason remains a reality.
If Eckerd doesn’t win Friday, the games on Saturday become particularly worrisome. However, there is an extremely good chance that critical win could come in the opening game of the series. That is because Eckerd has one of – if not the – top pitchers in all D-II baseball in Dillon McCollough. It is difficult to put into words the success that McCollough has had this season. For the year he has an 8-0 record and a conference-leading 1.51 ERA. In 101 innings on the mound he has only allowed 79 hits (.214 B/AVG) while striking out 130 batters with only 16 walks. In his last outing he had possibly the best performance of his career as he struck out 17 St. Leo batters in nine innings while only allowing six hits. For the effort he earned the Sunshine State Conference Pitcher of the Week honor for the third time this season.
Despite his prominence Eckerd is not a one-man gang. They have plenty of additional talent which could propel the team in the postseason. Mitch Calandra has dominated since arriving on campus, becoming the first Triton SSC Freshman of the Year after hitting .345. He followed up those numbers with a sensational sophomore season when he hit .343 and led the team in hits. This spring he is topping the team with a .370 average with 20 extra-base hits and has also thrown out 15 runners attempting to steal a base.
Enough accolades can’t be praised upon center fielder Garrett Hiott as well. After leading the team in batting last season, he is hitting .360 and is 17-for-18 in stolen bases. Nick Conti, who has improved his batting average to .310 after seeing it dip to .223 last year, and Justin Glover, who is leading the team in home runs, are other critical contributors to the offense.
While McCollough is the unquestioned ace of the staff, the talent doesn’t end with him. Cameron Lanzilli had a 6.44 ERA last season in 20 appearances but has excelled in a dual role this year with a 3.81 ERA in 54 1/3 innings. Robin Allen has been effective as a No. 2 starter, compiling 71 2/3 innings with 60 strikeouts and a much-improved 4.40 ERA (down from 6.28 in 2018). Chase Achuff has been invaluable in a dual role. He is hitting .299 as the team’s shortstop and has also appeared in 11 games on the mound, earning a save in five of those appearances.
With no conference tournament, this weekend is the final opportunity for Eckerd to cement their postseason bid. In a region full of contenders and teams hoping to continue their seasons, their future is in their control. However, if they take their foot off the pedal they could be quickly be left in a cloud of dust.
|1||1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||40-9||4-0|
|3||3||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||38-8||4-0|
|4||7||Lubbock Christian Chaparrals||TX||33-12||3-1|
|5||8||Central Missouri Mules||MO||32-12||4-0|
|6||10||Angelo State Rams||TX||42-7||4-0|
|8||6||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||36-9||0-1|
|9||5||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||31-16||2-2|
|10||9||UC San Diego Tritons||CA||31-10||3-1|
|12||15||West Florida Argos||FL||33-14||4-0|
|14||14||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||31-15||3-2|
|15||13||St. Cloud State Huskies||MN||34-9||3-2|
|16||17||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||34-10||5-1|
|17||12||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||28-17||1-2|
|18||19||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||33-11-1||5-0|
|19||21||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||32-15||4-0|
|20||NR||Delta State Statesmen||MS||34-11||3-1|
|23||23||Southern New Hampshire Penmen||NH||32-11||4-1|
Dropped out: Texas A&M Kingsville (20), Augustana (24).
The Master’s Mustangs
Forecasting the ability The Master’s University baseball program has been an enigmatic affair this season. The team undeniably has loads of talent, yet their overall win total hasn’t quite matched what one would expect with such an able assortment of players. They have earned 32 wins so far this season, but the Mustangs have only spent a pair of weeks in the Perfect Game Top 25 and dropped out a fortnight ago after getting swept by Westmont and splitting a pair of contests with up-and-coming Arizona Christian (who entered the Perfect Game rankings for the first time this week). Despite holding off a late rally and wining the second game of the midweek doubleheader with Arizona Christian, it is the Firestorm who are gaining momentum for an at-large bid into the NAIA opening round, while the Mustangs are likely to be one the last team’s out.
The Mustangs’ offense has been, in a word, jacked. They field two of NAIA’s most stalwart sluggers in Anthony Lepre and Aaron Shackelford. Lepre is leading the team with a .435 batting average, has 17 doubles and 75 RBI and a .938 slugging percentage, yet isn’t the team’s most prolific slugger. Shackelford is hitting at an extremely high average himself, currently at .406, and is leading the division with 34 home runs and 89 RBI. He ranks first in the NAIA in runs scored, total bases and slugging percentage.
While there is a notable drop off in the production after those two players, the remaining players on the roster are far from being slouches at the plate. Five other everyday players are batting at least .280 and possess an extraordinary amount of speed and defensive prowess. The team is hitting .315 as a whole and is in the top 20 nationally in total runs scored, hits and doubles.
With such a prolific offense it would be natural to think that their pitching staff must be subpar for them to be on the outside of the Top 25, but that it not the case. Robert Winslow would be the ace of the bulk of pitching staffs nationally. He has a 10-1 record, 3.59 ERA and had struck out 104 batters in 82 2/3 innings. He also has thrown an astonishing seven complete games. Aidan Stout, who had made 43 appearances over the past two seasons in a dual role, had also been a credit to the team. He has thrown 64 1/3 innings with 65 strikeouts and has earned five saves. Kyle Adkins, a transfer from Fresno City College, has earned nine wins this season and tallied 77 1/3 innings with three compete games.
Regardless of the school’s statistical accomplishments, the Mustangs are still a big question mark as to if they will advance to the NAIA postseason. They have a number of wins over teams that were ranked at some point during the season, but since the schools are no longer listed among the elite, it takes much of the shine off their luster. A win over Westmont would have been enormous in the first round of the Golden State Athletic Conference, but they allowed the Warriors to rally for four runs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. The Master’s quickly took the lead back in the 10th, but again the Warriors responded with a pair of their own. The Mustangs ultimately ended up losing the game in the 12th inning, which has put their season on life support.
They drew upstart Arizona Christian in the second round and jumped out to a quick three-run lead, but ACU went on top and held on to the lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. With the game (and likely season) on the line, Lepre singled to load the bases and bring Shackelford to the plate. The mighty batsman singled through the left side and added two more RBI to his total to give The Master’s University the win and keep their season alive.
To leave such an explosive and dangerous team out of the NAIA postseason would be a pity and missed opportunity not just for the team, but fans of NAIA baseball, Their win over Arizona Christian certainly helps, but they’ll need to continue to win in California if they want to play in the national tournament. A strong showing through the loser’s bracket could keep their season alive.
|2||3||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||43-8||4-1|
|4||2||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||40-11||4-2|
|6||6||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||40-11||3-0|
|7||7||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||43-11||2-1|
|10||10||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||39-9||3-0|
|12||12||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||37-12||2-1|
|13||13||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||42-10||2-1|
|15||17||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||41-12||4-0|
|16||18||William Jessup Warriors||CA||34-10||4-0|
|19||19||Indiana Tech Warriors||IN||31-14||6-1|
|21||21||Webber International Warriors||FL||33-18||1-0|
|22||16||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||32-12||2-2|
|25||NR||Arizona Christian Firestorm||AZ||38-17||2-2|
Dropped out: Madonna (25).
NCAA Division III
Merchant Marines Mariners
The Mariners nearly earned their first-ever Skyline Conference title last season, but lost in extra innings to St. Joseph’s to have their unexpected exceptional season come to an end. Fortunately they’ve been able to build upon last season’s success, playing some of their best baseball in program history, and as a result have found themselves once again on the cusp of reaching the postseason.
Currently the team has a 27-9 record (the win total is a regular season school record) and have locked up second place in the conference standings. Their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed and the team is currently ranked seventh in the New York Region. Consequently there is little wiggle room if the Mariners are going to continue to play their way to Cedar Rapids. They need a strong showing at the conference tournament (as well as hope auto-bid upsets don’t steal spots) if they are to advance.
The team is excelling at the plate, on the basepaths and on the mound. Offensively six regulars are batting over .330 with sophomore slugger Vincenzo Alteri leading the way. After batting .350 as a freshman, Alteri has continued to blister the ball and is hitting .410 with 15 extra-base hits. He is one of four players with double-digit stolen bases as the team as a whole is approaching the century mark in swipes. Jesse Reinbold is second on the team in batting at .404 and shortstop Matt Mundorf is hitting .381, nearly has a .500 on-base percentage and has stolen 15 bases himself. Another big contributor has been the multi-talented freshman Garrett Aichele. As the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder he is batting .350 with five triples. He also also started six games on the mound, throwing a total of 25 innings, striking out 29 and earning a 2.52 ERA.
Pitching-wise few players have performed better this season than Andrew Spinnenweber. The senior starter has a minuscule 1.10 ERA, perfect 5-0 record and has only allowed 25 hits in 41 innings while striking out 58. Earlier this season he set the school record for wins. Two of the other three starters have put up lopsided numbers as well. John Kelly Jr. and Joe Raab have combined for an 8-2 record. They have 2.45 and 3.07 ERAs respectively and have struck out 99 batters in 95 innings. Senior Kyle Cunningham has been especially successful in a relief role. Despite making only 14 appearances on the mound he has been leading D-III in saves. He has a 1.32 ERA and fanned 16 in 13 2/3 innings.
The Skyline Conference is not a touted conference where multiple NCAA bids come readily. The Mariners would obviously love to remove all doubt and win the conference tournament and secure the auto-bid themselves, but if not, they’ll have to root for conference leader Farmingdale State to take home the title. The Rams are 17-1 in conference and 29-7 overall and will make it to the postseason regardless. The Mariners need to make sure one of the limited postseason berths doesn’t go to another conference rival to help ensure they continue playing.
|1||2||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||27-5||4-0|
|2||1||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||30-5||3-1|
|4||4||Concordia University Chicago Cougars||IL||30-4||4-2|
|5||7||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||22-8-1||5-1|
|7||5||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||29-10||2-2|
|10||10||Wooster Fighting Scots||OH||21-8||3-0|
|18||NR||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||29-9-1||3-0|
|22||22||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||27-10||2-1|
|25||25||Denison Big Red||OH||30-5||3-2|
Dropped out: Wheaton (19), The College of New Jersey (20).