Two losses to Lincoln Memorial in the opening round of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament last week may have squashed 2021 National Champion Wingate from advancing into the NCAA postseason. With no additional games on their schedule the Bulldogs will have to sit and wait until the national bracket is announced on May 14th. WU’s is unquestionably one of the top teams in D-II and demonstrated it can battle it out with the best as they have earned wins over #7 Newberry and #15 Mount Olive, as well as Lenoir-Rhyne and Charleston. They also had strong showings against #13 UNC Pembroke and #23 Belmont Abbey. However their 18 total losses is extremely troublesome for a team looking to snag a one of only seven bids that will be awarded to teams in D-II’s stacked Southeast Region. Their inability to get on the diamond once again would also be a detriment to those hoping to see Mitch Farris pitch again this season. He is D-II’s most prolific performer this season. He has a 1.10 ERA and 136 strikeouts in only 98 innings on the mound. He has only allowed 41 hits (.123 B/AVG) and 17 walks. His domination earned him inclusion on the Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List.
For those who may be unfamiliar, unlike their D-I and D-III brethren, the NCAA allocates D-II postseason teams to specific regions based on their conference. Wingate plays in the SAC. Any SAC team, along with the Conference Carolinas and Peach Belt, gets assigned to play in the Southeast Region. The number of teams in each of the eight regions are dependent on the total number of schools in the feeding conferences. There are 35 teams total in the three Southeast Region conferences. For the four regions which have between 31 and 35 total teams, they are assigned seven spots. The South and Central region, which have 36 and 39 schools affiliated, get eight regional spots. Thus, the absence of one additional school in the Southeast costs means one less team gets to advance to the NCAA postseason. This is particularly frustrating to those potential teams as they most likely are the strongest region group overall.
That limited number of postseason bids also affects another SAC club Lenoir-Rhyne. Their once promising season is in serious jeopardy. They were looking stunning in mid-April with a 34-9 record, but finished the month a dismal 4-7 which included five losses to Newberry who are now an absolute lock to make the NCAAs. Lenoir-Rhyne’s 38 total victories include an impressive series win over Illinois Springfield as well as a victory over top ranked North Greenville. Unfortunately for the Bears, if you have to make a decision of selecting them or Wingate, the Bulldogs would seemingly get the nod as they swept them back in mid March.
Both Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne are deserving of the opportunity to continue to play, but the limited number of invites is 100% going to be problematic. The trio of the South Atlantic Conference, Peach Belt Conference and Conference Carolinas currently have seven teams in the latest Perfect Game Top 25: #1 North Greenville (CC), #7 Newberry (SAC), #10 Columbus State (PBC), #13 UNC Pembroke (CC), #15 Mount Olive (CC), #23 Belmont Abbey (CC) and #25 Wingate (SAC). It is extremely unlikely each of them will be playing in the extended postseason as each conference will very likely get two teams into the tournament, with Conference Carolinas receiving an extra third bid. While the SAC and PBC may not be as strong overall as Conference Carolinas this season, there isn’t such a significant dropoff that either of them should only get a meager single representative. This is especially significant as NCAA D-II seems to have a history of being more balanced when awarding postseason invites.
The limit of seven total teams advancing to the NCAA’s is troublesome for Belmont Abbey as well. Abbey entered the rankings two weeks ago and have wins over North Greenville, Wingate, Mount Olive and Lenoir-Rhyne. However they are likely the fourth positioned CC team in the mix and are the most likely to get left out barring any significant upsets in the conference tournament. The Crusaders desperately need a very strong showing in the conference tournament, and additionally hope Barton, who finished second in the regular season standings, gets ousted early. Barton, despite a terrible start to the season, came on strong to end the season and has a decent chance to earn an at-large invite as well. Like Belmont Abbey, they need to go deep into the Conference Carolinas tournament to earn a bid.
Regarding the Peach Belt Conference, should a second team aside from the automatic qualifier be granted an NCAA invite (which seems likely and reasonable), choosing the additional school may be a grueling decision.
Columbus State is potentially the best team to represent the conference. Despite finishing fourth in the final conference standings, they have the best overall record and statistically they were the second best team offensively as they trailed only Young Harris in slugging and on base percentage, and on the mound they were easily the PBC’s leader in ERA at 3.69 and second in batting average against at .246. While fielding percentage is highly subjective and not a great measure of aptitude, their team .982 mark is second nationally so they appear on paper to be pretty good with the glove as well. Notable CSU wins outside the conference include two games over both #12 Montevallo and #17 West Florida. Outfielder Derek Wylie is leading the conference in total bases with 122 and home runs with 17 while batting .330.
Either Georgia Southwestern, Young Harris or USC Aiken would be a worthy second candidate. GSW won the regular season PBC title for the first time in school history, a series over Columbus State, and had notable wins over Young Harris and West Georgia. Their pitching tandem of Rijnaldo Euson and Nick McCollum is easily the best in the conference as they have 2.74 and 2.57 ERAs respectively while striking out a combined 192 batters in just 166 ⅔ innings. YHC was a rankings outlier all season, finished second in the conference standings and has the PBC’s most explosive offense led by Jeremy Begora who is second in the conference with a .380 average with 13 home runs. USC Aiken won a series over Columbus State and had notable wins over Young Harris, Newberry and GSW. Their junior catcher Joseph Mozingo is leading the conference with a .392 batting average.
If the D-II postseason bracket were the same as their DI’s counterparts with more invites and the dissolution of conference-to-region tie-ins, each of the schools mentioned would most likely continue playing in the national tournament. As it is, multiple deserving teams will have their season come to a premature close.
|Rank||NCAA||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|1||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||1||44-6||5-0|
|4||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||6||37-9||4-0|
|5||Angelo State Rams||TX||3||42-8||2-2|
|6||Central Missouri Mules||MO||4||36-13||3-1|
|8||East Stroudsburg Warriors||PA||8||33-10||2-1|
|10||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||14||34-13||3-1|
|11||Metro State Roadrunners||CO||16||40-10||2-2|
|13||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||19||36-13||2-1|
|15||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||7||32-14||1-3|
|16||Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes||CA||18||33-13||1-0|
|17||West Florida Argos||FL||23||32-14||3-0|
|18||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||17||30-13||3-3|
|19||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||10||34-15||2-2|
|20||Wayne State Warriors||MI||20||34-9||5-0|
|21||Cal State Monterey Bay Otters||CA||21||31-13||3-1|
|22||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||22||31-11||3-1|
|23||Belmont Abbey Crusaders||NC||24||36-14||3-1|
|24||Point Loma Sea Lions||CA||NR||34-12||6-0|
Dropped: Valdosta State
With doubleheader splits on both Saturday and Sunday against previously #21 Concordia (NE), the Morningside Mustangs have made their inaugural appearance in the Perfect Game Top 25. Their inclusion marks the first time three schools from the Great Plains Athletic Conference have been in the national rankings at the same time. While it’s not uncommon for some other NAIA conferences to have three or even four teams in the Top 25, it is remarkable that the GPAC, which consists of faith-based colleges and universities in Nebraska, Iowa, North and South Dakota – not exactly hotbeds of college baseball prowess – have three teams included.
With a 34-14 record the Mustangs have one of the NAIA’s highest winning percentages and a good chunk of those wins came against some of the division’s top teams. Morningside has two wins over both #14 Doane and Concordia (NE), as well as a road victory against #6 Bellevue. They also won three of four against 36-13 Mount Marty, and took all three of their games against 27-17 Jamestown.
Sophomore catcher Jayson Willers is leading the unrelenting Mustang offense which is batting .337 as a team. Willers’ .379 batting average and 10 home runs are both tops on the team, as are his 15 doubles. Eddie Brancato and Alex Calabrese are major offensive cogs as well. Brancato is playing his third full season and has a .344 college average. Calabrese’s average has jumped from .270 to .347 his sophomore year and is second on the team in slugging with a .592 mark. He also doubles as the team’s closer and has eight saves in 12 appearances.
The overall pitching prowess relies heavily on Wade Canaday and Kai Purdy-Burton. Canaday was a highly regarded third baseman in high school who pitched on the side. He initially played both positions at Morningside before concentrating on pitching the past two years. This year has a 4.18 ERA and has thrown a complete game in four of 12 starts. He has strong control and has only issued 18 walks while striking out 63 batters in 64 ⅔ innings. Purdy-Burton is a California transplant in his first full season as a starter. Over the past two seasons he has struck out 79 batters in 75 ⅔ innings. He has a good feel for his arsenal of pitches and is developing into an outstanding pitcher.
Doane, who started the season at the 24th position in the rankings, has slowly crept into the top half and at their highest mark at #14 this week. The Tigers have won their last ten games and earned their third consecutive GPAC title. It marks the first time in over two decades a school has won the regular season championship three times in a row. The regular season title gives Doane an automatic berth into the NAIA Tournament where they will not be a team to take lightly.
The Tigers’ Lucas White continues to be one of the NAIA’s most prolific sluggers this season. He is batting .414 with 15 home runs. White, along with Joe Osborn, a .323 hitter with 13 home runs, and Nate Mensick, who is hitting .366 with 25 extra base hits, should keep Doane within striking distance in any postseason matchup. Kaden Crawford and Aaron Forrest lead the pitching corps. Crawford has been remarkable as a freshman with a 2.66 ERA while holding opposition to a .210 batting average. Forrest has improved significantly this season and should receive conference honors. He has a 3.12 ERA and has struck out 66 batters in 66 ⅓ innings while shoring four complete games. Opposition is only batting .210 against the junior.
The third GPAC in the Perfect Game Top 25 is Concordia (NE). Despite a small stretch early in the year when they went 4-4 in Florida, the Bulldogs look like they could make another run to Lewiston and the NAIA World Series as they did in 2021.
The Bulldogs’ lineup is once again punishing baseballs. They’ve hit 105 home runs so far this season which places them sixth in the nation. Their .637 slugging percentage is in the top five, as are their 574 hits. Incredibly six Concordia players have generated over 100 total bases this season. The most prolific of which is masher Joey Grabanski. After setting the school record for RBI last season, he has already eclipsed the mark this year with 69 and still has at least a half dozen games still to go. He is batting .391 with 24 home runs and 10 doubles. Jaidan Quinn and Jesse Garcia are nearly as prolific at the plate. Quinn had set the school single season record for home runs last season, and is hitting .340 with 22 home runs this year. He was the state of Kansas’ top rated first baseman coming out of high school. Garcia, a fifth year senior from El Cajon, California, is batting .381 with 16 home runs.
Caden Johnson from the Omaha suburbs is the ace of the Concordia staff. He was a First Team All-GPAC selection last season, and has a 3.51 ERA this spring.
Concordia and Morningside should have no problem joining Doane in receiving invites to the NAIA Opening Round. Mount Marty has a decent chance of joining them as well, although it may require advancing to the conference tournament finals while hoping few unexpected teams earn conference championships and steal automatic bids. The Lancers are 36-13 with significant wins over Tabor, SAGU, Concordia (NE), Morningside and Doane.
|Rank||NCAA||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|2||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||2||44-5||4-0|
|3||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||3||42-6||4-0|
|5||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||5||40-7||3-0|
|8||Hope International Royals||CA||8||31-7||4-0|
|9||Missouri Baptist Spartans||MO||9||40-5||5-0|
|10||William Carey Crusaders||MS||10||40-7||3-0|
|11||Benedictine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||11||40-10||3-1|
|12||Webber International Warriors||FL||13||37-13||3-0|
|13||Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes||KS||14||39-11||3-0|
|17||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||12||33-15||1-3|
|18||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||18||36-14||4-0|
|19||Texas Wesleyan Rams||TX||20||35-12||3-0|
|21||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||19||29-14||3-2|
When the 2023 D-III preseason rankings were being compiled, the final spot was a decision between Bethel and John Hopkins. The Royals, who had won both the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season and playoff title in 2022 and returned almost every regular starter on the lineup and on the mound, got the nod. That decision ultimately seems like a fair selection. Bethel is currently 22-6, leading the MIAC once again and four of their six losses were by a single run. The twenty-fifth position in the rankings still seems like a good fit for Bethel, but man, oh man was John Hopkins overlooked. The Blue Jays are having a sensational season and after winning their last five games by a combined score of 77-11, have moved into the number four position in the rankings and are arguably the top team in all of D-III.
JHU started the season with a shutout win over always potent Cortland and really raised some eyebrows in early March when they absolutely rolled top ranked Salsibury 23-4. The wins have kept coming both in quantity and quality. They also have lopsided 12-3 wins over both #9 Wisconsin-Stevens Point and #18 Catholic. Of their three losses, one was in extra innings to the reigning national champion, and the other two were basically due to a pitcher struggling with control issues in a single inning. They are averaging almost 13 runs per game on offense while the pitching staff is limiting opposition to 3.14 earned runs per game and a .226 batting average. Consequently, the Blue Jays have taken over the number one position in this week’s Perfect Game D-III Top 25.
Senior Matthew Cooper, who spent two seasons at Delaware previously, has been a monster on offense. He is batting .500 with 19 home runs in only 124 at bats. He also has 12 doubles and a triple to compile a 1.073 slugging percentage. Shawn Steuerer has gone 19 for his last 33 to raise his batting average to .400 and his home run total to 10. Isaiah Winikur, a graduate student who also played D-I previously at Towson, missed most of last season due to injury, but is back and performing well and contributing greatly as well. He is hitting .344 with nine home runs as the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter.
The Blue Jays pitching staff unquestionably has the stuff to lead JHU to Cedar Rapids. Gabriel Romano was a four-year member of the Quinnipiac baseball team before joining the club as a graduate student as well. He has a 1.77 ERA and is limiting opposition to a .230 batting average while maintaining a 41:9 strikeout to walk ratio. Matt Savedoff has struck out 51 batters in only 43 innings and has a 3.14 ERA. Freshman Charles Monterrosa may be the team’s top hurler. The team has shut out opposition in two of his eight starts. He has a 2.72 ERA and has only allowed 29 hits in 36 ⅓ innings with 41 strikeouts and only five walks. Ben Keever has dominated in relief. In a dozen appearances he has only allowed 10 hits over 19 ⅓ innings while striking out 29 batters. He has a 0.93 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and B/AVG of .145.
|Rank||NCAA||State||Prev||Overall Rec.||Week Rec.|
|1||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||5||34-3||2-0|
|6||Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets||OH||4||29-7||2-2|
|9||UW-Stevens Point Pointers||WI||11||23-9||3-0|
|10||Christopher Newport Captains||VA||10||30-8||0-1|
|12||Penn State Harrisburg Lions||PA||12||30-8||2-1|
|15||East Texas Baptist Tigers||TX||16||30-10||3-1|
|17||Eastern Connecticut Warriors||CT||17||27-8||2-1|
|20||Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets||VA||15||29-10||1-2|
|21||Denison Big Red||OH||24||28-7||3-0|
|22||NC Wesleyan Batting Bishops||NC||23||29-8||3-0|
|23||UW LaCrosse Eagles||WI||21||24-8||2-2|
|24||Salve Regina Seahawks||RI||25||28-6-1||4-0|