Image credit: Cal Baptist utility man Andrew Bash (Courtesy of Cal Baptist)
California Baptist is new to Division I. They’re so new, in fact, that you might not have realized until now that the Lancers are in Division I.
Under coach Gary Adcock, now in his 16th season at the helm, they transitioned from NAIA to Division II, beginning play in 2012. They began winning games at that level immediately, and by 2014, they were in the Division II postseason.
The 2019 season is the Lancers’ first at this level, and just like their last transition, they haven’t wasted any time winning games.
At 9-0 coming out of last weekend, with four-game sweeps of Northern Illinois and Ohio on their ledger, Cal Baptist was the first team this season to reach nine wins, and it is one of less than 20 teams still undefeated. It will look to stay among the undefeated ranks this weekend, when it takes on crosstown rival UC Riverside (3-6).
Cal Baptist has yet to play an expected regional team, but it does have a win over a power conference foe in Kansas State. And 9-0 is 9-0, regardless of the competition.
You also can’t forget that this is a Division II roster. A very good one—Cal Baptist has had 19 draft picks in the last decade, including big leaguer Trevor Oaks—and Adcock and his staff have been able to recruit with the promise of a move to Division I. But, still, they haven’t been operating on quite the same playing field as their new opponents.
At this point, however, that might be a positive, as the Lancers are motivated to prove that they can play at this level, even if most programs didn’t think so the first time around.
“It’s a chance to compete against Division I institutions for probably 95 percent of my roster who didn’t get recruited by Division I people,” Adcock said. “Whether it’s the edge, or the chip, or the extra layer of motivation, I think a lot of these guys were out to prove that they can play at the highest level of college baseball.”
Despite the roster deficiencies that come from moving up from Division II, where teams are allocated nine scholarships, Adcock and his staff were confident that they would at least be competitive in year one, thanks to some tests back in the fall.
Taking advantage of the rule change this year that allowed for up to two fall games to be played without being counted against a team’s 56-game limit, Cal Baptist hit the road and took on quality teams in Nevada-Las Vegas and Saint Mary’s. The staff saw first-hand that their talent level wasn’t all that far off.
“I looked at the people that we played, who I ultimately really respect, and after the game, during the game, during batting practice, I didn’t see much difference in our starters to theirs,” Adcock said. “So I thought, ‘You know what, we might be closer to competing at this level than even we thought, at least with our everyday starting position players and our frontline arms.’”
The Lancers are showing depth offensively, with five players hitting .300 or better so far and the team hitting 292/.380/.476 as a group.
Redshirt senior second baseman Luke Navigato makes Cal Baptist go out of the leadoff spot. A four-year contributor in the program, Navigato is hitting .421/.452/.763 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs. He’s also only struck out twice in 38 at-bats.
The best, and most versatile, all-around player to this point, is Andrew Bash. The Lancers’ leading hitter from 2018, Bash is at it again at the plate, hitting .324/.375/.486. He also gives the team good defensive versatility, as he’s seen time at catcher, right field and third base.
Bash has been even better as a pitcher, where he’s going to be a key piece of the Cal Baptist rotation. In two starts this season, with 12 innings under his belt, the redshirt junior righthander is 1-0, 1.50 with 13 strikeouts, one walk and an .196 opponent average.
He’s just one of a whole host of pitchers off to fantastic starts, though, and as good as the offense has been, Cal Baptist has been more dominant on the mound. Senior righthander Angel Delgado hasn’t allowed an earned run in his 12 innings across two starts, sophomore righthander Jorge Valerio has a 1.50 ERA in two starts and 12 innings, and the righthanded relief quartet of sophomore Jacob McCarvel, senior Matt Mogollon, senior Travis Booth and junior Matt Amrhein has combined to allow only two earned runs in 19 innings of work.
Friday starter Logan Rinehart is also off to a solid start with a 3.00 ERA in nine innings of work, but he was limited to just two innings in his last start after he felt some stiffness on a 40-degree day.
The Cal Baptist coaching staff will take it slow with Rinehart to play it safe, but it’s not expected that this will be a major setback for him. Upon his return, he could be a real game-changer for the Lancers. He pitched well in the Cape Cod League last summer, striking out 16 in 15 innings of work, and he’ll look to successfully take on even more responsibility after serving in a swing role last season.
Adcock and his staff getting their pitching right ahead of moving up to Division I was no accident.
“This transition I saw coming a little bit more (than the previous move from NAIA),” Adcock said. “While we might not have talked about, I saw it coming a little bit more, so I was able to kind of prepare in recruiting. Make the switch and the transition appropriately. Build some more pitching depth. Get some more middle infield. The two things that we really looked at from DII to DI that we thought were the difference are probably athleticism and pitching depth.”
While they haven’t played any regional contenders to this point, that will change fairly quickly.
In an eight-game road stretch in mid-to-late March, Cal Baptist has series against UC Santa Barbara and Grand Canyon, as well as midweek games against Arizona State and San Diego State.
Those types of big games will also have to stand in for the Lancers’ postseason, because they aren’t eligible for the NCAA Tournament for four years as part of the Division I transition arrangement.
That might be a drag, but for this particular group of players, simply getting the chance to compete and prove themselves at this level is enough.
“I don’t know what year two, and three, and year four look like, but I do know what year one looks like,” Adcock said. “I even sat down with one of my seniors in the dugout, Luke Navigato, who is having a great year, and I asked him in the middle of the game, I said, ‘Luke, chance to compete for a DII title or a chance to do this?’ And he said, ‘This. Compete in Division I.’
“It’s the chip on your shoulder of, ‘How come I didn’t get recruited to Division I?’ We have a Division II roster. I believe maybe one of our players was offered a Division I scholarship. In year one, we’ve really played the card of no one knows who you are, no one cares who you are, try to show who you are.”
With a 9-0 record and with veteran talent all over the field, we know a lot more about who Cal Baptist is now. As the season rolls on, the Lancers hope to help a lot more opponents learn about them the hard way.