If you were to go back and read the annual preseason picks of various publications to win the title of college baseball’s various divisions, it may surprise you to learn that very rarely does anyone accurately choose the winner. Part of the reason is likely due to an overdependence on the previous year’s results with lazy prognosticators penciling in the last winner to capture the title once again. Repeat titles seldom occur however as championship winning teams often have experienced senior players or exceptional athletes who get drafted into professional baseball.
However this season that was not the case. In D-II and the NAIA, the schools which finished on top in 2022 suffered few significant losses to their roster. The reigning D-III champ Eastern Connecticut State did require an overall, but the runner-up, Salisbury, had most of the gang back together for another go.
So far each of the three preseason favorites are still the top teams in each of their divisions. This week, along with the updated Top 25 rankings, is a look at how the three pole position schools are holding up and an analysis if they’ll be the top team once the season is over.
|Rank||Team||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||1||39-6||1-0|
|3||Angelo State Rams||TX||3||40-6||4-0|
|4||Central Missouri Mules||MO||4||33-12||3-1|
|6||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||8||33-9||4-0|
|7||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||9||31-11||3-1|
|8||East Stroudsburg Warriors||PA||7||31-9||2-1|
|10||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||5||32-13||2-2|
|14||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||15||31-12||4-0|
|16||Metro State Roadrunners||CO||16||37-8||3-0|
|17||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||18||27-10||3-1|
|18||Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes||CA||20||32-13||3-2|
|19||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||19||34-12||2-2|
|20||Wayne State Warriors||MI||17||29-9||2-3|
|21||Cal State Monterey Bay Otters||CA||21||28-12||3-1|
|22||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||22||28-10||0-0|
|23||West Florida Argos||FL||25||29-14||4-0|
|24||Belmont Abbey Crusaders||NC||NR||33-13||4-0|
|25||Valdosta State Blazers||GA||NR||29-12||4-0|
Dropped: St. Edward’s, Lenoir-Rhyne
North Greenville Crusaders
The Crusaders were an easy choice to be the number one team in the 2023 Perfect Game D-II preseason rankings. They returned much of the roster which finished the previous season with a 54-10 overall record and took home the national title. Moreover, they added some highly skilled support both on offense as well as the mound to make an already great team even better. North Greenville was unquestionably the team to beat.
With only five games left on their regular season calendar, it’s extremely likely that NGU will continue to be the top ranked team once the postseason starts. After visiting Catawba and North Georgia to start this week – two teams hovering just above .500, the Crusaders host 15-28 Southern Wesleyan for a trio of contests to end the season. They will face much more formidable opposition the first week of May at the Conference Carolinas Tournament where three ranked conference mates, Mount Olive, UNC Pembroke and Belmont Abbey, will be seeking to deny the Crusaders’ their fifth consecutive CC crown.
NGU’s on the field performance in 2023 has been solid. They had wins over Central Missouri, Arkansas Tech and Chico State to launch the season. UCM is a terrific team which has been in or around the top ten all season and ATU was previously positioned in the Top 25. The Crusaders swept a surging #19 UNC Pembroke team and have two wins over #24 Belmont Abbey, as well as single victories over two other very good schools, Lenoir-Rhyne and Young Harris. Their only missteps of the season occurred earlier this month when they lost three games (half of their season total) over a span of five days to Mount Olive and Lenoir Rhyne. Each of those losses occurred on the road, as did each of their other three defeats this season as well. NGU is a perfect 27-0 while playing either at home or on neutral grounds, while 12-6 as a visitor. As such, North Greenville should be focused on finishing strong to earn the opportunity to host NCAA regional play in Tigerville where they have gone 79-10 over the past four seasons.
As a team North Greenville is batting .326 with each regular who has started at least 28 games batting over .300. They have three players with double-digit home run totals and another two in the cusp of that plateau. Marek Chlup, who missed part of the season playing for the Czech Republic national team at the World Baseball Classic, is the team’s most dangerous hitter. He is batting .407 with 25 extra base hits and 15 stolen bases. Three time All American John Michael Faile II is not having his best season statistically, but should warrant unease to opposing pitchers nonetheless. He hit .427 last season with 16 home runs and 86 RBI. This year he is still a solid and important cog on offense with a .318 average and nine home runs. Pat Monteith has been quietly compiling sublime numbers over three seasons at NGU. Over 145 games he is batting .333 with 34 home runs and 34 stolen bases. Transfers Jalen Vasquez from South Carolina and David Lewis from Clemson have been immediate successes. They are batting .363 and .357 respectively. Vasquez was South Carolina’s top ranked shortstop coming out of high school, and Lewis was the state’s number two third baseman (although he primarily plays first for North Greenville).
Despite playing in one of the nation’s strongest D-II conferences, North Greenville pitchers have been magnificent all season. Only twice have they allowed double-digit runs while throwing four shutouts. For the season the team ERA is 3.43 which is in the top ten nationally, as is their 7.52 hits allowed per nine innings. Their 9.7 strikeouts per game place them in the top twenty.
The team has five solid starting pitchers led by Reece Fields. The junior hurler has been credited with a 21-3 record over the past seasons and struck out 207 batters over 213 ⅔ innings since arriving on campus. He currently has a 3.27 ERA and has only allowed more than a pair of earned runs four times in 13 starts this spring. Freshman Brody Fowler has a 3.44 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 36 ⅔ innings and Noah Takac had been cruising this year up until his last outing. Prior to that his 1.86 ERA had led the starters this season, just as his 1.60 mark was tops on the team last year. Alas, no Crusader pitcher has dominated more than Michael Rodriguez this spring. In 17 relief outings Rodriguez has 50 strikeouts with only five walks in 26 innings while only allowing 14 hits. When he allowed an earned run last week against North Georgia last week, it was only his second of the year. The run pushed his ERA to a still diminutive 0.69.
At this point there is no reason to think that NGU can’t win back-to-back titles. They are just as formidable and focused as last season and if you’ve come across any of their online videos, it’s apparent the team plays well together and are enjoying their time both on and off the diamond together.
|Rank||Team||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|2||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||2||40-5||4-0|
|3||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||3||38-6||4-0|
|5||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||5||37-7||2-1|
|8||Hope International Royals||CA||8||31-7||4-0|
|9||Missouri Baptist Spartans||MO||9||35-5||3-0|
|10||William Carey Crusaders||MS||10||35-9||4-0|
|11||Benedictine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||11||37-9||4-1|
|12||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||14||32-12||4-0|
|13||Webber International Warriors||FL||12||34-13||2-2|
|14||Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes||KS||20||36-11||3-1|
|18||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||16||32-14||2-2|
|19||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||19||26-12||0-0|
|20||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||18||32-12||2-1|
|24||Loyola Wolf Pack||LA||24||29-16||2-1|
Like North Greenville in D-II, Southeastern was a no-brainer choice to be the preseason number one team. The Fire went 59-4 last season and played their best baseball when it mattered most as they went 13-1 in the postseason and scored at least eight runs in their final 18 games of the year. They suffered little drop off from the roster and were already well equipped for another run even without their annual influx of promising performers preparing to join the team. The Fire can hit for average, slug for power, steal bases, play stellar defense, have solid starting pitching, premier relief and can probably sing and dance too. They are currently 44-3 on the season with two of their losses being by a single run and the third was to #6 ranked Bellevue. Their loss to the Bruins was the only game this spring in which they never held the lead at some point during the game.
Southeastern has absolutely not earned their .936 winning percentage this season feeding on cupcakes. Their formidable schedule includes wins over #11 Benedictine Mesa, #12 Central Methodist, #13 Webber International #17 Vanguard, #18 Oklahoma Wesleyan #19 Lewis-Clark State and #24 Loyola. They are averaging 10.5 runs per game while their pitching staff is limiting opposition to a .206 batting average while maintaining a third in the nation 2.95 ERA. Their offense has powered the team to an incredible 19 wins by at least ten runs while the pitching staff has thrown seven shutouts.
On offense the team is batting .358 which is fifth in the nation. Their .462 OBP is fourth in the NAIA and their .668 slugging percentage is easily tops in the land. Again – it should be pointed out that these numbers are being compiled against a strong strength of schedule. They are also tied for 11th in stolen bases with 111 – a number which would probably be higher if they weren’t generating so many extra base hits. Their top individual hitters this season are Isaac Nunez and Gary Lora who led the team last year as well. Nunez, who is also a lights out defender with power, is leading the team with a .429 batting average and 16 stolen bases. Lora is batting .409 with 16 home runs. The offseason additions to the team have all performed exceptionally this spring. Pablo Lanzarote, who was Purdue’s starting catcher last season, is batting .351 with 20 extra base hits. Chase Bryant and Adonys Herrera, former All Americans at Western Oklahoma, are batting a combined .384 with 27 home runs (Bryant’s 17 lead the team).
The pitching staff’s 541 strikeouts are 68 more than the team currently in second, and 107 greater than the school in third. Each of their three primary starting pitchers can dominate opposition. Darien Smith has a 3.52 ERA and has struck out a team leading 94 batters in 61 ⅓ innings. Former Toronto Blue Jay draft pick Danny Batcher has only allowed 30 hits over 52 ⅔ innings with 67 strikeouts. Robb Adams, the 2022 NAIA Pitcher of the Year, is limiting opposition to a .236 average and has struck out 78 batters in only 55 ⅓ innings.
Despite the starters’ strong numbers, the bullpen may be even more imposing. Reece Wissinger, who joined the team from Southeastern Community College, has only allowed 10 hits in 26 innings with 49 strikeouts. Opponents are only batting .184 against Juan Pimentel while striking out 42 times in 29 innings, and JJ Sanchez has fanned 43 batters in 21 ⅔ innings. Each of that trio has a sub 1.00 WHIP, as does Andrew Long who has a 2.23 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 32 ⅓ innings.
Despite the existence of other strong competition nationally, should any team other than SEU hoist the title in Lewiston, it will be an upset. They have no known Achilles’ heel. It has been rumored that Dr. Strange looked at 14,000,605 possible outcomes of teams attempting to dethrone SEU as NAIA champions and only one result shows another team claiming victory.
|Rank||Team||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|4||Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets||OH||4||27-5||5-0|
|5||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||6||32-3||4-0|
|10||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||12||30-7||3-0|
|11||UW-Stevens Point Pointers||WI||17||20-9||4-0|
|12||Penn State Harrisburg||PA||NR||28-7||4-1|
|15||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||11||28-8||2-2|
|16||East Texas Baptist Tigers||TX||16||27-9||3-1|
|17||Eastern Connecticut Warriors||CT||14||25-7||2-2|
|21||UW LaCrosse Eagles||WI||NR||22-6||4-1|
|23||NC Wesleyan Batting Bishops||NC||24||26-8||3-0|
|24||Denison Big Red||OH||23||25-7||4-1|
|25||Salve Regina Seahawks||RI||NR||24-6-1||4-0|
Dropped: UW-Whitewater, Methodist, Southwestern
Unlike their D-II and NAIA counterparts North Greenville and Southeastern, the D-III preseason number one team Salisbury didn’t finish the previous year as the national champion. They did nonetheless have a strong season in 2022 as they were the runner-up to Eastern Connecticut State. Unlike ECSU, Salisbury returned the overwhelming bulk of their roster which made a much stronger candidate to return to Cedar Rapids for another attempt at the title.
Salisbury currently has a 26-4 record and were elevated back to the number one position a couple of weeks ago after slipping to the second position. Their drop from the top spot followed a pair of back-to-back midweek losses to currently #2 Shenandoah and Ursinus mid March. The week prior they had a shocking 4-23 loss to now #5 Johns Hopkins. Their only other loss occurred last Sunday when they were felled by #12 Penn State Harrisburg. Thus, three of the four Salisbury losses were to teams in the top half of the national rankings. Meanwhile the Gulls have wins over # 13 Rowan, #18 Catholic, Cortland, St. John Fisher and Mary Washington. A better measure of how Salisbury will fare in the postseason will occur over the next two weeks. The Gulls play two games with #10 Christopher Newport this weekend, and finish the regular season with a game against #15 Randolph-Macon and a rematch with 26-12 Mary Washington.
There are no weak spots in the potent everyday lineup as the Gulls are batting a fifth in the nation .357 collectively and their .597 slugging percentage leads all of D-III. They are also in the top ten in on base percentage at .458. Washington College transfer Danny Sheeler has been the team’s leader on offense. He is batting .444 with nine home runs and has nearly twice as many walks as anyone else on the team to push his on base percentage to a lofty .556. Kavi Caster, last season’s C2C Player of the Year is magnificent once again. In addition to batting .408, he had nine home runs and a team leading 17 stolen bases. Cam Hyder, who has set multiple career and single season Salisbuy records, is batting .391. Senior Jacob Ference is having an exceptional year both at and behind the plate. He is batting .381 with a team leading 11 home runs while throwing out eight of 20 potential base stealers as the team’s catcher. Stephen Rice is another player adding to the team’s winning ways both at the plate and on defense. He is batting .328 with a .971 fielding percentage at shortstop.
Salisbury’s tandem of Jimmy Adkins and Jackson Balzan are a combined 11-1 on the season. Adkins has a 2.91 ERA and has struck out 50 batters in 52 ⅔ innings while only issuing six walks. Balzan has 49 strikeouts in 47 ⅓ while holding opposition to a .232 average. Senior Robbie Hollenbeck has appeared in 19 of 30 games for the Gulls in relief. He had a 2.31 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 23 ⅓ innings.
The Gulls have had a strong season in 2023 and for the most part have played up to the level of their prophecy of being the top team, but they are not as strong of a candidate to start and end the season as number as NGU or SEU. Additionally, of the three small school divisions D-III has traditionally been the one with the most upsets and unexpected champions. Nonetheless the Gulls are still the top pick to advance to Cedar Rapids and return to campus with the title trophy; however if you’re headed to Vegas to put money down on a small college to win the title, hedge your bet with a money on Southeastern or North Greenville.