Summit League Preview
SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
Team to Beat: Oral Roberts. No team dominates its conference more than Oral Roberts does the Summit League. Outside of its two-year stint in the Southland Conference from 2013-14, ORU has won or shared the Summit regular season title every season since first joining the conference in 1998. The Golden Eagles went 22-8 in Summit play last year despite running out a relatively inexperienced lineup, which means even bigger things could be in store for 2017. The middle-of-the-order triumvirate of star catcher Matt Whatley (.363/.469/.562, 8 HR), power hitting senior first baseman Brent Williams (.297/.328/.448, 8 HR) strong-armed junior right fielder Noah Cummings (.364/.426/.527, 6 HR) are all back. Athletic senior leadoff man Nick Rotola (.319/.399/.419) is still in the fold as well, though he could get a push from junior college transfer Dylan Snypes, whose speed and plate discipline made a strong impression in the fall. Several key pieces return on the mound as well, led by ace Bryce Howe (6-5, 3.72) and senior closer Brady Womacks (2-2, 1.22, 14 SV).
|2017 Top 10 Prospects|
|1. Matt Whatley, c, Oral Roberts|
|2. Brady Womacks, rhp, Oral Roberts|
|3. Luke Ringhofer, c, South Dakota State|
|4. Brent Williams, 1b, Oral Roberts|
|5. Ryan Cate, 1b/rhp, Nebraska-Omaha|
|6. Tony Kjolsing, ss, South Dakota State|
|7. Adam McGinnis, c, Western Illinois|
|8. Bryce Howe, rhp, Oral Roberts|
|9. Austin Kost, rhp, South Dakota State|
|10. Preston Church, lhp, Western Illinois|
Player of the Year: Matt Whatley, c, Oral Roberts. The Summit freshman of the year two seasons ago and an all-conference performer last year, Whatley is the league’s premier talent and impacts both sides of the ball.
Pitcher of the Year: Bryce Howe, rhp, Oral Roberts. Entering his third year in ORU’s rotation, Howe is as steady as they come, working his three-pitch mix off of an 88-92 mph fastball.
Freshman of the Year: Javin Drake, rhp, Western Illinois. Drake won’t overpower opponents with his upper 80s fastball, but he shows command of four pitches at his best. He’ll try to boost a WIU staff that finished at the bottom of the conference in ERA last season.
Notable Storylines: IPFW has improved its win total in three straight seasons and set a program record with 33 last year, to go with a third place finish in the conference. Further improvement in 2017 won’t come easily though, as the Mastodons lose their top three hitters and two weekend starters from last year. Senior righthanders Jordan Martin (3-1, 3.30, 2 SV) and Jake Weber (3-4, 4.54, 13 SV) will need to come through as they transition from the bullpen to the rotation . . . Two of the Summit’s six teams have new coaches in 2017. South Dakota State hired Rob Bishop away from Division II Montana State-Billings after Dave Schrage left for Butler, while Nebraska-Omaha, despite finishing in second place last year, fired longtime head coach Bob Herold, a move that caught many around the program, including Herold himself, by surprise. Assistant coach Evan Porter, a former UNO player, was elevated to the head job. The Mavericks boasted both the Summit player (Clayton Taylor) and pitcher (Tyler Fox) of the year last year, both of whom are now gone. But all-conference two-way player Ryan Cate is back (.317/.373/.448; 1-2, 5.28, 5 SV), and he and junior outfielder Adam Caniglia (.310/.373/.419, 3 HR) will be looked to as the guys that make UNO go . . . Western Illinois hasn’t had a winning season in conference play since 2008 but expects to compete in 2017 with a lineup led by sparkplug junior leadoff man Roman Visintine (.345/.391/.421), along with four seniors. Sophomore righthander Ian Koch (3-6, 4.72) showed promise in earning the Friday starter’s role last year, and the return of junior lefty Preston Church (0-2, 4.88) should help as well. Church was WIU’s Opening Day starter last year but was limited to five appearances. The Leathernecks will need him at his best and their other young arms to keep progressing as they try to improve last year’s league-worst 6.00 team ERA.
Tournament: Four teams, double-elimination. May 24-27 at Johnson Stadium in Tulsa, Okla.