As spring emerges and melts away the snow and ice that has covered much of the nation, the small school rankings have begun to thaw as well. The preseason pole-sitters still remain solidly entrenched in their respective No. 1 positions, but with more and more teams playing more and more games each week, this could be the last week before the Top 25 becomes more fluid. This week’s edition has two new entries into the NAIA elite, one for the first time ever, as well as the reemergence of a promising D-II club which returns to the Top 25 after a five-year hiatus.
The top-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan juggernaut continues to roll and dominate the NAIA division. The Bulldogs had a midweek road win over Georgia Gwinnett and swept Reinhardt to open conference play. The victories pushed their record to 13-0 which impressively includes 10 wins over ranked opposition.
While TWU’s unblemished record certainly is demonstrative of their ability, a look at their team statistics compared to their opposition speaks volumes to their dominance in 2021. As a team, the club is batting a meaty .353 with 43 home runs, 27 doubles and nine triples to fuel an incredible .759 team slugging percentage. Meanwhile, their opposition is batting a toothless .172 and slugging a scant .295. The Bulldogs are also out stealing competition 29 to 3. On the mound, TWU hurlers have earned a 2.46 ERA while the offense has torched opposing pitchers to a gargantuan 12.18 mark. These numbers are all more impressive when considering they have been compiled primarily against ranked opposition. Bill Berry’s Bulldogs are also slick with the leather and have only been charged with six errors.
LSU Shreveport, a team with legit national title aspirations, suffered a major setback as all their games for the next two weeks have been postponed due to a COVID outbreak throughout the roster. The Pilots, who have earned notable wins this spring over Freed-Hardeman, Lyon and Central Methodist, were playing high-caliber baseball despite not fielding their best lineup on the diamond. They’re scheduled to be out until March 12 when they’ll play an always-dangerous Jamestown club.
New to the NAIA rankings are Oklahoma Wesleyan and Friends. OKWU has a powderkeg offense which has scored at least a dozen runs five teams this season and reached the 20-run mark on three occasions (although they surprisingly have been shut out twice as well). Friends’ pitching staff is what propelled them into the Perfect Game Top 25 for the first time. Over their past five games, the Falcon hurlers threw four shutouts. Coincidently, the two clubs play each other this week in a midweek matchup.
|1||1||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||13-0||4-0|
|7||7||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||5-3||1-1|
|8||8||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||10-4||2-2|
|10||15||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||10-2||4-2|
|13||13||Benedicine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||8-4||0-0|
|14||19||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||11-4||3-1|
|15||5||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||9-6||2-2|
|16||14||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||6-5||4-2|
|17||NR||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||11-2||7-1|
|18||18||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||10-2||3-1|
|23||23||Central Baptist Mustangs||AK||4-2||2-0|
|25||12||Indiana Southeast Grenadiers||IN||5-10||1-6|
Dropped Out: Indiana Tech Warriors, IU Kokomo Cougars
The showcase series in D-II last week paired previously second-ranked Central Missouri against visiting Davenport. The Mules took the opener, but the Panthers proved to be rude guests and took the second two games to win the series. It was the first time in nearly two years that UCM lost a three-game series, as well as the first time since early March of 2019 that the Mules lost back-to-back games. Converted closer Cal Djuraskovic, who hadn’t earned a save until this season, closed out both games for the Panthers as they earned their first series win over a top-10 D-II opponent since migrating from the NAIA after the 2018 season.
With a midweek win over Lincoln Memorial and series victory over Auburn Montgomery, Lee entered the Perfect Game Top 25 for the first time since a brief appearance in the dawning weeks of the 2016 season. Like Davenport, the Flames are still fairly new to the NCAA scene as they transferred from the NAIA following the 2013 season. Lee took the place of Gulf South conference mate Delta State, who had started the season ranked 15th, and will face the Statesmen in a über-important series this weekend.
The red-hot Flames are a team that doesn’t feature a wealth of players who put up obscene statistical numbers, but instead is a solid club which is able to win with a different hero seemingly stepping up each contest. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean the Flames don’t have their share of prime time performers. Alan Smith, who has taken advantage of the extra year of eligibility, is the straw that stirs the LU offense. After leading the team in batting last season, the graduate student is hitting a team-leading .396. On the mound, starting pitcher Logan Workman has earned a 0.33 ERA over the past two seasons and only allowed 17 hits over 53 2/3 innings while striking out 73. Workman has been hailed as the top-rated D-II prospect for the upcoming MLB draft.
With only three weeks in the books, no team has had major movement in the rankings, but special attention must be placed on the Georgia College Bobcats. GC was without a head coach until mid-December when Nolan Belcher was announced to take over the team’s reigns, and he didn’t have an official assistant on the books until the second week of February when he added Justin Baker to the staff. Despite their lack of coaching leadership in the offseason, the Bobcats have played magnificent baseball and have started the season with five wins in six games. In each of their victories the team scored no less than 10 runs and twice mercy-ruled their opponent. Last weekend the Bobcats won a wild series with conference rival North Georgia in which each club earned a lopsided win before Belcher’s team won the finale 16-15, when each team scored six runs in the ninth inning. With the wins, GC moved into the D-II top-10 at the seventh position.
|1||1||Angelo State Rams||TX||9-1||6-0|
|2||3||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||3-1||3-1|
|3||5||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||7-2||2-1|
|5||6||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||7-0||4-0|
|6||2||Central Missouri Mules||MO||6-4||3-3|
|7||11||Georgia College Bobcats||GA||5-1||2-1|
|9||9||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||3-2||1-2|
|10||10||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||2-1||2-1|
|12||12||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||10-2||3-0|
|13||13||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||9-3||1-2|
|14||14||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||4-2||2-1|
|15||16||Azusa Pacific Cougars||CA||2-1||2-1|
|16||17||Texas Tyler Patriots||TX||7-1||3-0|
|19||19||Nova Southeastern Sharks||FL||0-0||0-0|
|20||20||East Stroudsburg Warriors||PA||0-0||0-0|
|22||23||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||6-2||3-0|
Dropped Out: Delta State Statesmen
Still less than one-third of the teams in the NCAA D-III Top 25 have taken to the diamond. Consequently rankings changes are at a minimum. Weather and COVID restrictions permitting, the majority of the teams should see action this week.
|2||2||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||0-1||0-0|
|3||3||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||0-0||0-0|
|5||5||Cal Lutheran Kingsmen||CA||0-0||0-0|
|6||6||North Central Cardinals||IL||0-0||0-0|
|8||8||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||0-0||0-0|
|11||11||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||2-1||2-1|
|13||13||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||0-0||0-0|
|22||22||Heidelberg Student Princes||OH||0-0||0-0|
|23||23||Concordia University Chicago Cougars||IL||0-0||0-0|
|25||25||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||1-0||1-0|