In regards to changes in the small school rankings this week, there really wasn’t any significant activity. Teams pretty much performed as anticipated with few upsets which resulted in schools pretty much staying put. This lack of movement was especially prevalent at the NCAA D-II and NAIA level where the top ten teams from each went a combined 68-11. When no one suffers an unanticipated loss, opportunities for other teams to advance in the rankings are slim.
That isn’t to say there weren’t any casualties.
Previously #17 West Texas was swept by UT Tyler for their second series loss of the season to an unranked opponent. Had they been higher in the rankings, they likely could have survived and remained in the Top 25, just as how they took a tumble after their first series loss. But with the Buffs’ record dropping to a 19-11, it allowed a new team to join the mix. Rollins had made their 2023 debut in WT’s place just in time for a showdown with Tampa this weekend.
In the NAIA, St. Thomas was removed from the Top 25 after being swept by Ave Maria. It’s not doubted that the Bobcats are still an excellent team as they have wins over Bellevue, Loyola, Reinhardt, Lewis-Clark and Benedictine Mesa, but their 16-16 overall record keeps them out of the list for now. They are unquestionably the best team without a winning record and should still be contenders to advance to Lewiston as eight of their losses are to ranked teams. Taking St. Thomas’ place are the Benedictine Mesa Redhawks, a team they defeated in early February. BenU is looking good with a 20-7 overall record,
In NCAA D-III, losses to Texas Lutheran and McMurry bounced the Trinity Tigers from the Top 25. Taking their place is Salve Regina.
With each of the updated rankings this week there is a look at an upcoming series pairing ranked teams from each division. If the underdog in any of these clashes should happen to win, it could create some major disruptions to next week’s Top 25.
|Rank||NCAA||State||Overall Rec||Week Rec||Prev|
|1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||29-2||5-0||1|
|3||Angelo State Rams||TX||30-4||4-0||3|
|5||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||24-6||5-0||5|
|7||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||21-7||1-0||7|
|9||East Stroudsburg Warriors||PA||21-4||4-1||9|
|11||Central Missouri Mules||MO||21-8||3-1||11|
|12||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||21-8||3-1||12|
|14||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||14-5||1-1||13|
|15||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||20-7||5-0||19|
|16||Wayne State Warriors||MI||16-3||4-1||16|
|17||St. Edward’s Hilltoppers||TX||22-6||3-0||18|
|18||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||23-8||2-3||15|
|20||Metro State Roadrunners||CO||22-8||3-1||23|
|21||West Georgia Wolves||GA||22-7||2-3||20|
|22||Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes||CA||20-6||1-2||21|
|24||Arkansas Tech Wonderboys||AR||22-9||3-2||24|
|25||Valdosta State Blazers||GA||18-8||0-0||25|
Dropped: West Texas A&M
North Greenville Crusaders (1) vs Mount Olive Trojans (7)
The reigning champion and top ranked North Greenville Crusaders faced their first real test of the season last weekend when they hosted offensive juggernaut UNC Pembroke. Until then NGU hadn’t faced any ranked competition aside from their first two games of the season when they played Central Missouri and Arkansas Tech, and a single midweek matchup against Lenoir-Rhyne. NGU responded swimmingly as they swept the Braves to increase their season record to a magnificent 29-2 as well as tightened their stranglehold on the number one position. They will be challenged once again this weekend with an even more imposing opponent, seventh ranked Mount Olive. Each of the two Conference Carolina clubs have spent the entirety of the season in the Perfect Game Top 10 and will be looking for an important series win to earn favor in the conference standings and postseason seedings, as well as the opportunity to host NCAA regional and super regional play.
North Greenville have been ferocious on offense with a .337 team batting average and slugging percentage at .540. What makes the lineup so brutal is that there is nary a letup in production from the top to the bottom of the order. Each bat is seemingly just as dangerous as the next with each being able to hit for average and power. Despite this, two of the noisiest bats belong to Marek Chlup and John Michael Faile. Chlup, a native of the Czech Republic, was initially recruited to play at North Carolina State after the Wolfpack played a pair of games against the Czech national team. After seeing minimal action over two seasons he transferred to NGU where he got the opportunity to take to the diamond daily and flourished. This season he is leading the team with a .439 batting average and among the leaders in several other offensive categories. He likely would be tops in more, but he missed 10 college games while playing in the World Baseball Classic where he hit .333 in four games. Faile, a senior catcher, was the triple crown winner in Conference Carolinas last season as he led the league in average .427, home runs with 16 and RBI at 86. He was even better in 2021 when he slugged .899 with 23 home runs and a .438 average. Sophomore David Lewis, who spent one season at Clemson, has also been pitiless at the plate this spring. He is leading the team in total bases as he has a .404 batting average, eight doubles and seven home runs.
Reece Fields limited the potent UNCP lineup to only a single hit over seven innings last week as has been the team’s most dominant and reliable on the mound all year long. On the season is 8-0 in nine starts and has limited opposition to a .221 average over 45 ⅓ innings with a 3.18 ERA and 49 strikeouts. Noah Takac, another former DI player who threw at Davidson, also stepped up to silence the Braves. He shut them out over five innings and lowered his season ERA to 2.65. Despite that duo’s dominance this spring, no NGU hurler has been more barbarous than Michael “Nightmare” Rodriguez. After rehabbing from TJ surgery, he has been insanely filthy on the mound. In the fall he struck out 21 batters in nine innings, and those numbers have kept pace into the spring. In 12 appearances he has only allowed a single earned run over 18 innings while striking out 35 batters in 18 innings.
Meanwhile Mount Olive has quietly been compiling wins all season. After starting the season ranked ninth, they are currently positioned seventh in the Perfect Game NCAA D-II rankings. After losing two close games to Belmont Abbey two weeks ago which the Crusaders won in their final at bat, the Trojans swept King and are tied for second in the competitive Conference Carolinas’ standings with an overall record of 20-7.
While NGU has more explosive bats, the Trojans score runs in bunches with astute timely hitting, aggressive running and speed. Each of the top run producers in the UMO lineup also has double-digit stolen bases totals, and the fourth is just a single swipe away from joining them. Junior outfielder Dylan Jeffries has emerged from two disappointing seasons to be one of the nation’s top leadoff hitters. He is hitting .392 with nine doubles and eight home runs to top the team in total bases while adding 23 walks to push his OB% to .520. He also has 12 stolen bases. Vito Patierno was a member of the Charlotte 49ers in 2020, but didn’t play during the Covid shortened season due to injury. He’s been healthy and a fixture in the Trojan lineup since then, batting .367 over three seasons with better-than-average power and speed. Local product Jack Casabarro is also a primary contributor on offense. He batted .345 last season with 15 home runs and 33 stolen bases. He is capable of having big games against big opponents like he did earlier this year when he went 4-6 with a double, home run and stolen base against #6 Wingate.
Senior Erik Johnson has blossomed to be the ace of the Trojan staff. Johnson was an All American as a freshman at Niagara CCC and earned the opportunity to play at Coastal Carolina. After not seeing any action with the Chants’, he transferred to UMO and struggled last season with a 7.24 ERA over 27 ⅓ innings. This year he showed flashes of dominance with a 2.35 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 42 innings in which he has only allowed 32 hits. Another senior Cale Irwin, who had a 3.10 ERA over 81 ⅓ innings last season, and Dawson Gause, who was recruited by LSU, round out the rotation. The Trojan’s bullpen has been a bit inconsistent this season and will need to be rock solid if they are to take the series from NGU.
Other notable matchups in DII this week include:
#2 Tampa against #23 Rollins
#5 Columbus State at Young Harris
#10 Quincy at Illinois Springfield
|Rank||NCAA||State||Overall Rec||Week Rec||Prev|
|2||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||28-4||3-1||2|
|4||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||25-5||3-1||4|
|5||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||26-6||4-0||5|
|8||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||24-7||3-1||8|
|9||Hope International Royals||CA||20-6||3-0||9|
|10||Webber International Warriors||FL||26-8||2-1||10|
|11||Missouri Baptist Spartans||MO||20-4||2-1||12|
|12||William Carey Crusaders||MS||23-6||3-0||15|
|13||Loyola Wolf Pack||LA||22-10||2-1||16|
|14||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||19-7||1-3||11|
|20||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||22-10||1-3||13|
|22||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||18-10||6-2||24|
|23||Benedictine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||20-7||4-0||NR|
Dropped: St. Thomas
Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies (2) vs Loyola Wolf Pack (13)
Just as they have been over the past several seasons, Georgia Gwinnett is once again firmly entrenched near the top of the NAIA Top 25 rankings. The Grizzlies, who started the season positioned third in the nation and moved up to the number two position last month, have a 28-4 record headed into the week. However while the team has a number of quality performances this season, with multiple wins over Indiana Wesleyan, Taylor and Clarke, as well as single game victories over Tennessee Wesleyan, Mobile and Bryan, this will be their first opportunity to play a three game series against a team ranked in the Perfect Game Top 25. Their opponent will be Loyola who emerged from placement just outside the rankings to start the season, to number #13 this week. An added element of intrigue for the series is that it will be played in New Orleans. The Grizzlies have traditionally been a much more successful club at home. Over the past five years headed into this season, GGC has been 168-25 (87%) at home, while just 34-18 (65%) as visitors.
Regardless of where the games are played, Loyola will have a difficult time restraining Ajay Sczepkowski. The junior had an exceptional season last year at Charleston Southern where he was their top offensive performer with a .310 average, nine home runs and 16 doubles. Last weekend he was a juggernaut as he hit home runs in three consecutive plate appearances against Middle Georgia State. On the season he is leading the team with an astonishing .455 average, 17 home runs as well as 23 stolen bases. He has also earned 21 walks and 11 HBPs to amass a lofty .574 OB%. To the dismay of opposing teams, the offensive threat doesn’t stop with Sczepkowski. Jon Ponder is another former DI player who has brought his talents to Gwinnett and excelled. He hit .389 in 18 at bats at Georgia State, and has continued to pound the ball at GGC. He is batting .405 with 10 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Devin Warner was selected in the 2018 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but instead chose to play at Auburn. He transferred to Gwinnett for this season and is hitting .314 with 10 home runs for the Grizzlies
Each of Gwinnett’s starting pitchers have more strikeouts than innings, and as a team they have compiled 350 K’s in only 259 ⅓ innings. Six foot six inch sophomore Ben Harris has a 2.21 ERA with 55 strikeouts in just 40 ⅔ innings while holding opposition to a .226 batting average. His last outing was a complete game win over a very good Bryan team. Gage Williams is in his third season of mastery at GGC after starting his college career at DI Longwood. Aside from an uncharacteristic performance against Tennessee Wesleyan earlier this month, he has been difficult to score runs against. In 35 innings he has 57 strikeouts and has excellent control. Loyola will have to hope to score runs early, because once Jonathan Haab takes to the mound, any hope for a rally could be fruitless. In 11 appearances he has 42 strikeouts in just 20 ⅓ innings while only allowing 14 hits for a .187 batting average.
Loyola had a strong season in 2022 as they were only a win away from a trip to the NAIA World Series. Their overall record was 36-24 which tied for the most wins in program history. However with several primary players graduating, the Wolf Pack looked like this season could be a rebuilding year. Instead they have reloaded and are putting together what could be the best season in school history. Last week they won a series over a scorching hot Mobile team on the road which included a 18-1 mauling in the finale.
Despite a strong offense which is hitting .320 as a team, a trio of players stand out above the others in regard to their contributions. Leadoff hitter Brandon Mooney is hitting .467 this season after transferring from LSU Eunice. The second baseman is also leading the team with a perfect 17 for 17 in stolen bases. Cole Romero was 8-14 against the Rams last week with a pair of home runs. For the season he is batting .361 and is second on the club in slugging percentage behind only Mooney. Freshman Anthony Fernandez is strong on defense and could develop into a monster player at Loyola. In 20 games this season he is batting .316 with five doubles and five home runs.
Few pitchers have performed better than Stephen Still this spring, which is not surprising considering how he dominated the SSAC last year and set a new school single season record with 95 strikeouts with a 2.75 ERA. This year he has dropped his ERA to a remarkable 1.79 and is holding opposition to a .204 batting average. In 45 ⅓ innings he already has 55 strikeouts. Thomas Hakimian, a true freshman, appears to have an excellent college career ahead of him. In 32 ⅔ innings he had a 3.58 ERA and 35 strikeouts. If the Wolf Pack are going to win the series against the Grizzlies, the bullpen will have to help out. Sophomore Brady Bowen, who struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings last year, will be one of the relief arms needed to perform big this weekend.
Other notable matchups in NAIA include:
#10 Webber International vs St. Thomas
Cumberland vs Freed-Hardeman
|Rank||NCAA||State||Overall Rec||Week Rec||Prev|
|6||Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets||OH||14-4||1-2||4|
|9||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||17-2||5-0||17|
|12||North Central Cardinals||IL||11-4||1-1||9|
|13||UW-Stevens Point Pointers||WI||7-3||2-1||12|
|14||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||23-6||5-0||21|
|17||Montclair State Red Hawks||NJ||11-2||5-1||23|
|18||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||16-4||3-1||25|
|19||Eastern Connecticut Warriors||CT||13-3||3-2||14|
|23||Denison Big Red||OH||11-4||2-1||18|
|25||Salve Regina Seahawks||RI||10-3||3-0||NR|
Dropped: Trinity, Cal Lutheran
Endicott Gulls (7) vs Salve Regina Seahawks (25)
Endicott finished 2022 with the most wins in school history, besting the previous mark by five, won the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament for the first title since 2014, and advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time in school history. With almost every player responsible for those accomplishments returning to the dugout this spring, the Gulls were positioned in the top ten of the Perfect Game preseason standings and have performed as anticipated with a 11-3 record which included facing some of the top teams in the west. One of the few teams which was able to get the better of them last year was Salve Regina who handed EC two of the ten losses as well as won the CCC regular season title. With the Seahawks moving into the Top 25 this week, it sets up one of DIII’s top clashes this week.
Caleb Shpur could use another vowel in his name, but he certainly doesn’t need any tips on hitting. He is batting .379 on the season with 11 extra base hits to slug a team leading .781. In Sunday’s win over Trinity (CT), he had five hits in seven at bats with a stolen base to lead the offense. His 12 stolen bases are half of the team’s total. Kyle Grabowski has nearly matched his last season home run total of five with four already this spring in 125 at bats. He is hitting .349 and has yet to have an error at third base. Nicolas Notarangelo led the team with 13 home runs and hit .347 in 2022, but hasn’t quite hit his stride yet this spring.
The Gulls’ pitching has limited opposition to a .226 batting average and has a team 2.96 ERA. Gabe Van Emon, who held opposition to a .179 batting average with 87 strikeouts last season, is prevailing once again. He has a 1.29 ERA in his first four starts and has only allowed 14 hits in 21 innings. John Connolly has been masterful in his last two outings by only allowing six hits in 12 ⅓ innings.
Salve Regina enters the Top 25 following their win over defending champion Eastern Connecticut and a pair of blowout wins over Wentworth. Their record is 10-3 on the season with their only losses being a close pair to #21 Catholic and a late loss to William Paterson.
The Seahawks offense has been kept afloat by Tyler Cannoe, a senior slugger who is batting .353 with four of the team’s eight home runs. Matt D’Amato is batting .538 early in 39 at bats with six doubles. On the mound Brayden Clark and Graham Jeffries have exceptionally thrown 56 ⅔ of the team’s 111 ⅔ innings (56.6%). They have 2.48 and 3.25 ERA respectively. Clark has been especially dominant with 45 strikeouts in only 29 innings.
Other notable matchups in NCAA D-III include:
Catholic (21) vs Johns Hopkins (9) – single game only
Willamette vs Whitman