NAIA World Series Preview

The NAIA World Series kicks off on Friday at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho. Lewis-Clark State plays host for the 14th straight year and received an automatic bid along with nine teams who won their Opening Round brackets. Defending champion Concordia went 1-2 in the Marion (Ind.) Bracket and did not advance, nor did Lubbock Christian, the runners up, as they went 2-2 in the Oklahoma City Bracket. As usual, the seeding is based off the final Coaches’ Poll.

2012 Final Poll (5/6): No. 1 LSU-Shreveport, No. 2 Lee (Tenn.), No. 3 Oklahoma City, No. 6 Tennessee Wesleyan, No. 8 Embry-Riddle (Fla.), No. 10 Lewis-Clark State, T-No. 12 St. Thomas (Fla.), T-No. 12 Point Park (Pa.), No. 15 South Carolina-Beaufort, No. 23 Rogers State (Okla.), NR- College of Idaho (received 51 votes).

LSU-SHREVEPORT (No. 1 national seed)

Record: 51-4. Preseason Ranking: 6. Ranking at end of regular season: 1.

Head Coach: Rocke Musgrave (13th season, 490-252).

Tournament History: The Pilots are making their second straight and third all-time NAIA World Series appearance (5-4). They lost to Concordia, 8-4 last year in the semifinals. Shreveport has never won a World Series.

Season In A Nutshell: For the last six weeks of the regular season, LSU-Shreveport was the top-ranked team in the Coaches’ Top 25 Poll after going 22-4 in the Red River Athletic Conference and cruising to their sixth straight conference tournament championship. Winners of their last 16 straight, LSU-Shreveport swept through the Paducah bracket in the opening round two weeks ago, twice knocking off No. 11 Lindsey Wilson.

Key Players:

  • Sr. RHP Jared Mortensen (11-1, 1.48, 125-20 K-BB in 97 IP)
  • Sr. RHP Matt Lackie (11-0, 2.37, 104-37 K-BB in 91 IP)
  • Jr. OF Kyle Pearson (.377/.490/.733, 13 HR, 64 RBI in 191 AB)  

Overview: Despite only returning one position player from their lineup last year, the Pilots once again have NAIA’s most potent offense—averaging over nine runs per game by hitting .351/.448/.517 as a team.  Their pitching staff ranks sixth with a 2.86 ERA—down from 4.49 in 2011—as they limited opposing hitters to a .216 batting average while striking out a batter per inning. The Pilots’ main shortcoming lies defensively. Their .955 fielding percentage is tied for 69th—which still ranks in the top third in the nation.

Interesting facts/Notable Alumni:

  • On May 8, the Louisiana House Education Committee approved a bill that will merge LSU-Shreveport and Louisiana Tech.
  • Five current Pilots are from Canada, which is where Musgrave began his coaching career (1989, Fort Macleod, Alberta).
  • LSU-Shreveport had three players selected in the 2010 Draft: OF Chase Wentz (Pirates, 18th round), LHP Justin Ennis (Pirates, 33rd round) and LHP Jeff Nadeau (Cardinals, 38th round). Wentz is the school's highest-drafted player.

LEE (TENN.) UNIVERSITY (No. 2 national seed)

Record: 54-9-1. Preseason Ranking: 3. Ranking at end of regular season: 2.

Head Coach: Mark Brew (6th season, 324-75-1).

Tournament History: The Flames are making their six straight and seventh all-time World Series appearance (15-12). They lost to Lubbock Christina, 10-2, in the semifinals last year. Lee has never won a World Series.

Season In A Nutshell: Brew’s squad never dropped out of the top five in the coaches’ poll during the season en route to their first Southern States Athletic Conference tournament championship. It also marked the sixth consecutive season the Flames have won at least 50 games. Lee was on the verge of being eliminated in the Cleveland (Tenn.) bracket in the opening round, trailing 3-1 against Missouri Baptist, before they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to force a decisive rematch in the title game,  which Lee won 8-5.

Key Players:

  • Jr. RHP Kris Hall (11-0, 1.52, 115-43 K-BB in 95 IP)
  • Sr. 1B Roberto Reyes (.311/.384/.574, 15 HR, 82 RBI in 244 AB)
  • Sr. 2B Blake Barber (.416/.502/.658, 9 HR, 62 RBI in 231 AB)

Overview: Lee only returned 11 players from last year, but it is arguably the best all-around team in the nation. They rank second in ERA (2.56), fourth in fielding percentage (.969) and 12th in runs per game (7.7). Brew challenged his team before the season  to step up their running game, a vital part of their offense in the past, and the Flames responded by swiping 116 bases (20th in the nation).

Interesting facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Hall is currently ranked No. 134 on BA’s Top 200 draft list.
  • Lee’s highest-drafted player is shortstop Lance Zawadzki (Padres, 4th round in 2007). The Flames sent four players to the draft last year.
  • Grammy Award-winning record producer Nathan Chapman graduated from Lee in 2001. Chapman has produced all three of Taylor Swift’s albums.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY (No. 3 national seed)

Record: 47-10. Preseason Ranking: 1. Ranking at end of regular season: 3.

Head Coach: Denney Crabaugh (24th season, 1,183-362-2).

Tournament History: The Stars are making their fifth straight and 15th all-time World Series appearance (32-25). They lost to Concordia 7-4 in the quarterfinals last year. Oklahoma City has one World Series title (2005).

Season In A Nutshell: For the 16th year in a row, the Stars have surpassed 45 wins and have their most since 1991. The national NAIA powerhouse captured the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season title, but fell to No. 19 Lubbock Christian 6-5 in the conference tournament championship game. In the Oklahoma City bracket, No. 25 Sterling upset the Stars in the opening round; Oklahoma City won its next three games to advance to the World Series. The Stars received stellar pitching in rematches, shutting out Lubbock Christian 4-0 and then Sterling twice, 7-0, 3-0 to advance to Lewiston.

Key Players:

  • Jr. C Dane Phillips (.423/.513/.791, 14 HR, 66 RBI in 201 AB)
  • Sr. LHP Rich Hawkins (11-2, 1.96, 85-11 K-BB in 101 IP)
  • Sr. 1B Miguel Beltran (.395/.482/.829, 25 HR, 71 RBI in 205 AB)

Overview: Where Crabaugh’s team lost quite a bit of offense from last year—which scored nearly a run and a half per game more compared to this year—they make up for it with a vastly improved pitching staff. The Stars shaved 1.33 points off their team ERA from last year and rank in the top five in opponent batting average (.233), ERA (2.66) and strikeouts (447). But, that is not to say they can’t slug their way to a win, as they lead the nation in slugging percentage (.597). Their defense was not as elite this year as the past two seasons, but their .965 fielding percentage ranks 11th in the nation. Overall, Oklahoma City is right up there with Lee for the most complete team in the nation. 

Interesting facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Buzz Williams (1994) – Head basketball coach at Marquette.
  • Freddy Sanchez (2000) – Giants 2B, three-time all-star and 2006 National League batting champion.
  • Nona Lee (1995) – Diamondbacks senior vice president and general counsel.
  • Highest drafted player: Grant Hansen (2004, 3rd round, White Sox).

 

TENNESSEE WESLEYAN COLLEGE (No. 4 national seed)

Record: 48-11. Preseason Ranking: 18. Ranking at end of regular season: 6.

Head Coach: Billy Berry (7th season, 303-113).

Tournament History: The Bulldogs are making their third straight and third all-time World Series appearance (0-4). Last year, they were bounced out of the tournament early, losing to Lewis-Clark State and Oklahoma Baptist. They have never won a title.

Season In A Nutshell: Winners of their last 15 straight, the Bulldogs head into Lewiston as the tournament’s hottest team. They captured the Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles with ease and swept through the Kingsport bracket by outscoring opponents 28-9. 

Key Players:

  • Sr. SS Stephen Branca (.442/.509/.769, 16 HR, 65 RBI in 208 AB)
  • Jr. LHP Josh Culler (9-2, 2.56, 93-34 K-BB in 77 IP)
  • Sr. 2B Taylor Oldham (.361/.444/.728, 19 HR, 83 RBI in 180 AB)

Overview: The Bulldogs have had one of the best offenses in the nation the past six years, but what has truly made them a legitimate contender this year has been their improved pitching. The pitching staff lowered its ERA by a full run compared to last year due to better command of the strike zone. The Bulldogs are striking out almost a batter per inning, which is fourth in the nation. Offensively, Tennessee Wesleyan ranks first in total runs batted in (471) and second in slugging (.532) and runs per game (8.6), and seventh in batting average (.339).

Interesting Facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Tom Browning (1982, 9th round, Reds) pitched the 12th perfect game in baseball history in 1988 against the Dodgers. 

 

EMBRY-RIDDLE UNIVERSITY (No. 5 national seed)

Record: 43-16. Preseason Ranking: 5. Ranking at end of regular season: 8.

Head Coach: Randy Stegall (5th season, 229-73).

Tournament History: The Eagles are making their fifth straight and 11th all-time World Series appearance (17-20). They beat Concordia 9-3 in the opening round last year before falling to LSU-Shreveport and Lee. They have never won a title. 

Season In A Nutshell: The Eagles’ odds at returning to Lewiston appeared slim after being eliminated from the Sun Conference tournament for the first time. But Embry-Riddle's overall body of work, which included a 21-6 conference record, netted them the top-seed in the Daytona Beach bracket, which they swept through while beating No. 15 Auburn-Montgomery twice to advance.

Key Players:

  • Jr. LHP Kevin Maloney (9-0, 1.68, 47-14 K-BB in 70 IP)
  • Jr. LHP Daniel Eaton (7-5, 2.68, 84-26 K-BB in 111 IP)
  • Jr. RHP Adam Paulencu (8-2, 2.49, 73-23 K-BB in 90 IP)

Overview: As usual, Embry-Riddle is loaded with pitching. The Eagles enter Lewiston with one of the best staff’s in the nation with a 3.01 team ERA. Daniel Eaton ate up 111 innings for Embry-Riddle, second best in the country. Offensively, the Eagles average seven runs on 10 hits per game—both within the top 15 percent of all NAIA schools. Their .961 fielding percentage is also a strength coming into the tournament.

Interesting Facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Called “The Harvard of the Sky” by Time Magazine in 1979, Embry-Riddle specializes in aviation and aerospace engineering.

 

LEWIS-CLARK STATE COLLEGE (No. 6 national seed)

Record: 41-12. Preseason Ranking: 11. Ranking at end of regular season: 10.

Head coach: Gary Picone (2nd season, 79-29).

Tournament History: As the NAIA World Series host team from 1983-91 and 1999-present, the Warriors are making their 14th straight and 31st all-time appearance (119-37). Last year, after beating Tennessee-Wesleyan on day one, they suffered back-to-back losses to Oklahoma City and Lee, ending Lewis-Clark’s season. They have won 16 titles—the last of which came in 2008, wrapping up a three-peat as national champions.

Season In A Nutshell: Because the Warriors receive an automatic berth in the World Series and don’t play in the NAIA opening round, they significantly beef up their regular season competition—playing tournaments against D-II and D-III schools throughout the season. They more than held their own this year, going 11-2 against those teams. The Warriors were the regular season champions of the NAIA West, finishing 22-6. With no conference tournament held, Lewis-Clark has endured an 18-day layoff since its last game, where it took two out of three in a D-III tournament.      

Key Players:

  • Sr. 2B Trent Bridges (.396/.480/.622, 4 HR, 32 RBI in 164 AB)
  • Sr. 1B Alfonso Casillas (.372/.431/.650, 10 HR, 62 RBI in 180 AB)
  • Fr. RHP Michael Noteware (9-2, 2.03, 64-11 K-BB in 80 IP)

Overview: Picone’s squad is one of the most balanced team’s in the tournament. They were second in the nation in hits per game (11.7) and sixth with eight runs per game. Nearly every hitter in their lineup gets on base at an outstanding rate and they score runs with several gap-to-gap hitters (second in the nation with 2.5 doubles per game). Lewis-Clark had eight pitchers make starts for them this year, limiting opposing hitters to a .227 batting average and compiling a 3.04 ERA – 6th and 10th in the nation, respectively. They have a versatile bullpen, relying on several guys who also double as position players. Junior outfielder Mitchell Wilhite (2-1, 2.25) held opposing hitters to a .202 batting average while notching four saves. Continuity and established roles aren’t often used to describe the Warriors pitching staff. They entered the season returning just five pitchers who combined for eight decisions in 55 games last year. They really aren’t a home run-hitting team, and had just two hitters that slug over .600 (Bridges and Casillas). They don’t pose a legitimate threat on the bases, with only one player with double-digit steals (Sr. OF Jordan Payne, 18-21). 

Notable Alumni:

  • LCSC has graduated several former and active major league players. Most recently, the Indians selected Beau Mills with the 13th overall pick in 2007. Other players include Mariners SS Brendan Ryan (2003), former relief pitcher Keith Foulke (1994) and Barry Bonds’ personal pinch-runner, OF Jason Ellison (2000).

 

PIONEER PARK (PA.) UNIVERSITY (No. 7 national seed)

Record: 51-9. Preseason Ranking: NR. Ranking at end of regular season: T-12.

Head coach: Loren Torres (3rd season, 102-48).

Tournament History: The Pioneers are making their first appearance since 1998 and their 11th all-time World Series appearance (10-20). They have never won a title. 

Season In A Nutshell: Point Park gained 13 more wins than last year and could continue to add to that. They went a perfect 11-0 in the American Mideast Conference and received an at-large bid in the Marion (Ind.) bracket after a runner-up finish in the unaffiliated tournament—which invites the top two teams from three conferences (AMC, Gulf Coast Atlantic and Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic). They swept through the opening round and tied a school record with 51 wins and counting.

Key Players:

  • Sr. RHP Derek Peluso (9-1, 2.23, 73-22 K-BB in 73 IP)
  • So. RHP Manny Perdomo (7-0, 1.47, 41-23 K-BB in 55 IP)
  • Sr. RHP Mike Tullio  (6-4, 1.92, 14 SV, 19-8 K-BB in 52 IP)

Overview: Pitching is the name of the Pioneers' game thanks to an improved staff that’s missing more bats than last year. Their top four starters all have ERAs under 2.50. Pioneer Park’s team ERA (2.96) ranks seventh in the nation and their bullpen has been equally lights out. Mike Tulio, Horacio Acosta (1.31 in 21 IP) and Jon Corcoran (0.00 in 12 IP) have given Torres three quality options to choose from should either of Peluso or Perdomo exit early. Offensively, the Pioneers are an extremely patient team—drawing more walks than strikeouts—as they carry a .431 on-base percentage into Lewiston and average 7.4 runs per game. Lee Bodnar (.333/.431/.464, 2 HR, 47 RBI in 207 AB) leads Pioneer Park in total bases with 96. The Pioneers have a .955 fielding percentage. Bodnar has 23 errors at the hot corner, while Dillon Sauers and Tom Birko each have 14 at shortstop and second base, respectively. While the offense has the potential to score some runs, they’ve been inconsistent and have left a lot of runners on base due to a lack of power (.414 slugging percentage). Pioneer Park is not a threat to steal bases with only one player with double digit steals (Birko, 11-13).

Interesting Facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Tigers infielder Don Kelly (2001, 8th round)
  • Yale baseball coach John Stuper (1978, 18th round)
  • Dennis Miller (1976), American stand-up comedian, political commentator, actor, sports commentator, and television and radio personality.

 

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA-BEAUFORT (No. 8 national seed)

Record: 40-17. Preseason Ranking: NR. Ranking at end of regular season: T-15.

Head coach: Bryan Lewallyn (1st season, 40-17).

Tournament History: The Sand Sharks are making their first appearance to the World Series. This is just the fourth year South Carolina-Beaufort has had a baseball program. 

Season In A Nutshell: With their backs up against the wall in the Hardeeville (S.C.) bracket in the opening round, the Sand Sharks rattled off five consecutive wins to advance to Lewiston, concluding what had been a roller-coaster couple of weeks. They finished second in the Sun Conference regular-season at 20-7, but were bounced from the conference tournament after losing their only two games. They received an at-large bid as the host team in the opening round of regionals, where the Sand Sharks dropped their first game to St. Thomas (Fla.) before rattling off multiple come-from-behind, late-inning victories. On May 12, they were down to their last out and scored three runs with two outs to come back from a five-run deficit against Union (Tenn.) and win 8-7. On the same day, knowing they would need to beat St. Thomas twice to advance to Lewiston, junior outfielder Blake Cilwick delivered a pinch-hit RBI single to plate the go-ahead run in the ninth inning. The Sand Sharks decided that enough was enough the second time against St. Thomas two days later, winning decisively 11-2.

Key Players:

  • Sr. LHP Michael Heesch (9-2, 2.13, 108-12 K-BB in 114 IP)
  • Sr. LHP Adam Miller (9-5, 3.12, 81-21 K-BB in 110 IP)

Overview: Both the offense and defense made improvements from last year, and those strides netted the Sand Sharks 11 more wins. South Carolina-Beaufort doesn’t do anything extremely well, but they’re a fundamentally sound team that can do a lot of things to win ballgames. Their team 3.31 ERA was within the top 15 in the nation. Very seldom do they walk hitters (2.2 BB/9). And their lineup produced about 10 hits per game. Once they get on base, they are one of the tournament’s most aggressive teams, swiping close to two bases a game. The Sand Sharks lack legitimate thunder in their lineup (.400 team slugging percentage). Outside of freshman righthander Junior Delatorre (1.42 in 25 IP), their bullpen doesn’t scare many teams. Their .959 fielding percentage was good enough for 42nd in the nation.

Interesting Facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Diamondbacks RHP Dexter Price is the first and only player to be drafted out of South Carolina-Beaufort (2011, 30th round). 

 

ROGERS STATE UNIVERSITY (No. 9 national seed)

Record: 45-14. Preseason Ranking: 19. Ranking at end of regular season: 23.

Head coach: Ron Bradley (8th season, 224-134 since becoming an NAIA institution in 2006).

Tournament History: The Hillcats are making their first appearance to the World Series. This is just the seventh year Rogers State has had a baseball program. 

Season In A Nutshell: Rogers State swept through the Hutchinson (Kan.) bracket by defeating two top-10 nationally ranked teams. They finished their regular season at 20-10 in the Sooner Athletic Conference, which featured four top 25 teams. They went 1-2 in the conference tournament, but had maintained their national ranking for most of the season. In the semifinals of the opening round, junior first baseman Cody Campbell delivered an RBI single in the 11th inning to defeat top-seeded Oklahoma Baptist 5-4. 

Key Players:

  • Jr. OF Eric Baker (.391/.472/.567, 4 HR, 37 RBI in 215 AB)
  • Jr. LHP Shawn Spainhoward (9-2, 2.87, 75-21 K-BB in 94 IP)

Overview: The Hillcats are a team built primarily on pitching and defense. Their .965 fielding percentage ranks 11th in the nation, and their pitching staff lowered its collective ERA by almost a full run better than the previous year. They have a number of reliable arms in the bullpen, including Tyler Garner (2-0, 3.03, 23-8 K-BB in 30 IP) and Casey Cassity (3-1, 3.16, 21-4 K-BB in 26 IP). Rogers State had four position players with doubl- digit steals and went a combined 105-130 as a team. Their .965 fielding percentage ranks 11th in the nation.

Interesting Facts/Notable Alumni:

  • Diamondbacks righthander Mat Sample became the first player to be drafted out of RSU (2011, 28th round). 

 

COLLEGE OF IDAHO (No. 10 national seed)

Record: 41-19. Preseason Ranking: NR. Ranking at end of regular season: NR.

Head coach: Shawn Humberger (12th season, 406-259-1)

Tournament History: The Coyotes are making their first World Series appearance since 2002 and their fifth all-time (13-7). They have won one title (1998). 

Season In A Nutshell: While unranked in the preseason and at the end of the regular season polls, the Coyotes were well-known to Top 25 teams this year, where the College of Idaho went 8-6 in those games. They placed second behind Lewis-Clark State in the NAIA West, finishing at 21-11. The Coyotes were knocked out of the conference tournament after losing to Menlo twice, but got revenge in the Azusa (Calif.) bracket in the opening round—shutting out Menlo 7-0 on Todd Griffiths’ complete game shutout. Azusa Pacific would force a rematch in the championship game, where Griffiths pitched on two days rest and went eight strong innings. The Coyotes won 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth as Tanner Hodges scored from third on a ground ball to first base—beating the throw home to send them back to the World Series.

Key Players:

  • Sr. OF Isaac Garsez (.396/.474/.687, 8 HR, 52 RBI in 230 AB)
  • Jr. RHP Taylor Nicholson (9-2, 2.47, 63-27 K-BB in 91 IP)
  • Jr. C Jarel Lewis (.374/.430/.592, 6 HR, 56 RBI in 211 AB) 

Overview: Arguably the most proficient defense in the nation, the Coyotes rank first in assists (684) and chances (2,355). Their pitching staff works deep into games and has guys who can throw multiple innings as swingmen, but have no one who can blow it by hitters with regularity. Averaging over seven runs a game, they are an aggressive team on the bases, with three players who have over 20 steals and six in double-digits. Outside of Garsez, they lack power, particularly in the bottom half of the lineup. They averaged almost 11 hits per game.

Notable Alumni:

  • Elgin Baylor, 11-time NBA all-star forward, played his first collegiate season at the College of Idaho in 1954-55. 

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