Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015 Division II Midwest Region Preview

It is finally postseason time for NCAA Division II baseball, as the regional tournaments have been revealed and teams begin preparing for the run to Cary, N.C. and the Division II Baseball Finals at the USA National Training Complex. Below, we take a look at each of the teams in the region to provide a preview for fans to get a sense of what to expect as this week rolls on.
(Seed. Team (Overall Record) (SOS Rank, Opp. WP, Record vs regional teams))
1. Quincy (39-15) (142nd, .509, 7-8)
2. Grand Valley State (34-16) (63rd, .538, 5-3)
3. William Jewell (37-17) (197th, .487, 8-6)
4. Truman State (31-20) (150th, .506, 6-5)
5. Drury (31-22-1) (1st, .603, 10-12)
6. Ashland (36-17) (161st, .503, 0-5)
Played at St. Charles, Mo. (Lou Brock Sports Complex)

2015 NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament Page

This should be the knockdown, drag-out fight of all the regional tournaments. Any of the six teams here could end up on their way to Cary, although going by SOS numbers, GVSU and Drury, who face off in the opening round, are the favorites. Drury made a magnificent run through the GLVC Tournament, and with the toughest schedule in Division II on their resume, they should be ready for any challenge in this tournament. GVSU had a tough start to the season, but have been starting to click lately, going undefeated in the GLIAC Tournament and putting up some big hitting numbers in every game of the tourney.

Quincy was among the leaders in the GLVC all season long, and they are a very balanced team that can win games at the plate or on the mound. Kory Wisdom (.423, 52 R, 3 HR, 29 RBI, .513 OBP) leads a Hawks offense that has four guys hitting over .333, and Quincy has seven guys who have hit at least three home runs. David Jacob (.395, 37 R, 11 2B, 6 HR, 50 RBI, .556 SLG, .447 OBP) is the big bat in the lineup, while Dominic Miles (.348, 40 R, 4 3B, 4 HR, 38 RBI, .433 OBP, 15/21 SB) and Brynn Martinez (.333, 52 R, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 14/18 SB) can disrupt pitchers with their speed on the bases.

The Hawks have a front-line starter in Graham Spraker (5-1, 2.12 ERA, 3 CG, 44 K in 68 IP, .213 BAA), and good supporting pieces in Mark Niebrugge (7-2, 3.03 ERA, 39 K in 68.1 IP) and Jake Peterson (5-4, 3.62 ERA, 53 K in 69.2 IP). The bullpen is where the Hawks shine, led by closer Teddy Rule (0-1, 1.80 ERA, 21 app., 12 SV, 24 K in 20 IP), pseudo-reliever Tommy Hager (6-0, 2.14 ERA, 15 app., 5 GS, 43/9 K/BB in 42 IP) and Jake Wehde (7-2, 2.95 ERA, 20 app., 34 K in 36.2 IP).

Speaking of tough outs in a regional tournament, that brings us to Grand Valley State, a team making its 14th straight regional tournament appearance. The Lakers have advanced to Cary all three ways, with a stellar pitching staff, a stellar offense and a well-balanced team. This year's squad falls under the well-balanced portion of that, boasting eight hitters batting over .300 and seven players who have driven in at least 25 runs.

The offense runs as Kevin Zak runs. Zak is the all-divisions NCAA active leader in career hits, and is part of a group of five seniors that are the first five hitters in the Laker lineup. Zak (.394, 55 R, 18 2B, 6 HR, 49 RBI, .601 SLG, .449 OBP) and Jamie Potts (.378, 37 R, 13 2B, 3 HR, 42 RBI, .505 SLG, .426 OBP), who hit a line drive in every at-bat in the GLIAC Tournament lead the way, while the breakout star of the conference tournament was Matt Williams (.348, 3 HR, 20 RBI), who had consecutive games with a grand slam against Ashland to finish off the Eagles in both games. The table for GVSU is set by Mike Nadratowski (.341, 50 R, 15 2B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, .440 OBP, 18/20 SB), who will be finding ways to get on base and stealing bases at every opportunity possible. Lastly, the GVSU offense has a pair of catchers, let me repeat, catchers, who are hitting .344 (John McLaughlin) and .369 (Connor Glick) on the season, giving the Lakers at least one huge option off the bench in most games.

The pitching staff is led by Patrick Kelly, who was 7-1 with a 3.03 ERA, 4 complete games, and a .258 BAA on the season. The Lakers don't have a strikeout artist in the starting rotation, but Kelly will make you put the ball in play, as he is third in Division II in fewest walks allowed per nine innings, issuing only six free passes in 74.1 innings of work this year. He is followed in the rotation by Zach Anderson (5-2, 4.21 ERA, 2 CG, 46 H in 57.2 IP) and hard-throwing Aaron Jensen (5-2, 4.40 ERA, 37 K in 43 IP), with Tim Tarter (3-4, 3.92 ERA, 20 K in 39 IP) and Josh Griffith (2-0, 3.00 ERA) giving the Lakers a deep rotation as they get further in to the weekend. The bullpen is led by Kevin Hallberg (3-1, 1.28 ERA, 19 app., 31 K in 42.1 IP) and utility closer Matt Williams, who along with his batting prowess, is 4-2 with a 2.97 ERA and 10 saves on the year with 36 strikeouts in 30.1 innings of work.

William Jewell is a team that is a newcomer to the Midwest regional tournament, and the numbers will show that they are the GLVC equivalent to GVSU this season. The Cardinals come at you with a relentless lineup that features six players with at least 30 RBI and a pitching staff that eats innings and limits damage with no big strikeout numbers.

One aspect where William Jewell shines is on defense, where the Cardinals lead Division II in double plays turned (58) and are 16th in fielding percentage (.971).

At the plate, they have six full-time starters hitting over .300, led by Luke Lucchetti (.370, 42 R, 11 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 31 RBI, .536 SLG, .428 OBP) and Andrew Miller in limited time (.385, 21 R, 15 RBI, .481 SLG). The Cardinals have a trio of big bats in Hunter Brown (.315, 14 2B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, .530 SLG), Sam Morman (.301, 5 HR, 47 RBI) and Jared Patton (.280, 7 HR, 31 RBI, .457 SLG).

On the mound, Austin Kretchmar (9-2, 2.53 ERA, 7 CG, 50/11 K/BB in 89 IP), Preston Felgate (6-0, 3.59 ERA, 29 K in 42.2 IP) and Nick Farleigh (4-4, 3.77 ERA, 6 CG, 32 K in 76.1 IP) form a good trio of starters for the Cardinals. Following them is one of the best relief options in the Midwest in Chris Mancha (7-1, 1.57 ERA, 16 app., 30 K in 46 IP, .212 BAA).

Truman State made their presence known this season when they swept defending national champion Southern Indiana in a four-game series to begin conference play, and they hung on from there to find themselves in their first Division II baseball regional tournament.

The Bulldogs are another team that prides themselves on defense, ranking 10th in Division II in double plays (48) and sits near the top 30 in fielding percentage. They also boast one of the top defensive catchers in Wyatt Fones, who has thrown out almost 50% of potential base stealers this season, helping Truman to allow only 16 stolen bases in 35 attempts on the year.

At the plate, Truman is a two-headed monster of Dave Gambino (.383, 10 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 37 RBI, .571 SLG) and Paul Trenhaile (.381, 42 R, 11 2B, 5 HR, 43 RBI, .523 SLG, .434 OBP). One area where the Bulldogs need to improve to have a chance in this regional is to be more patient at the plate. They have drawn only 144 walks this year, but have struck out 313 times, leading to a below-average .375 OBP when it comes to teams that usually find themselves as a top-four seed in a regional tournament.

Truman State has four very good starting pitchers they will be able to roll out deep in to the weekend if they get that far, led by Kent Frantz (8-2, 2.44 ERA, 7 CG, 30/8 K/BB in 70 IP) and followed by Cody Gardner (8-5, 3.62 ERA, 8 CG, 48 K in 87 IP), Mark Roberts (4-2, 3.79 ERA, 22 K in 71.1 IP) and Alex Hoffmann (4-2, 4.24 ERA, 25 K in 74.1 IP). Out of the bullpen, the top option is Peter young (2-0, 0.77 ERA, 19 app., 5 SV, 23.1 IP). The Bulldog pitchers are not going to strike fear in to any opposing hitters, having struck out only 171 batters in 406.1 innings of work, but they have also issued only 117 walks on the season.

Drury is yet another team that fits the profile of the rest of the squads in this regional tournament, a well-balanced team that has no real spectacular numbers. Their offense is led by two huge bats in Luke Tewes (.396, 40 R, 16 2B, 11 HR, 45 RBI, .651 SLG, .467 OBP) and Dallas Williams (.381, 51 R, 14 2B, 8 HR, 38 RBI, .594 SLG, .443 OBP), with another long ball threat in the lineup with Tyler Arthur (.301, 32 R, 10 HR, 38 RBI, .518 SLG), but those are the only three hitters batting at least .300 on the season, giving opposing pitchers the option to try and neutralize threats with intentional walks if need be. Of course, one also needs to consider that the Panthers faced the toughest schedule in all of Division II this season when taking statistics in to account.

The Panthers have a workhorse #1 starter in Austin Faulconer (7-5, 3.42 ERA, 4 CG, 53 K in 68.1 IP), a former all-region performer. Behind him, Trevor Richards (4-3, 3.60 ERA, 65 K in 65 IP) and Ryan Colombo (5-2, 4.44 ERA, 2 CG, 27 K in 48.2 IP) hold down the fort in the starting rotation, while Nick Costantino (4-2, 3.07 ERA, 24 app., 26 K in 29.1 IP) and Gage Jacobs (0-2, 4.26 ERA, 26 app., 12 SV, 23/4 K/BB in 31.2 IP) will be the stalwarts out of the bullpen for Drury.

Finally, one of the toughest #6 seeds in the nation, Ashland. I was at the GLIAC Tournament last weekend, watching Ashland put up a five-spot in the bottom of the ninth inning against the last seed in the tournament, Wayne State, in an elimination game to get to the championship day, to keep their season alive. That half-inning, I believe, is going to be a precursor to just how tough it is going to be for Ashland to get eliminated. This is a team with a lot of experience in big games and a coach who has been there before.

While Ashland does have a very tough offense to deal with, the highlight of the team, to me at least, is the starting rotation, which has three guys who will most likely be drafted in the next two years. Jake Baldwin (9-1, 2.54 ERA, 2 CG, 66 K in 63.2 IP) is a former GLIAC Pitcher of the Year, Brandyn Sittinger (4-1, 3.03 ERA, 3 CG, 84 K in 71.1 IP) led the conference in strikeouts, and Art Warren (4-4, 4.31 ERA, 50 K in 54.1 IP) is probably the hardest thrower of the bunch. All of them throw high-80's or better, and have the potential to roll through any lineup presented to them. The problem, however, comes in the situations where that doesn't happen and the Eagles have to head to their bullpen, where Alex Smith (2-2, 3.57 ERA, 9 SV, 19 app., 29 K in 40.1 IP) is really the only reliable option.

On offense, the Eagles have the GLIAC Player of the Year in Stephen James (.393, 64 R, 18 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 53 RBI, .457 OBP, .716 SLG), who led the conference in almost every offensive category. Blake Bellman (.388, 35 R, 11 2B, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 27 BB, 13 K, .474 OBP, .539 SLG), Mackenzie Hampshire (.375, 38 R, 10 2B, 3 HR, 30 RBI, .481 OBP, .513 SLG) and Mike Lewandowski (.345, 31 R, 20 RBI, .417 OBP) provide a difficult top of the lineup for opposing pitchers to get through. Additionally, the Eagles found a breakout star at catcher late in the season with Ryan Lowe, who was named to the GLIAC All-Tournament Team after only starting to play consistently at the end of April. Lowe is hitting .366 with 5 doubles and 13 RBI in only 21 games as a freshman.

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