Small Colleges: Division III Preview

When: May 27-31, 2012
Where: Appleton, Wis., Fox Cities Stadium
Who: Christopher Newport, Va. (34-8), Cortland, N.Y., State (39-7-1), Kean, N.J. (37-10), Marietta, Ohio (43-7), St. Thomas, Minn. (38-8), Webster, Mo. (35-12), Wheaton, Mass. (38-9), and Whitworth, Wash. (30-14-1)

Quick Facts: Eight-team double-elimination tournament. Marietta returns to the tournament after winning the national championship in 2011. Whitworth and Webster are making their first appearances. This marks the 13th year that Appleton has hosted the Championship.

Tournament History: The Division III Championship has been played annually at various sites since 1976, when Cal State Stanislaus took home the inaugural title under coach Jim Bowen. Marietta holds the record for the most championships won (five) and the record for most appearances at the championship tournament (22). Recent history shows that teams making their inaugural appearances at the championship fare well: Kean (2007) and George Fox, Oregon (2004) each went home as national champions after their first appearances, and Wheaton was runner-up in 2006 during its first Championship.

The Teams:

Christopher Newport Captains
Newport News, Va.
Coach: John Harvell (13th season)

Regular Season Recap: Christopher Newport began the season by winning 12 of its first 15 games and didn’t slow down much after that. The Captains combined for a .303 team batting average on the way to winning their second straight USA South Conference title.

Road to Appleton: After losing their first game in the South Regional to Messiah, Christopher Newport went on to win their next four against Lynchburg, Rowan, Shenandoah and Salisbury, avoiding elimination and winning the South Region Championship.

Key Players: Connor Madden leads the charge offensively for the Captains. The senior outfielder led Christopher Newport in RBIs (43), hits (60) and stolen bases (16) and started every game this season. Luke Saunders and Steven Keener also provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. On the mound, Greg Goldsmith and Nick Santalucia are the two main starters for the Captains, each with six wins apiece on the year. Junior reliever Matt Verdillo has been impressive with a 1.62 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 25 appearances.

Cortland State Red Dragons
Cortland, N.Y.
Coach: Joe Brown (13th season)

Regular Season Recap: After starting the year with three consecutive losses, Cortland State turned things around in a hurry. Cortland State (also known as SUNY Cortland) put up more than eight runs per game and batted .331 as a team, ending the season as SUNYAC champions for the 30th time in school history. The Red Dragons were especially impressive at home, going 17-1.

Road to Appleton: The Red Dragons swept their way through the New York Regional, winning all four games they played against Castleton State, Misericordia, and two games against Farmingdale State en route to an Appleton berth.

Key Players: Senior Matt June was the only player on the Cortland State roster to start all 47 regular season games this season. He provided a strong bat at the top of the order, hitting .348 and producing a team-best 34 RBIs. Junior ace Ray Angelucci led the staff at 11-1, 1.28.

Kean Cougars
Union, N.J.
Coach: Neil Ioviera (15th season)

Regular Season Recap: Kean played consistent, solid baseball throughout the 2012 regular season, scattering 10 losses throughout three months of regular season play and never hitting any serious rough patches. The Cougars had no problems in the conference tournament, winning three games as the No. 2 seed and earning the NJAC title.

Road to Appleton: Kean won the Mid-Atlantic regional by defeating Drew, Alvernia, Keystone, and finally Ramapo in the regional championship game. Kean senior pitcher Ryan Zamorsky was named the Mid-Atlantic Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

Key Players: Zamorsky, a senior lefthander, has posted a 0.92 ERA and 10-1 mark over 88 innings. Junior righthander Kevin Herget has also been a workhorse on the mound, with a 1.83 ERA and an impressive 110 strikeouts over 95 innings of work. Offensively, sophomore first baseman Joe O’Connor provides the most power, having given the Cougars five home runs and 41 RBIs while batting .354.

Marietta Pioneers
Marietta, OH
Coach: Brian Brewer (9th season)

Regular Season Recap: After winning the national championship last season the Pioneers appeared to pick up in 2012 right where they left off in 2011. Marietta was very impressive all around this season, posting a 43-7 record and winning as many as 11 straight at one point. The ‘Etta Express even went 18-1 on the road this season. The Pioneers were OAC champions for the second year in a row.

Road to Appleton: Marietta won easily in their first game of the Mideast Regional against La Roche before being upset in their second game by St. John Fisher. The Pioneers rebounded though, beating Washington & Jefferson, St. John Fisher in a rematch, and then defeating Manchester twice to win the Mideast Regional.

Key Players:  Marietta has players on each side of the ball that jump out at you. Senior shortstop Tim Saunders leads the team in the triple crown categories at .439/.513/.688 and with five home runs and 40 stolen bases in 43 tries. On the mound, senior righthander Austin Blaski has dominated, going 12-1, 0.93 with 103 strikeouts in 97 innings.

St. Thomas Tommies
St. Paul, Minn.
Coach: Chris Olean (3rd season)

Regular Season Recap: St. Thomas was an impressive 38-3 this season and arrives in Appleton despite not winning the MIAC conference title. During one stretch that spanned for nearly a month, the Tommies won 21 straight.

Road to Appleton: After losing the MIAC conference championship game to St. John’s, St. Thomas entered the Midwest Regional with something to prove. The Tommies showed just how good they are, sweeping through the regional in four games (including a 22-2 thumping of St. Scholastica in their third game).

Key Players: Sophomore Tim Kuzniar and senior Charles Bruchi have been consistent hitters in the St. Thomas lineup throughout 2012, with Bruchi playing in every game and Kuzniar appearing in all but one. On the mound, the Tommies rely heavily on senior lefty Bryce Gapinski (9-0, 1.51) and sophomore righty Steve Maher (12-1, 2.10 record with 94 strikeouts in 81 innings).

Webster Gorloks
St. Louis, Mo.
Coach: Bill Kurich (6th season)

Regular Season Recap: Webster was 35-12 this season en route to becoming SLIAC tournament champions. This year marks Webster’s third consecutive SLIAC championship. The Gorlocks began the regular season the same way they ended it: with consecutive losses. Despite the regular-season ending, Webster proceeded to win three straight games in the SLIAC tournament en route to the championship.

Road to Appleton: Webster swept through the Central Regional, beating Washington (Mo.), DePauw, and Birmingham-Southern, all in convincing fashion, and finally defeating Birmingham-Southern again in a one-run championship game. This will be Webster’s first appearance in Appleton.

Key Players: Senior Tom Henke is the most productive hitter on the Gorloks roster, batting .397/.462/.592 with seven home runs and having started all but one game during the regular season. He leads the team in every major offensive category. Junior righthander Cody Hafeli (9-1, 2.66) has been the team’s leading winner while senior David Mueller (8-2, 1.91) leads the team with 102 strikeouts in 85 innings. Versatile Steven Dooley (5-4, 2.75) leads the club with 88 innings pitched and seven saves while also starting eight games.

Wheaton (Mass.) Lyons
Norton, Mass.
Coach: Eric Podbelski (15th season)

Regular Season Recap: Wheaton had a 38-9 overall record in 2012 under veteran coach Eric Podbelski. After losing their first contest the Lyons went on to win 14 games in a row. Wheaton’s NEWMAC tournament championship victory gave the Lyons their third consecutive league title, the 12th for Wheaton all time.

Road to Appleton: After winning its first two games of the New England Regional against Bridgewater State and Western New England, Wheaton fell in game three to Western New England. This set up a championship game that pitted the Massachusetts rivals against each other for a third time in the Regional. Wheaton won the rubber match, 2-0, giving it a championship tournament berth.

Key Players: Sophomore infielder Sean Ryan pounded out hits for his team all season long, batting .389 and slugging .537 on the season. Apolinar De la Cruz was right behind Ryan, as the freshman first baseman hit .384 with a team-leading 46 RBIs during the regular season. Junior Frank Holbrook and sophomore Alex Palioca led the way for Wheaton on the pitching mound, as the two righthanders combined to go 17-0.

Whitworth Pirates
Spokane, Wash.
Coach: Dan Ramsay (4th season)

Regular Season Recap: Whitworth was 30-14-1 in 2012. The Pirates started off hot, winning 10 of their first 11 games before cooling off during the middle of the season. With a young lineup that regularly included predominantly freshmen and sophomores Whitworth had its most successful season in years, culminating in its first Northwest Conference title since 1991 and first postseason appearance in 20 years.

Road to Appleton: After winning the NWC Whitworth battled its way through the West Regional, winning its first game against La Verne before losing its second contest against Trinity (Texas). The Pirates came back the next day to beat No. 1 seed Concordia (Texas) and knocked off Trinity in their rematch, claiming the West Regional title. This is Whitworth’s first Appleton appearance.

Key Players: Sophomore Tyler Pfeffer leads the team in hitting with a .377/450/.721 slash line, including 12 home runs and 58 RBIs in 45 games. Senior Landon Scott and freshman Paul Miller have also produced, hitting .333 apiece. Freshman righthander Dan Scheibe has been the team’s top pitcher at 7-2, 2.49 and a team-high 91 strikeouts in 83 innings.