Leading up to Saturday's opening day at the 2015 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals, we will look at the first-round match-ups, give a bit of a preview, and share our thoughts with the regional tournament results and what is ahead. I will be doing my best to put up a recap post following each day in Cary, and a preview post for the next day's action.
Firstly, I want to speak to those making their first trips to Cary, which happen to be mostly everyone on both these teams.
Enjoy the process, it is the most well put-together event throughout the Division II championships, in my opinion. I have had the amazing privilege to travel to this event twice during my time in sports information, and what is put together for each of the teams is wonderful. The banquet, the tours (if you get the chance to tour the Durham Bulls park, it is great), the recognition at the complex (each team getting their own flag, school names on the wall) and the high-quality field and stadium that you get to participate in. You won't find anything better at any point during your college career in any of those cases. The first four days of the tournament are a great atmosphere, with pretty much all eight teams there watching each other's games, a number of scouts, all eight team's fans popping in and out throughout the day to give some good crowds, and some pretty good local support from families that show up.
My pieces of advice to those of you who haven't experienced this yet: Bring lots of sunscreen and apply liberally, get something from the USA team shop, and if you aren't one of the last teams to show up for the first practice, put your team flag up as close to the parking lot as you can get it. In the two years I went, the first four teams to be eliminated were within the five flags closest to the field. Oh, you mean you don't care about superstition? Alright, fine.
In any case, on to the weekend's action!
Our first preview will be the first game that will kick off the weekend at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, Henderson State against Angelo State.
(Team (Region): Overall Record (SOS Rank, Opp. WP))
Henderson State (Central): 31-19 (38th, .557)
Angelo State (South Central): 41-16 (15th, .576)
I gave Henderson State a bit of a tough preview going in to regionals, saying they would be over-matched going in to a tournament that featured teams like St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. The Reddies battled valiantly, however, caught some breaks, and capitalized on their momentum to capture the regional crown. They went 4-0 in the regional, and were probably the most impressive team of any across all the regions. They beat St. Cloud State twice, Minnesota State once and Emporia State once to capture the crown.
The Reddies, if they stick to their regional schedule, will most likely roll with Colton Lorance as their game one starter. Lorance threw seven very strong innings against St. Cloud State to begin the Central regional, allowing only three hits. Despite his stellar performance, he still is a little bit of a liability considering he has still issued more walks than he has strikeouts this season (30 BB, 29 K). That didn't seem to bother him against SCSU, so it shouldn't bite him against Angelo State, either. At least that is what Henderson State will be hoping for.
On the year, Lorance is 6-4 with a 3.64 ERA, 65 hits allowed in 76.2 innings pitched, and is holding hitters to a .226 batting average against. He is prone to some extra-base hits, giving up 19 doubles this year, but that is probably to be expected when you are nearing 80 innings of work.
The guy riding the biggest wave for the Reddies is Hunter Mayall. The junior first baseman was 12-for-17 (.706) at the plate in the regional tournament with three doubles, eight runs and four RBI over the course of the weekend. He was one of five Reddies to land on the regional all-tournament team. He will head in to Cary leading the team in hitting (.366) and on-base percentage (.466).
Two other HSU players who landed on the all-tournament team were Jordan Taylor (.354, 10 2B, 2 HR, 31 RBI, .444 SLG, .406 OBP) and Claude Johnson (.351, 42 R, 13 2B, 10 HR, 43 RBI, .582 SLG, .436 OBP), who round out a trio of wonderful hitters for the Reddies.
Taylor's skills don't stop at the plate, either. He is 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings out of the bullpen this year, with a 28:6 K:BB ratio, one of two comfortable options for HSU out of the 'pen, along with Nick Vanthillo (6-1, 1.56 ERA, 12 SV, 39 K in 40.1 IP, .182 BAA).
If you talk about Angelo State, you have to talk about potential national pitcher of the year, Steve Naemark. He entered the South Central regional tournament with a 1.11 season ERA, and then made an unreal four appearances over the weekend, throwing 19.2 innings out of a possible 45. Oh, and in the last appearance, on two days' rest, he threw a nine-inning complete game against St. Mary's. Over those 19.2 innings he was on the mound, he put together a 19:1 K:BB ratio and allowed only 13 hits.
I say all this because I have to assume he will get the call for the Rams to begin the tournament opener against the Reddies. HSU has a lot of momentum on their side, but a pitcher like Naemark can end that real quickly. On the season, Naemark is now 10-1 with a 1.46 ERA, a 133:22 K:BB ratio in 117 innings of work with a .203 batting average against.
On offense, shortstop Paxton DeLaGarza continues to be the leader of the Rams, hitting .409 with a team-leading 88 hits, 53 RBI, 135 total bases, a .628 slugging percentage and a .459 on-base percentage. At the regional tournament, he was 11-for-23 with five runs and nine RBI.
J.C. Snyder (.351, 29 R, 24 2B, 6 HR, 33 RBI, .559 SLG) and Nehwon Norkeh (.319, 60 R, 18 2B, 10 HR, 40 RBI, .557 SLG, .426 OBP) are the other two big bats in the lineup for the Rams, and Snyder landed on the all-tournament team in addition to DeLaGarza and Naemark.
The Rams were 4-1 at the South Central regional. They lost their opening game of the tournament to Colorado State-Pueblo, but rattled off four straight to claim the title, beating St. Mary's, Colorado Mesa, CSU-Pueblo and then St. Mary's again. ASU has won 14 of their last 16 games heading in to Cary, giving the Rams some good momentum of their own heading in to the tournament.
I won't be giving predictions for any games throughout the tournament, because baseball is the toughest sport to predict and I don't want to look like a fool for making an educated decision that blows up in my face. Naemark is a bonafide ace that can put in nine innings of domination on the mound, but Henderson State has also proved to be a team that can put together excellent at-bats and come up with clutch hits when they are needed.