2024 DII Preseason Rankings

Photo: Braxton Pearson (Angelo State Athletics)

Typically when a team captures the national title it is due to a club well stocked with talented upperclassmen and professional prospects. This was the case with Angelo State last year. ASU had a roster full of seasoned juniors and seniors eager to earn their school its first baseball title – and they did in convincing fashion with a 56-9 overall record, which included a remarkable 14-1 run in the postseason. 

Unfortunately for opposition, many of the same players decked in blue and gold who hoisted the title trophy high in Cary will be back for another championship run. The Rams will be missing two very high-caliber pitchers who combined for over 206 innings as well as a couple of excellent everyday players who graduated, but what the team lost in ability has been supplemented by title-winning experience and a recruiting class looking to achieve the same success.

The talent level around the country is especially bountiful this year. It was very hard to cut the list of teams deserving to be ranked to just 25 (so difficult that an extra school was squeezed in). A good measure of just how good teams are this year may not be so much a look at who is in the rankings, but who was left out. There are easily a half-dozen teams, if not more, who deserve to be in this initial list. Nevertheless, they’ll get the opportunity to join the group soon as the DII season starts this Friday.

Preseason Top 25  

Rk.SchoolState23 Record23 Final Rk.
1Angelo State RamsTX56-91
2Tampa SpartansFL43-118
3North Greenville CrusadersSC50-113
4Colorado Mesa MavericksCO48-114
5Cal State Monterey Bay OttersCA39-1813
6Seton Hill GriffinsPA48-1310
7West Florida ArgosFL39-1715
8Central Missouri MulesMO43-1511
9Mount Olive TrojansNC38-1714
10Augustana VikingsSD47-2112
11Point Loma Sea LionsCA36-16NR
12Millersville MaraudersPA46-109
13Newberry WolvesSC43-1519
14Cal State San Bernardino CoyotesCA46-196
15Barry BucsFL35-1918
16Texas Tyler PatriotsTX39-19NR
17UNC Pembroke BravesNC39-1724
18Georgia Southwestern HurricanesGA34-19NR
19Lenoir-Rhyne BearsNC38-16NR
20Minnesota State MavericksMN43-1817
21Young Harris Mountain LionsGA38-17NR
22Belmont Abbey CrusadersNC41-1816
23Columbus St. CougarsGA36-17NR
24Missouri Southern St. LionsMO45-17NR
25Quincy HawksIL47-115
25West Georgia WolvesGA31-18NR

1. Angelo State Rams (56-9)

The Rams dominated the entirety of 2023, spending each week in the top five of that national rankings. Their win over Rollins in Cary finally earned them their first national title in their sixth DII Baseball Championship appearance. It was ASU’s third consecutive trip to the final eight, and they are favorites to not only make the journey east once again, but retain the national title for another year as well. Much of last year’s offense remains, and Head Coach Kevin Brooks has tapped into a pipeline of Texas-sized talent to replenish any absences on the mound. 

The Rams’ offense averaged over nine runs per game last season and batted .341 as a team which easily put them in the top five in the country. While they weren’t prolific power hitters, they routinely stretched singles into doubles and doubles into triples to amass a .515 slugging percentage. ASU kept up their annual tradition of being aggressive on the base paths and stole 203 bases while only allowing opposition to 25. Defensively they were as sound as any team and rarely made mistakes. With only 33 team errors on the season, they had a jaw dropping .984 fielding percentage. 

Angelo State’s pitchers were nearly as dominant as their offense. Their team ERA of 3.41 was good for third nationally. They struck out 571 batters in 523 ⅓ innings for a 9.8 K/9 ration. More impressively, in twenty-two games their opposition was either shutout or only scored a single run. Unfortunately for Ram fans, two of their starting pitchers, Kade Bragg and Aaron Munson, were drafted following the season, but there are plenty more elite pitchers ready to take their place.    

The Rams have back junior outfielder Jacob Guerrero, perhaps the most complete player in DII, to lead the offense once again. Last year he batted .420 with seven home runs, 24 doubles and five triples. He had a .498% OB% and only struck out 19 times in 222 at bats. If that wasn’t enough, he also added 21 stolen bases. Tripp Clark’s .372 average was the second highest on the team and his nine home runs led the Rams. He had 24 stolen bases himself. Kamden Kelton, Justin Harris and Austin Beck will each return to their infield positions for another season. Kelton and Harris were named to the Lone Star Conference Defensive Team for their play at third base and shortstop. Kelton had a .348 batting average with 20 extra base hits. Harris hit .315 with a .962 FLD% at shortstop. He also added 27 extra base hits and 20 stolen bases. Blake Wilhoite, who spent last season at Dallas Baptist, has joined the team and gives them another strong bat and option at catcher.

The only question mark for the Rams will be their pitching. While they have a well stocked arsenal of arms, two of the Rams top pitchers from last season were drafted over the summer. Braxton Pearson is the most established starter returning. Last season he had a 2.64 ERA over 58 innings and held opposition to a .215 batting average while striking out 48 batters with only 11 walks. Jackson Berry appeared in 11 games in 2023, four of which were starts, after transferring from Tennessee Tech. He had a 3.82 ERA over 30 ⅔ innings with 27 strikeouts. Mason Bryant started nine games last season and struck out 70 batters in only 50 ⅓ innings after pitching two seasons at Texas.  He did however have a few inconsistent innings which spiked his overall ERA. If he can avoid those rough innings, he’ll be a beast. Austin Teel and Scott Ellis dominated out of the bullpen. Teel had a 1.60 ERA and held opposition to a .195 batting average over 33 ⅔ innings. Ellis threw 41 ⅓ innings and only allowed 28 hits over 41 ⅓ innings with 37 strikeouts.  Colby Casey, who pitched two seasons at Houston, and Dax Dathe, who also threw for the Cougars, but pitched for Texas Tech last season, supplement the staff.

2. Tampa Spartans (43-11)

The Spartans were entrenched as the number two team in the national rankings for much of last season. At the end of the regular season they appeared to be headed for yet another trip to Cary and an opportunity to win their ninth national title.  They captured their 23rd Sunshine State Conference regular season championship and convincingly swept another top ten team, Newberry, on the road as they prepared for the postseason.  The Spartans advanced to the South 1 Regional title game, but were usurped by SSC rival Rollins despite jumping to a 4-1 lead in the second inning. 

Despite a chunk of their prolific offense being drafted, graduating or transferring, the annual tradition of Tampa reloading with another wave of high-caliber players has continued. Tampa really should consider changing their mascot to the Hyras, as for each top player who leaves the team, it seems another two have been recruited to take their place. 

One of the best bats back in the lineup belongs to EJ Cumbo, the reigning SSC Player of the Year. Cumbo slashed .340/.402/.513 and played perfect defense in the outfield. Cumbo, Anthony Nunez and Santiago Garavito are the other top players back this season. Nunez, a former MLB draft pick, played two seasons in the Padres system, but hadn’t reached the limit of at bats which would have permitted him to return to college. As the team’s slick fielding third baseman, he hit .296 and was second on the team with seven home runs. Garavito hit .313 as a sophomore in his first season on the team as the team’s catcher.   Brayden Woodburn, Stephen Klein and JP Gates are (just) three of the top new additions to the team. Woodburn hit .333 with 24 stolen bases at State College of Florida. Klein was a two-year starter at Samford where he batted .322 over two seasons and was awarded an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove for this play at second base as he only made a single error in 111 games for a .999 FLD%.  Gates, an easy throwing southpaw graduate student, played four seasons at the University of Miami and was an All American at Valdosta State last season. He slashed .393/.448/.602 at the plate and had a 3.29 ERA in 41 innings on the mound for the Blazers last year. As a freshman at Miami Gates batted .340 and over four seasons he threw a total of 37 ⅔ innings on the mound.  Jake Griffith has potential to be a major contributor this season as well. He was an first-team all-conference outfielder at Hillsborough CC last season as he hit .348 with a .470 OB%.

Alex Canney, last year’s SSC Pitcher of the Year, will be back on the mound once again. Over the past two seasons he had earned a 2.18 ERA over 116 ⅓ innings with 96 strikeouts. Rejoining him in the rotation will be Skylar Gonzalez and Eli Thurmond. Gonzalez struck out 35 batters in 31 ⅓ innings over 14 appearances, five of which were starts. Thurmond threw 57 ⅔ innings with 47 strikeouts and had a 4.84 ERA. Tobin Moran, the Mid-Florida Pitcher of the Year last season at Santa Fe College, is anticipated to start games as well this spring. He had a 2.51 ERA and struck out 76 batters with only nine walks in 86 innings for the Saints. Andrew Carson, spent the last two seasons pitching at Michigan State, but will join the UT staff as a graduate student. He had a 3.93 ERA over 55 innings at MSU last spring with 49 strikeouts. Michael Alfonso is another player who was drafted and spent two seasons in the minor leagues before playing college baseball. He was originally drafted by the Rangers, but only threw 24 ⅔ innings in the Arizona Complex League. He will likely close games for the Spartans.     

3. North Greenville Crusaders (50-11)

The Crusader were the top ranked team through much of the season and fulfilled their forecast of returning to the DII Baseball Championship, but were cut short of capturing back-to-back national titles. The team will be without John Michael Faile who set the DII career record for home runs, but retained much of the lineup which oozes with talent and experience. With a dugout deep in talent and athleticism, the Crusaders will once again be on the short-short list of favorites to be among the final eight.

While Faile set the DII home run mark, he was not the best hitter on the team last season. That distinction goes to senior Pat Monteith. Last year he led NGU with a .383 batting average while hitting 19 home runs. When you include his 12 doubles and triple, he slugged .722 on the season. He also drew 57 walks to amass a mighty .527 OB%. David Lewis hit .369 with 19 home runs in his first season after transferring from Clemson and will also be back playing one of the corner infield positions. Second baseman Bryce Roddey, a high school teammate of Lewis, and outfielder Carter Dierdorf also return. Roddy batted .356 with 15 extra base hits and Dierdorf batted .322 while also appearing in ten games out of the bullpen where he struck out 15 batters in 12 ⅔ innings. Freshman outfielder Thomas Powell spent a season on the roster at South Carolina, but transferred to NGU in December for a better opportunity of playing time. He should be eager for innings and made an immediate impact. Transfer Dakota Britt had two impressive seasons at Herkimer College. Last season he hit .377 with 11 doubles, five triples and six home runs with 39 stolen bases for the Generals.

The Crusaders’ top starting pitcher over the past two seasons returns to lead the staff. Reece Fields has struck out 210 batters in 198 ⅓ innings since 2022 while making 39 starts. Matthew Murphy, who threw out of the bullpen last year after transferring from USC Upstate, and Caleb Cox, who made 15 appearances and eight starts in which he held opposition to a .250 batting average as a freshman, are likely to begin the year in the rotation. True freshman Kadan Roach will also get an opportunity to start games. He was a two-time all-region player in high school and was his region’s pitcher of the year after striking out 77 batters in 59 innings with a 1.98 ERA. Nate Roof, Matthew Taubensee and Dawson Taylor are all formidable out of the bullpen. Roof and Taylor combined to strikeout 73 batters in 51 ⅓ innings and Taubensee had a 2.02 ERA over 26 ⅔ innings. 

4. Colorado Mesa Mavericks (48-11)

Despite nearly a complete overhaul of their roster from the previous year, Colorado Mesa had one of the best seasons in DII. In addition to winning the RMAC regular and conference titles, they also earned a series win over Rollins, the national runner-up, swept PacWest power Azusa Pacific, won 48 games and scored an average of nearly 11 runs per game. Once again some major contributors won’t be back, but a molten core of awesomeness does return which should keep the Mavs easily in the top ten nationally with their sights set on a return to Cary. 

Three players who batted over .360 with double-digit home runs, most notably, ABCA National Player of the Year Julian Boyd, have moved on. For almost any school that would mean big trouble, but not for Mesa. The rest of the roster is largely intact including Robert Sharrar who led the team in batting with a .437 average and had 26 extra base hits to compile a .690 slugging percentage. The senior center fielder also stole 13 bases. Hometown product Stevenson Reynolds and Jonathan Gonzalez will hold down the right side of the infield. Reynolds, a hulking 6’5” first baseman, batted .367 in his first full season on the team. Gonzalez will be playing his fifth season at second base. He has a career .341 average and is as solid as the Rocky Mountains on defense.  Declan Wiesner will likely be the team’s primary pick to start behind the plate. He batted .335 last spring with 24 extra base hits. 

Despite their offensive propensity, the Mavs’ starting pitching may be their best attribute. Liam Hohenstein was exceptional as a freshman in 2023. His 3.06 ERA easily led the RMAC and simply a silly number for a pitcher to post in the offensive friendly conference. In 64 ⅔ innings he struck out 69 batters while only allowing 49 hits (.209 B/AVG). Jacob Rhoades’ 4.42 finish was the third best in the conference. He threw 73 ⅓ innings of baseball and only allowed 64 hits with 68 strikeouts. Junior Cole Seward, who made seven starts in 13 appearances should also be in the rotation. JJ Almeda, a transfer from Cerritos JC, and Tyler Glowacki, who spent two seasons playing outfield at San Diego State, should get plenty of opportunities to pitch as well.  

5. Cal State Monterey Bay Otters (39-18)

The Otters finished last season with a school record-tying 39 wins and won the California Collegiate Athletic Association regular season and tournament, but were felled by conference rival CSU San Bernardino in the Super Regionals. This season nothing short of Cary should be the goal for CSUMB as they return almost their entire everyday roster as well as each of their top starting pitchers. They’ve also added some top caliber transfers which unquestionably makes them the team to beat in in the west. 

Shortstop Brady Miguel is a three-year starter with a .376 college average headed into the new season. Last season he slashed .357/.463/.543 and only had eight errors in 170 chances (.955 FLD%). Nico Hartojo, who led the team with a .399 average with 11 home runs returns, as does lead off hitting senior outfielder Chase Lindemann who had his best season last spring with a .379 average and 15 extra base hits. He has a remarkable K:BB ratio with only 26 career strikeouts against 90 walks. Dominic Felice and JJ Engman are another pair of returners who batted well over .300 last season. Felice hit .319 and Engmann batted .318.  Jayden Sheppard, who hit .264 over 20 games at Fresno State, and Max Farfan who had solid numbers at UIC, have joined the team as transfers and will hold down the corner infield positions. 

Nate Rohlicek joined the team last year after a season at Nevada. He made 15 starts, threw two complete games and had a 4.91 ERA. Ryan Platero and Mitchell Torres also had double-digit starts in 2023. Platero’s 4.38 led the starters and Torres held opposition to a .242 batting average over 65 ⅔ innings. Aiden Lee is expected to join the rotation this spring. He struck out 18 batters in 17 innings after transferring from the University of San Francisco. Once he starts finding the strike zone with better regularity he will be a monster on the mound. Talented true freshman Daniel Flores could take over as closer – one of the few roles open this spring on the veteran Otter team. 

6. Seton Hill Griffins (48-13)

Despite a slow 6-6 start to the season, the Griffins rocketed into and up the rankings at the end of the year. They finished the PSAC regular season with a 26-2 record and swept their way to the conference crown winning three of their four games via mercy rule (the other game was a 12-3 win). Their winning ways continued in the NCAA tournament where they advanced to their first Super Regional in school history. Their season ended two wins short of advancing to Cary, but with a good nucleus of veteran arms and position players, they certainly have the ability to go the distance this spring. 

Third baseman Jack Oberdorf will be playing his fifth as a regular starter and will lead the offense. He started every game last spring and batted .343 with a team leading 15 home runs. Owen Sabol and Max Mandler are elite players both on offensive and defensive. Each batted .351 last season with four home runs. Sabol, another five year starter, is an elite shortstop who plays the position just as well as anyone in DII. Mandler, who is penciled in to be the team’s regular right fielder, had 20 extra base hits and 13 stolen bases. His younger brother Owen, a highly rated infielder, has joined the team as a freshman and should make an immediate impact as well. Jack Whalen and Braden Durham are another pair of returning players who can hit for a high average. Whalen batted .332 last season with 44 walks to amass a .458 OB%. The speedy sophomore also stole 52 bases. Durham, the team’s catcher, batted .315 and was second on the team with eight home runs.

The Griffins return four quality starting pitchers from last year’s club which had a team 3.54 ERA. Brandon Bergert had a 3.07 ERA and held opposition to a .224 average over 73 ⅓ innings. A pair of seniors, Aidan Layton and Andino Vecchiolla should also get a number of starts, as will redshirt junior Jon McCullough. Layton had success in his first season in the rotation with a 4.01 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 74 innings. Vecchiolla had a 3.64 ERA over 13 appearances. McCullough threw four complete games last season and led the club with 74 ⅔ innings with a 3.25 ERA. Senior Mike Marinchak will likely be the team’s closer.

7. West Florida Argos (39-17)

The Argos were a surprising success last season as they won 39 games and captured the Gulf South regular season and conference titles after finishing 22-24 in 2022. This year it will be a shock if UWF doesn’t repeat last year’s success. They return three of their top four hitters as well as all three starting pitchers from one of the top staffs in the nation. They are an unquestioned favorite to go deep in the South Region and will compete to advance to the final eight for the first time since they won the national title in 2011. 

Junior first baseman Darrien McDowell topped the team with a .357 average and hit a school record 14 home runs. He will lead the offense along with Jadon Fryman and Trent Jeffcoat. Fryman was third on the team with a .333 average with 14 extra base hits. Jeffcoat is the son of the Argo’s Head Coach Mike Jeffcoat and was awarded a gold glove for this play at shortstop (.975 FLD%). He batted .328 with a .434 OB% and topped the team with 16 stolen bases. Marcus O’Malley started at Virginia Commonwealth as a freshman where he hit .271. He transferred to Florida Atlantic last season but didn’t play for the Panthers. He and Brett Rowell, a junior who hit .301 at Coastal Alabama, are transfers who’ll instantly add to the offense. Alex Urias is a highly regarded freshman outfielder who could contribute early.

Dalton Neuschwander received numerous awards last season. In addition to being named the Gulf South Pitcher of the Year, the ABCA and NCBWA honored him as the South Region Pitcher of the Year. He threw 101 ⅓ innings and limited opposition to a .198 batting average with 77 strikeouts and threw three complete games. He and Kade Manderscheid and Major Posey make up one of the top starting pitching corps in DII. Manderscheid finished 2023 with a 2.61 ERA, threw four complete games and only walked 18 batters in 82 ⅔ innings. Posey had a 3.21 ERA and limited opposition to 63 hits in 73 innings. Jacob Heath and Chase Wilkerson will be called upon to close games. Heath has a tremendous upside and impressed last season in his first year after transferring from Polk State. Wilkerson had seven saves and struck out 26 batters in 24 innings. Caidan Peeples, another former Polk State pitcher, gives the team additional depth.

8. Central Missouri Mules (43-15)

The Mules continued their long tradition of winning with a 43-15 record and MIAA regular season and tournament championships. With a season spent almost entirely ranked in the top ten, it was anticipated the perennial power would make its fourth trip to DII Baseball Championships in seven years, but they were upended by Augustana in the opening round of Central Region for the second year in a row. With six everyday players who started at least 42 games, and an experienced staff with one of DII’s top closers, the Mules have an excellent opportunity to make that fourth visit to Cary this spring instead.

Carter Young and Vance Tobol both had breakout seasons in 2023. Young raised his average from .288 to .361 and Tobol’s jumped from .286 to .351. Each of the two outfielders also finished with double digit home runs and doubles. Jack Schark led the team in batting with a .366 average, as well as stolen bases with 29. Cole Moore played nearly flawless defense at second base and has a combined .358 average over the past two seasons. Chase Heath can play anywhere on the diamond, including pitcher, but will likely be behind the plate the majority of games. He batted .319 last season and could bust out big time this spring.

Conner Wolf moved to a starting role as a sophomore last season and flourished. He had a 3.90 ERA and held opposition to a .234 batting average. In 83 innings he struck out 71 batters while only issuing 16 walks. He’ll be the team’s primary starter while Jake Wilson and Jacob Moskowitz should pick up most of the other starts. Wilson starred at Crowder CC in 2022 before transferring to UCM last season where he made six starts and appeared in eight more out of the bullpen with a 4.70 ERA. Moskowitz spent two seasons at Southwestern College. When he last pitched a full season, he struck out 49 batters in 39 ⅓ innings for the Moundbuilders in 2021.   Few relievers, if any, put up better numbers than JD McReynolds last season. In 33 ⅓ innings he only allowed 13 hits (.120 B/AVG) and 11 walks while striking out 51 batters.   

9. Mount Olive Trojans (38-17)

The Trojans concluded the season with a 38-17 record and earned their 15th Conference Carolinas tournament title by winning four-straight elimination games. The championship win was somehow only their first since 2017. The top hitters from last year’s edition of the team are back on the roster and the pitching staff has been fortified with a number of high-caliber transfers which gives them an embarrassment of riches when it comes to depth. Expect UMO to challenge for another conference title as well as an opportunity to make the trip up I-40 to the final eight.

Landon Choboy is a second-year graduate student who had been a three-year starter at College of Charleston. He was the leading hitter last year with a .384 batting average. He also compiled 24 extra base hits and only struck out 14 times in 172 at bats. Vito Patierno and Dylan Jeffries will return in the outfield with Choboy. Patierno, a three-time all conference selection, led the time with 75 hits and batted .354 with 20 stolen bases. Jeffries, who is also a graduate student, patrols centerfield. He raised his average from .164 in 2022 to .340 last year with 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Cooper George handles first base duties for the Trojans. He has a .340 average for the past two seasons. Mike Kenney will be back behind the plate. He batted .314 in his first year with the team after transferring from Scottsdale CC. Anthony Mitta, a transfer from Campbell, has joined the team for a better opportunity to play regularly. 

Senior Erik Johnson threw a team leading 67 innings last season and struck out 70 batters while holding opposition to a .232 batting average. He had a 3.90 ERA and threw a pair of complete games. Justin Koehler was primarily used in relief last year, but did start three games. He had a 3.95 ERA over 41 innings with 36 strikeouts. Carson Gipson also has experience starting games. He made five starts over 10 appearances last season. He had a 4.94 ERA over 31 innings. A list of transfers who’ve landed on campus with an ability to throw a lot of quality innings is quite lengthy. Graduate student Cade Anderson is another former Campbell player looking for more innings on the diamond. Garrett Moffett never got to see action at NC State, and Noah Overton has joined UMO from UNC Wilmington. Hayden Myrick was solid last season as the team’s closer. He had a 2.89 ERA over 28 appearances in which he threw 37 ⅓ innings and held opposition to a .218 batting average. Chance Tucker has the ability to get outs as a freshman.

10. Augustana Vikings (47-21)

In late March Augustana had a 15-12 record after dropping three games in a row and looked little like the team that had been positioned 15th in the preseason rankings. Alas, the Vikings were masterful the rest of the way, winning the NSIC regular season title and advancing to the DII Baseball Championships for the second time in five years as they upended Central Missouri in Warrensburg and conference rival Minnesota State. The season Augustana will be a favorite to return to Cary once again as every position player is back along with a lot of experience and depth on the staff. 

Senior catcher Drey Dirksen leads the team on offense. He batted .345 last season and launched a program record 17 home runs to help amass a .659 slugging percentage and 151 total bases. Shortstop Jack Hines and right fielder Nick Banowetz also hit for a high average with speed. Hines led the team with a .350 batting average and stole 20 bases, Banowetz batted .347 and stole 36 bases. Trevor Winterstein and Ragan Pinnow also topped the 100 total bases mark last season. Winterstein started every game, hit .294 and successfully stole a team leading 37 bases in 40 attempts. Pinnow batted .289 as a freshman while providing solid defense at third base.

Caleb Saari is the NSIC Preseason Pitcher of the Year after earning a 2.98 ERA in 81 ⅔ innings with 87 strikeouts. The sixth-year senior has held opposition to a .225 batting average over his previous five seasons. Ashton Michek split time as a starter and in relief last spring as a freshman. This season he is penciled in for a starting role after earning a 2.83 ERA and holding opposition to a .239 average over 57 ⅓ innings. JD Hennen and Caleb Kranz will likely round out the rotation. Hennen only made a pair of appearances last spring, but showed he’ll be up to the challenge with an impressive showing in the Northwoods League over the summer. Kranz is a graduate student playing his fifth season at Augustana. Over 134 career innings he has only allowed 111 hits while striking out 189 batters. Adam Diedrich set the school single-season record for saves last season with 14. He had a 2.25 ERA over 26 games and held opposition to a .212 average. 

11. Point Loma Sea Lions (36-16)

The Sea Lions, powered by Jakob Christain who set the school record of 28 home runs, won their second-straight PacWest Conference championship with a 36-16 overall record, but failed to advance out of the West Regional. Although Christian transferred across town to USD over the summer, the rest of the roster, including all three starting pitchers, will be back on campus with the goal of returning to Cary where they were the national runner-up in 2022.

Senior shortstop Scott Anderson, who was the PacWest Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, may wind up winning the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2024. Last year he led the conference with 83 hits and 16 doubles while batting .395. Jake Entrekin and Jack Malone are also big swingers at the plate. Enterkin was sixth in the PacWest with a .606 SLG% as he batted .348 with 21 extra base hits. Malone batted .309 with 13 home runs and had 15 stolen bases and 19 HBPs. Third baseman Bryson Hashimoto was limited to 28 games, but excelled when given the opportunity. He batted .308 and didn’t have a single error in 90 chances. Esai Santos and Eric Smelko, a pair of graduate students, have joined the roster to further ignite the offense. Santos, batted .374 with 10 home runs at conference rival Holy Names. Smelko hit .353 over two seasons at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Dylan Miller will be a starter in the PLNU rotation for the fourth season. Last year had a 3.87 ERA in 83 ⅔ innings with a conference leading 83 strikeouts. Cole Colleran and Ray Cebulski will also be back in the rotation. Colleran made 12 starts after transferring from USD. He had a 4.62 ERA with 39 strikeouts. Cebulski held opposition to a .228 batting average over 55 innings and threw a pair of complete games. He committed to Long Beach State out of high school, but didn’t get much time on the mound.  Austyn Coleman, who set the program record for wins at CSUSB, has transferred to PLNU as a graduate student. He threw 86 ⅔ innings last season for the Coyotes and helped them come within a game of advancing to play for the national title. Hunter Otjen, who went to nearby Point Loma High School, will close games. He made 26 appearances out of the bullpen last season and threw 43 innings.  

12. Millersville Marauders (46-10)

The Marauders earned their fourth trip to the NCAA DII Baseball Championship and won their fourth consecutive PSAC East title with another strong season of baseball. With a pitching staff that returns all of its starters and a solid lineup infused with transfer talent, MU seems like a lock to increase both those tallies to five. 

Senior catcher Cole Houser, who played high school just up the road from the Millerville campus, leads the team both on the diamond and in the dugout. He made 38 starts last season as catcher with a substantial uptick on offense. He batted .315 and has the ability to both steal a base or hit a home run with the game on the line. Sam Morris tied for second on the team in average at .341, stole 16 bases and added 22 extra base hits. Keegan Soltis and John Seibert are another pair of regulars back for Head Coach John Shehan. Soltis slashed .333/.452/.494 and Seibert tied a DII record by rapping out hits in 13 consecutive at bats over four games. Added to the roster are a trio of players who will make the team better both at the plate and on defense. Mark McNelly is a graduate student who played the last two seasons at Seton Hall where he made 64 starts and batted .236. Caleb Sturtevant is another former Big East player who made the move to Millersville. He played in 25 games for the Pitt Panthers as a true freshman last season. Amani Jones may have the biggest upside of the additions. The senior shortstop batted .323 over three seasons and struck out only four times in 122 at bats last year.

Millersville’s pitching staff is elite and with few schools able to match their overall talent. Carson Kulina and Colby Gromlich will likely be the team’s top two starters. Kulina is a graduate student who led the team with 74 ⅔ innings and 74 strikeouts with a 2.41 ERA. Gromlich missed the first month of the season, but quickly found success both out of the bullpen and as a starter. In 29 ⅓ innings he struck out 31 batters and had a 2.76 ERA. Alex Mykut had a few bad innings which inflated his overall ERA, but remains a pitcher few batters wish to face. Over four seasons he has struck out 147 batters in 124 ⅔ innings.  Jordan Oliver, who is another local product, redshirted last season, but should see substantial innings this year as he was highly rated coming out of high school. With Evan Rishell in the bullpen, opposition will have a difficult time scoring late. In 23 appearances last year he had a 1.17 ERA and held opposition to a .228 batting average.   

13. Newberry Wolves (43-15)

The Wolves had their best season in school history last spring as they won a school record 43 games and captured the South Atlantic Conference tournament crown for the first time since 1999. They also won the SAC regular season title and swept the conference’s major individual awards. Despite their overall success, they suffered five of their fifteen total losses over the last seven games as they were swept by Tampa at home and went 2-2 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Although they will be without their two-time conference player of the year, the rest of the everyday lineup returns, as does the bulk of their pitching staff. The Wolves are in a good position to replicate, if not surpass, last season’s success. 

While the offense doesn’t have much power, they hit for a high average and are super mega aggressive on the basepaths. Last season the Wolves set programs records for highest batting average and stolen bases. Centerfielder and lead off hitter Donovan Ford was arguably the top player in the conference last year. He batted .405 with 14 doubles, six triples and four home runs. He also added a combined 43 walks and HBPs to push his OB% to .490, and stole 47 bases. Third baseman Jonathan Velez and Henry Gibson will be back in the middle of the order and the corners of the infield. Velez hit .337 with 15 extra base hits and Gibson batted .324. In 2022 Gibson knocked out a splendid .422 average and slugged .619%. Kade Faircloth and Jacob LeBron play the corner outfield positions. Faircloth batted .333 with 13 stolen bases and LeBron batted .321 with 20 stolen bases. Senior catcher Rhett Jolly also hit over .300 last spring as he finished with a career best .304 average.    

Bennett Roemer was impressively the ace of the staff as a freshman last year. He threw 77 ⅓ innings and held opposition to a .242 average while he struck out 76 batters and finished with a 3.14 ERA. Tyler Chinpire and Matias Marchesini also had double-digit starts in 2023. Chinpire, who was also a starter in 2022, had a 4.45 ERA and threw 62 ⅔ innings of baseball. Marchesini started in 10 of his 14 appearances; however, he was a little generous at times allowing opposition to collect hits which drove up his ERA and WHIP. Seniors Gunnar Erickson and Trevor Linaman were both solid out of the bullpen. Erickson had a 3.55 ERA over 45 ⅔ innings and Linaman held opposition to a .184 average over 24 ⅔ innings of work.  

14. Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes (46-19)

The Coyotes had their best season in school history in 2023 as they won 46 games and advanced to the NCAA DII Baseball Championship despite never having previously reached the NCAA Tournament before. Last year’s edition of the club broke 31 school records which include new CSUSB tops for runs, hits, home runs, total bases, pitching strikeouts and saves. The offense should lead the way to another successful season with many of last year’s everyday players being penciled back into the lineup. The pitching staff took a couple of hits with veteran pitchers Austyn Coleman and Oscar Rauda moving on. Coleman set the school’s all time win leader (and is now pitching for Point Loma), and Rauda set the program’s career mark for saves.   

The biggest offensive performer from last season was DeSawn Johnson who led DII with 101 hits. While the team will be without his All-American ability, the rest of the team will suit up for another historic run. Giovanni Del Negro, who earned a number of post season accolades after posting a .379 batting average with a school record 72 RBI, will be back in the outfield, as will leadoff hitter Jason Shedlock who hit .363 in his first full season. Daryl Ruiz, who hit a walk-off home run on the first day of the season, will once again anchor first base. He hit .335 with 25 extra base hits and earned 50 walks to push his OB% to .470. Danny Garcia, a hometown product who batted .313 in his first year after helping Riverside CC win a state championship, is also back. Adrian Hinojosa, a transfer from Southwestern CC, has great speed and can hit for average, and should take cover center field.  

Dylan O’Connor and Luke Hemplel combined to start 32 games last season and will be back in the rotation. O’Connor threw a team leading 97 innings while also topping the team with 94 strikeouts. Hempel will be suiting up for his sixth season of college baseball. He made significant statistical strides last season in his first year as a starter for the Yotes. Devyn Hernandez, who pitched well at Spokane Falls CC, and local area sophomore Carter Herrera, who appeared in six games at Cal State Fullerton, will help solidify the staff.

15. Barry Bucs (35-19)

Brett Young became Barry’s head coach following the season in which the Bucs had a spectacular turnarounds. After only winning only 18 games in 2022, Barry finished with a 35-19 record and swept their way to the Super Regionals where they were felled by conference-rival Rollins. It was the deepest postseason run in school history. Young, who previously helped Rowan to the DIII CWS, unquestionably had a big part in the newfound success as the school’s recruiting coordinator.  

Had it not been for two players transferring to DI schools (Joe Stella and Jake Ogden), almost the entire offense would have been back this season. Braden Forchic, who led the team with a .356 batting average and 10 homeruns, will lead the everyday lineup along with the versatile Kevin Noriega who is comfortable in the outfield, first base or behind the plate. He batted .345 with a team high 21 doubles. Evan Wickeri led the team with 29 stolen bases and batted .325. The team has excellent defense up the middle with shortstop Savi Delgado and Christian Maceda. Delgado’s arm and glove helped Mercer County CC to the NJCAA DII World Series in 2022. Maceda, who Young recruited out of County College of Morris back up in New Jersey, utilizes his speed and glove to hold down centerfield. Transfer Felix Diaz is expected to provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup. As another transfer out of the Garden State, he was an NJCAA All-American at Rowan-Gloucester where he batted .439 last season.

The Bucs pitching is on the precipice of being freakishly good. Joe Morrisey missed last season as he rehabbed from injury, but he set the Washington College (DIII) school record for strikeouts in 2022 with 95 in only 69 innings and was the Centennial Pitcher of the Year.  Chase Muir will be pitching for this fourth college team after previously throwing for the New Orleans Privateers, Bryan & Stratton and Fort Lauderdale. He was a First Team Christian College Athletic Association hurler last year for the Eagles where he once struck out 20 batters in a game. Angel Cespedes will be playing his sixth year of college baseball. He had 65 strikeouts in 58 ⅔ innings last season for the Bucs over 14 appearances which included 13 starts.  Senior Anthony Bennetti has had mixed success over his career and coaches think he has the ability and moxie to continue playing once he graduates. Benito Valle-Jhanda, a transfer from Skyline CC on the other opposite side of the county, could be a difference maker on the mound.

16. Texas Tyler Patriots (39-19)

It’s quite remarkable how quickly the Patriots have made the transition from DIII powerhouse to DII powerhouse. After winning the DIII national title in 2018, UT Tyler transitioned to DII and was an instant success. In just their second year, the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Pats were 20-3. Two years later they qualified for the Lone Star Conference Tournament, and last year they finished with a 39-19 and nearly upset Angelo State in the South Central Region. With a well stocked roster combined with a slew of talented transfers, the Patriots will once again compete with the Rams for conference and regional crowns. 

Ethan Bedgood, Austin Ochoa and Kaston Mason each batted over .340 last season with double-digit home run totals. Bedgood, a senior first baseman and catcher, set the school record with 90 hits and averaged .391 on the year. Ochoa was third on the team with a .374 batting average and had 30 extra base hits. Mason slashed .341/.469/.707 as a sophomore.The team also welcomes back Louisiana natives Nathan Carriere and Lane Hutchinson. Carriere, a senior outfielder, batted .366 with 17 stolen bases and four triples. Hutchinson batted .344 and only had two errors at second base. Adam Moser and Ryan Walker are a pair of JUCO transfers who could make an immediate impact – if they can squeeze into the already crowded lineup. Moser was one of the top rated Colorado high school players overall coming out of his class. 

The rotation is solid with three pitchers with starting experience. Dylan Blomquist had made 27 starts over the past two seasons. Over those outings he had a 4.62 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 148 innings with only 49 walks. Miles Clack made 13 appearances and threw two complete games in his first season after transferring from LSU Eunice. Brayden Freeman appeared in 13 games and started nine after excelling at Dallas College North Lake. Kolby Parker, who originally committed to Houston out of high school, has transferred in from Tyler JC and should help the Patriots continue to reach new heights. 

17. UNC Pembroke Braves (39-17)

The Braves’ 39 wins last season were the third-most in program history and they reached the NCAA postseason for the fifth time in the last six full seasons. Despite consistently having one of the top teams in DII over the past decade, the Braves haven’t been able to earn an elusive invite to make the trip up I-95 to Cary and the DII Baseball Championships. When the last out was made last spring UNCP looked like a definite shortlist contender to advance this spring; however two of their top eight everyday players penciled to come back in 2024 moved on as one transferred to a New Mexico and another signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants. Despite these absences, the Braves still look to be one of the best teams in the country. 

Kody O’Connor and Will Hood provide a pair of strong bats in the middle of the lineup. O’Connor thrived in his first year after transferring from Nicholls State. He slashed .344/.475/.650 and led the team with 12 home runs while adding 14 doubles and three triples. In one game he went 6-6 with four home runs. Hood hit .359 while providing solid defense at the corner infield positions. Lead off hitting senior Spencer Faulkner is a fourth year starter with a career .312 batting average. He’ll easily eclipse the double-digit stolen base mark and hold down second base. Catcher Jake Bradley only batted .210 last year, but he walked and was HBP’d a combined 39 times to raise his OB% to .394.  Transfer senior Andrew Jenner, who previously played at Winthrop and Liberty, could be a strong force in the lineup. Morgan Padgett was rated as one of the top prep players in North Carolina and could make an immediate impact at one of the corner positions or on the mound.

Luke Barrow was phenomenal out of the bullpen last season where he struck out 71 batters in just 41 ½ innings (15.5 K/9) while allowing only 25 hits (.170 B/AVG). He will move to the rotation this spring and likely challenge for the DII strikeout title. Spencer Ledford and Jonathon Jacobs will also start a significant number of games. Ledford was an All American at Caldwell CC and Technical Institute previously where he was the Region Pitcher of the Year. Jacobs made 11 starts last season and struck out 78 batters in 65 ⅓ innings with a 4.13 ERA. Highly regarded sophomore Rhett Burley, who struck out 20 batters in 13 ⅓ relief innings, should see some starts as well. 

18. Georgia Southwestern Hurricanes (34-19)

Last season the Hurricanes had their best season since joining the NCAA in 2007. In addition to going 34-19 overall and 22-9 in the PBC where they won both the regular season and conference titles, they made their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Two dozen players from last year’s memorable team return which should propel them even deeper in the postseason this spring. Their pitching staff and defense are extremely formidable and will be the reason they win games. The offense only hit .276 last season, but has added a few transfers which should make them more formidable at the plate.   

Jake Blinstrom was a two-time conference Skyline Conference Player of the Year and a DIII All American at Mount Saint Vincent before transferring to GSW. Last season he led the team in most offensive categories last season as he slashed .338/.454/.423. He also added 23 stolen bases and didn’t make a single error in the outfield. First baseman Paul Hegeman also had an error-free season at first base, he earned the school’s first ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and Garret Bradley was 60 for 60 in chances in right field. Hegeman batted .283 and was second on the team with six home runs. Bradley batted .314 Miles Hartsfield will be a fourth year starter at second base. Although his average dipped last season, he has a .321 career average.  Catcher Kalvin Alexander, who led the team with 10 home runs, also returns. He was an All Star in the Valley League over the summer. Transfer Kaleb Henry hit .379 and earned first team all conference honors at Gulf Coast State. New ‘Canes Kyle Hinton made 51 starts over three seasons at Georgia State, primarily as catcher.

Nick McCollum was the PBC Pitcher of the Year last season as he threw 113 2⁄3 innings with 115 strikeouts. He had a 3.01 ERA and threw four complete game shutouts in conference play. Rijnaldo Euson was equally as formidable. He led the conference with 125 strikeouts in only 98 innings and held opposition to a .217 ERA. He was twice named PBC Pitcher of the Week. Grant Adams and Carsen Plumadore, who combined to start 13 games and make 35 appearances, will also return. Adams struck out 52 batters and 55 2⁄3 innings and Plumadore has a solid 4.50 ERA over three seasons. Colby Gordon made a team leading 22 appearances and was third on the team with 60 2⁄3 innings out of the bullpen. His 2.97 ERA led the team. Transfer Andrew Geiger has joined GSW as a graduate student from Mount Saint Vincent (the same former school as Blinstrub) where he was Skyline Conference PItcher of the Year after earning a 1.89 ERA and striking out 77 batters in 62 innings.

19. Lenoir-Rhyne Bears (38-16) 

The Bears had a successful season overall in 2023, but had a dreadful stretch of games towards the end of the season where they lost five of six. They still ended the year with a very good 38-16 mark overall, but it was not enough to earn them back-to-back appearances to the national tournament for the first time in school history. This spring the team returns multiple All Conference players who combined to hit 70 home runs. They also have an All American hurler on the hill who has proven to be one of the best in DII. If they’ve successfully supplemented their pitching staff as anticipated, they will certainly challenge for both the South Atlantic Conference crown as well as nationally. 

Leadoff hitter Blake Bean is playing his sixth year of college baseball. Last year with the Bears  he hit .358 with 17 home runs. He is the core of a trio of returning players who can hit for a high average with power. Sal Carricato led the team with a .369 average with 26 extra base hits.  Tyler McPeak is another experienced graduate student returning to the lineup. He hit .349 with a team high 18 home runs in his first season after transferring from Campbell. Cole Laskowski and Zach Evans will be back to handle the middle infield duties. Laskowski will be a three-year starter at second. He hit .329 with a .493 OB% last spring. Expect a breakout season from Evans. Last year he batted .294 in his first year at LR while solidifying the shortstop position. Owen Blackledge, a transfer from TCU, and Jovani Wiggs who hit .426 at Herkimer College, both have the potential to push this offense into the stratosphere.

Joshua Lanham has put up impressive numbers in each of his four seasons on the mound. In 2022 he was an All American after striking out 112 batters in 90 innings with a 2.40 ERA. Last season he fanned 72 over 68 ⅔ with a 3.93 ERA. Gavin Marley will join Lanham in the rotation after working out of the bullpen last spring. Marley had a 1.16 ERA as a freshman in 23 ⅓ innings of work and only allowed 11 hits (.139 B/AVG) with a 1.16 ERA. Newcomers Kyle Murphy and Tyler Parks will complete the rotation. Over the summer he had a 1.95 ERA in the Coastal Plain League after earning 44 strikeouts in 29 ⅓ innings at Cleveland CC. Parks started his college career at Charlotte where he struck out every batter he faced (alas it was only one) and threw last season at Gaston College. Both Murphy and Parks have very high ceilings.  Another transfer, Kobie Cushing from Queens University, is projected to be the team’s closer.  

20. Minnesota State Mavericks (41-18)

Over the past four complete seasons the Mavericks have averaged 40 wins to solidify their status as one of DII’s premier programs. MSU nearly advanced to the DII Baseball Championships for the fifth time under Head Coach Matt Magers; however conference rival Augustana rebounded from a loss in the opening game of the Super Regionals to earn the invite. The 2024 Mavericks return many key pieces with a strong group of newcomers.

Offensively, the team will be without their leading slugger from last season, but does retain the two top gap-to-gap hitters with dangerous speed, Aidan Byrne and Ryan Wickman. A solid shortstop who started every game last season, Bryne is a top candidate for NSIC Player of Year after hitting .347 with 23 extra base hits and 17 stolen bases in 2023. Wickman, a redshirt senior, will be playing his seventh season of college baseball after playing a pair of years at both Valparaiso and Iowa Central CC. He has batted .343 since joining the Mavs in 2022 as the team’s center fielder. Matthew Fleischhacker is another important cog returning on offense. In his first season he hit .308 and added 41 walks and seven HBPs to push his OB% to .448. Catcher Zach Stroh is masterful behind the plate and makes base runners think twice before stealing a base. His respectable .247 average last season should see a substantial hike this spring. Niolai Wede could see time in the outfield as a freshman.  

The overall pitching staff is young and relatively inexperienced, but is deep with talented players who could quickly develop into big time performers. Spencer Wright, who was primarily a relief pitcher last year, is expected to lead the staff. In 14 appearances, which included a pair of starts, he had a 2.54 ERA and struck out 50 batters in 39 innings. Taisei Yahiro, a redshirt senior originally from Japan, joined the Mavericks last year after a season at Grand Canyon. He had a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings primarily compiled as a starter.  Coaches are hoping for a breakout season for Mitch Gutknecht. While he has struck out 29 batters in 20 college innings and held opposition to a .221 batting average, his 6.75 ERA needs to drop. Louis Magers, the son of HC Matt, used to be the school’s batboy. He’s now one of the top prospects on the team who contributes both at the plate as well as one the mound. Look for him to join the rotation as well as provide pop as DH. True freshman Sam George was rated as one of the top prep pitchers out of the state of Iowa with lots of potential.

21. Young Harris Mountain Lions (38-17)

The Mountain Lions were a win away from both tying the school record for wins as well as capturing the Peach Belt Conference tournament title. Despite their impressive record and strong finish, YHC was one of multiple teams unable to continue play into the extended NCAA postseason due to a limited number of bids available for their region. With a deep experienced roster this year’s team appears ready to take the program to new heights. The Mountain Lions will compete in the Conference Carolinas this spring which should be a tougher row to hoe, but they play at an elite level nonetheless and should compete for a trip to the NCAA postseason.

After starting his college career at Motlow State CC, Jermey Begora was named the 2023 PBC’s Player of the Year after batting .361 with 26 extra base hits for the Lions. At the end of the season he was leading the conference in batting, RBI, and slugging percentage and was second in home runs. He will be reteamed with Drew Bray in the heart of the order. Bray had a spectacular freshman season as he played in every game and batted .354 with 15 stolen bases as the team’s shortstop. Senior outfielder Jarrett Ford batted .296 in his first season after playing two seasons at Florida International. While he can play almost near flawless defense anywhere on the diamond, his speed has him penciled in as the team’s centerfielder. Marco Colina, a 6’5” outfielder from outside of Atlanta, and catcher James Basham, who hit .305, both should hit over .300 and threaten the 20 stolen base mark. Kyle Chatham and Jackson Morgan were highly graded in high school and could see playing time as freshmen.

Zach Murray pitched at LSU as a freshman and was rated one of the Georgia top high school players after recording 10 complete game shutouts. After a stop at Georgia Highlands College, Murray became the Lions’ ace. Last season he struck out 87 batters in 80 ⅓ innings with a 4.48 ERA. Dylan Beck appeared in 26 games last season for YHC, primarily as a reliever. In 59 innings he earned a 2.90 ERA and held opposition to a .246 average. He is slotted for a starting role this spring. Rounding out the staff will likely be Travis Burnette and Zach Hart. Burnette did not pitch last season, but had a 1.53 ERA in a mixed role in 2022 which included striking out 35 batters in 29 ⅓ innings while only allowing 21 hits and five walks. Hart was the ace of Delaware Tech where he was named the NJCAA Region 19 Pitcher of the Year.  Freshman Nicholas Stinson easily hits the 90’s with his fastball and could make an impact on the mound, or at the plate, his first year.

22. Belmont Abbey Crusaders (41-18)

With a strong second half of the season Belmont Abbey matched their program’s highest win total and advanced to the Super Regionals where they were eliminated by top ranked North Greenville. Their 41 wins were primarily generated from a scrapy lineup which often scored runs in bunches while displaying sure hands on defense. With many of their top hitters back the Crusaders will challenge once again, but will need some improvements on the mound to go the distance. They imported some arms which should help their overall quality and depth, but they definitely need some pitchers to elevate their game if they are going to compete once again in the ultra competitive Conference Carolinas and Southeast region.

Senior catcher Garrett Browder, who led the team with a .386 batting average with 11 home runs, will be back to lead the offense. He was incredibly hit by a pitch (32) almost three times as many times he struck out (14) to help generate a .486 OB%. Connor Tucker and Todd Velotta play the corners of the infield and each wield a strong stick. Tucker batted .332 with seven home runs and Velotta batted .341. Leadoff hitter Connor Powell also hit at an impressive rate, batting .348 with 73 hits. Shortstop Jack Boyles impressed as a freshman, especially on defense and should be a bigger factor on offense this spring. A full season from the versatile and athletic Caleb Burr could be detrimental to opposing pitchers’ ERAs.

Drew Stegura was the team’s most outstanding statistical performer on the mound as he led the team with a 4.19 ERA and struck out 67 batters in 58 innings. Those numbers were generated over 30 relief appearances, and coaches have him slated to be their top starting pitcher this year. Alex Sniffen was solid in the rotation last year as he held opposition to a .246 average and topped the team with 89 strikeouts in 74 ⅔ innings. Brandon Simmons missed last season, but started nine games and totaled 54 innings with 62 strikeouts in 2022. Spencer Cipro and Josh Collett, transfers from Assumption and Erskine respectively, are likely to compete for starting roles. Danny Glenos, a towering 6’6” power pitcher who struck out 32 batters in 25 relief innings over two years at Montevallo, has joined the Crusader bullpen. 

23. Columbus State Cougars (36-17)

While the Cougar’s 38-17 finish last season was far from a disaster, CSU’s finish was a bit of a letdown. They spent the first half of 2022 entrenched in the top ten of the national rankings, but quickly fell out at the end of March after losing back-to-back conference series. The Cougars ended up finishing fourth overall in the conference standings. Despite failing to reach the PBC championship series, they were awarded a spot in the Southeast Regionals, but lost each of their games while giving up a total of 27 runs. The Cougars return their top hitters from last season and should challenge GSW for the PBC title. A big question mark will be their pitching staff. The starters are all high in talent, but didn’t throw a lot of innings last season.

Senior outfielder Derek Wylie will be playing his sixth year of college baseball. Last year he batted .325 and easily led the conference with 19 home runs – a total he also reached as a sophomore in 2022. Catcher Ian King led the team in batting at .365 and received All-PBC honors. Win Johns and Jackson Chizek should also factor in the offense. Johns has been a full time starter in the outfield the past two seasons. In 2023 he batted .315 with 10 home runs. Chizek only played sparingly as a freshman, but should see more action this spring. Cody Ferguson and Trevor Gruszka, a pair of JUCO transfers, solidify the offense.

The Cougars’ pitching staff is high on ability but low in game experience. Colton Joyner has been a full time starter over the past two seasons. Last year he had a 4.36 ERA and threw 86 ⅔ innings with 84 strikeouts. However he is the only one of three pitchers returning who threw more than 24 innings in 2023. The other two, Cole English and Peyton Burton, are set to appear out of the bullpen. English had a 3.23 ERA over 30 ⅔ innings and Burton, the closer, had 42 innings with 35 strikeouts on the mound. Johnny Dow was brilliant at Georgia Highlands College where he struck out 107 in 107 innings, but hasn’t had much game action over the past two years. He will have an opportunity to have a starting role this spring, as well two other pitchers who formerly threw at GHC. Ryan Suppa and Eric Moore. Suppa was highly rated coming out of high school and had a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings last year. Moore struck out 71 in 62 innings for the Chargers in 2022. 

24. Missouri Southern Lions (45-17)

The Lions’ 45 wins last season were the school’s second most in a season. The free swinging offense set team records in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, extra base hits and even HBPs. They finished second in both the MIAA regular season and conference tournament and earned an invite to the NCAA postseason tournament for the first time after a three-year absence. Although they won’t have their leading home run hitter back from last year, the Lions will once have a potent offense which can score runs in bunches. The pitching staff is a bit soft, but if the offense can hit like they did a year ago, they won’t need to rely on it heavily to win games. 

Second baseman Nate Mieszkowski broke the school single runs record thanks to getting on base often with his 99 hits and 34 walks for a .455 OB%. He also hammered 14 home runs and stole 11 bases. Treghan Parker set the freshman home run record in 2022, and established a new sophomore mark last year when he hit 18 home runs. With 32 walks and 20 HBPs he accumulated a .458 OB%. Senior shortstop Henry Kusiak has earned All-MIAA honors each of the last three seasons. Last year he was awarded the conference gold glove for his ability at shortstop. He’s also a capable hitter and has a .331 average over four seasons with double-digit home run power. Chayton Beck performs well both at and behind the plate. He batted .291 last season with 11 home runs. On defense he started every game as catcher, was named the MIAA Gold Glove Catcher and threw out over 40% of attempted base stealers. Drew Townsend may be a big contributor after transferring from Missouri State. 

Cole Gayman and Trent Harris are top returning pitchers. Gayman was a starter the previous two seasons. Last year he appeared in 16 games with 13 starts. Harris  appeared in 17 games and started nine. While both have shown flashes of greatness, they combined to give up 144 hits over 117 2⁄3 innings. The team’s chances for a long postseason run would improve if either were to have a breakout season. Kyle Kaempf struck out 28 batters in 25 innings last year as a freshman, but also gave up 35 hits and 18 walks. He is a candidate to fill one of the other starting slots. Kyle Moore led the team in appearances and was second on the team with 70 1⁄3 innings as a reliever. He was also second on the team with eight wins. The Lions do have an excellent closer in Laif Hultine. He struck out 52 batters in 47 innings and held opposition to a .230 batting average with a 3.26 ERA. 

25*. Quincy Hawks (47-11)

The Hawks spent the bulk of last spring ranked in the top ten and were the number one team headed into the Super Regionals, but their title hopes were squashed by Indianapolis who came from behind twice to end their season short of reaching their goal. For the Hawks to compete nationally this season once again, it will require much of the returning roster to elevate their game as many of last year’s biggest performers have moved on. Quincy absolutely has the pieces to challenge once again, but only if they play to their potential.

The team crushed 131 home runs last season, but many of the sluggers responsible, most notably Luke Napleton who hit 29 and transferred to Louisville, won’t be back. Nevertheless, scoring runs in bunches shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the Hawks. Austin Simpson hit .343 in 2023 and hit 19 home runs and 19 doubles and Dustin Dupont batted .369 with 11 home runs despite missing a chunk of games. Sophomore shortstop Joe Huffman has tremendous upside and should be an invaluable asset both on defense and at the plate. Jake Vitale, a junior transfer from Parkland College, should help restore the offense – at least some of it. David Broughton can play anywhere in the infield or outfield and could get quality at bats as a freshman.

Griffin Kirn, who played high school baseball in the area, can be elite. In 15 starts last season he amassed 96 strikeouts in only 70 innings, but he was also battered around on occasion which led to a higher-than-anticipated 5.91 ERA. This will be his third full season as a starter. Another experienced arm with potential to make a big impact this season belongs to Kobe Essien. Essien struck out 61 batters in 44 2⁄3 innings last season and held opposition to a .224 average. Kade Ruffner and Aaron Smith are the most likely candidates to fill out the regular rotation. Ruffner is a redshirt freshman who transferred from Purdue and should see significant innings early. Smith showed flashes of brilliance in four starts as a freshman last season, but needs innings to develop and prove himself. He was the second rated Minnesota based left handed pitcher coming out of high school. If Brett Panick can consistently get the ball over the plate, he could be an incredible closer. He consistently accumulates more strikeouts than innings, but his walk total can also eclipse that mark.

25*. West Georgia Wolves (31-18)

The Wolves are a bit of a sleeper pick this season. They will be without two of their three All-Gulf South First Team players and they haven’t won a postseason game since 2019. Nonetheless, looking at the program over time, the Wolves have gotten progressively better each year under Head Coach Jeff Smith who took over the team in the spring of 2019. In 2021, Smith’s first full season at UWG, the team had an 18-23 record. They made a notable jump the next spring as they finished at 24-20. Last season they had a 31-18 over record and made it back to the GSC Tournament for the first time in five years. This year the Wolves look to challenge for the Gulf South Conference title.

Sam Ladner, Cooper Prince, and Jackson Webb give the team a solid core of returning players on offense. Ladner played second base, batted leadoff and slashed .340/.484/.667 to earn First Team All-GSG honors. Prince hit .345 with 16 stolen bases  and had 21 multi-hit games. Webb will be playing his fourth full season after transferring from Eastern Kentucky. The senior catcher batted .311 last season. Mike Rich and Luke Hatcher were added to the team in the off season and should solidify the offense. Rich batted .335 with 11 home runs at West Alabama.  Hatcher was an everyday starter at Georgia Southern where he finished with a .266 average and five home runs.

The pitching staff has been remodeled from last season with a new quartet penciled in to start games. Lane Pearson is projected to be the team’s top starting pitcher. He started his college career at USC Sumter and earned a spot on the Georgia Southern roster last season, but redshirted. The 6’7” hurler helped Harrisonburg to the Valley Baseball League over the summer when he had a 0.59 ERA with 27 strikeouts over 15 ⅓ innings. In his last full season at USC Sumter had struck out 47 in 35 ⅔ innings with only 11 walks. Brendan Parks has joined the club after pitching at Kennesaw State. He also excelled over the summer with a 0.73 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 24 ⅔ innings for the Atlanta Blues of the Sunbelt Summer League. Both Pearson and Parks have the potential to be very good, but haven’t had the opportunity to pitch much recently. Seth Dudley and Will Dean will likely round out the rotation. Dudley is a transfer from Tallahassee CC, while Dean excelled at Southern Union State CC. The team also returns two other starting pitchers from last season who combined to make 13 starts, as well as solid relievers Ryan Whitener and Jonathan Hickman. Whitener had a 2.56 ERA over a team leading 22 appearances and Hickman held opposition to a .218 average over 40 innings of work. Nick Swanson, a bit of a journeyman who has suited up at Missouri, San Jacinto and St. Mary’s (TX), could be a force in the bullpen. Walker Watson and Garrett Moody could be impact pitchers as freshmen.

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