Heidelberg opens at top of DIII heap
Defending champ Illinois Wesleyan returns three key players
Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
During the next month, Division III teams across the nation will open play. Here’s a look at some of the serious contenders (rankings according to Collegiate Baseball):
No. 1 Heidelberg (42-8)
Fresh off their first appearance at the Division III Baseball World Series last May, the Student Princes look to build upon that experience with a wealth of talent and experience returning in 2001. Heidelberg welcomes back seven position players, four starting pitchers and their top reliever from last year’s squad that posted a program-best 42 victories. The three-time defending Ohio Athletic Conference champions will be led junior rightfielder Riccardo Lizcano (.445, 15 HR, 74 runs, 71 RBI) and third baseman Willie Brechun (.429, 26 doubles, 65 RBI), both who were named to the D3baseball.com Preseason All-America team. On the mound, starter Ethan Holt (9-1, 2.38 ERA) and closer Andy Lowe, the school’s career saves leader (30), will lead the charge.
• Opening Up: March 6 vs. Mount St. Joseph at Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla.
No. 2 SUNY-Cortland (40-10-1)
Pitching will be in the spotlight for the 2010 NCAA runner-up as they look to make another postseason run this year. Four pitchers with postseason wins in 2010 are back, including starters Travis Ratliff, Scott Hartline and Mike Assmann, who combined for a 20-7 record last year. The Red Dragons return just one position starter – second baseman Matt June (.414, 12 doubles, 33 RBI), a member of the 2010 Division III World Series All-Tournament Team. Cortland will rely upon seven transfers to reload the offensive lineup including outfielder Zach Gracyzk (C.W. Post) and shortstop Mike Casbona (Orange County CC). SUNY-Cortland will host the Division III New York Regional in Auburn, N.Y., for the second consecutive year at Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Cortland owns the longest active streak of NCAA Division III tournament appearances at 18.
• Opening Up: Feb. 19 at Christopher Newport
No. 3 Wisconsin-Stevens Point (34-18)
The Pointers return eight position starters and five of their top six pitchers from last year’s squad that advanced to the Division III World Series. Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year Eric Fritz headlines the Pointers’ offense after turning in a league-leading .397 batting average last year, along with 18 doubles and 91 hits that paced the conference. Scott Williams and Joe Delorit, both All-WIAC selections in 2010, are back after combining to post a 19-6 record on the mound. The team’s season was pushed back two weeks due cancelations caused by the Metrodome collapse in December.
• Opening Up: March 19 vs. Oglethorpe in Auburndale, Fla.
No. 4 Kean (39-5)
Senior outfielders Ken Gregory and Nick Nolan highlight a group of seven solid returning position starters as the Cougars look to battle for another postseason run in 2011. Gregory, a second team Preseason All-American by D3baseball.com, led the New Jersey Athletic Conference in batting (.427), slugging percentage (.713) and doubles (23), while contributing 60 RBI. Nolan, the 2010 NJAC Player of the Year, will build upon last year’s stellar season of a .325 batting average, 62 RBI, 17 doubles, nine homers and 21 stolen bases. Sophomore Kevin Herget (7-1, 60 Ks) will anchor an experienced pitching staff that also has two hurlers returning after sitting out with injury in 2010. Last year’s squad ranked 10th in the nation with 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The Cougars will host the 2011 NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional.
• Opening Up: Feb. 23 vs. Stevens Tech
No. 5 Illinois Wesleyan (31-21)
Despite a fourth-place finish in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, the Titans won 11 of their last 12 games en route to the 2010 NCAA title. Their 21 losses last year was the most ever by a team that won the Div. III championship. Senior right-hander Jason Pankau put together an 11-2 record and 2.60 ERA last year, earning Second Team Preseason All-American recognition by D3baseball.com. Offensively, IWU returns its second- and third-best hitters from last year. Senior third baseman Jeff Grodeck, the Division III World Series MVP, batted .345 with 47 RBI, while junior catcher Mark McDermott (.337, 37 RBI) is back behind the plate. IWU has been chosen as the host of the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
• Opening Up: March 5 at Greenville College (Ill.)
No. 6 Shenandoah (38-10)
The Hornets welcome back a solid core of returnees, including five position starters and a group of pitchers that accounted for 32 of the team’s 38 victories last year. Senior right-hander/utility player Greg Van Sickler compiled an 8-3 record and 3.49 ERA on the mound, while batting .412 with 55 RBI to earn USA South Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. Senior centerfielder Kevin Brashears led last year’s squad with a .427 batting average and a school-record 90 hits, and ranked eighth in the nation with 1.52 runs scored per game. The Hornets are known for their offense, and ranked third in the nation with 10.8 runs per game, and seventh in batting with a .365 team average.
• Opening Up: Feb. 12 vs. King’s (Pa.)
No. 7 Johns Hopkins (44-7)
The Blue Jays return just two position starters from a squad that posted a school-record 44 victories and advanced to the Division III World Series last year, but their pitching staff looks full of talent and experience. Senior outfielder/first baseman Jesse Sikorski is a second team Preseason All-American by D3baseball.com after batting .387 with 13 homers and a .744 slugging percentage, while senior infielder Steve Bejsiuk also returns after contributing a .327 batting average and eight homers to the nation’s second-leading scoring offense last year. JHU junior Sam Eagleson looks to build upon an outstanding 2010 in which he compiled a 12-0 record and 2.51 ERA, earning ABCA All-Amerca honors and Centennial Conference Pitcher of the Year. Junior pitcher Alex Eliopoulos will add to the Blue Jays’ threat on the mound after posting a 10-1 record and 2.83 ERA last season.
• Opening Up: March 1 vs. Alvernia
No. 8 Wisconsin-Whitewater (42-7)
The Warhawks welcome back six position starters and all but two pitchers from last year’s staff. The solid group of returnees is highlighted by senior Jeff Donovan, who pitches and plays first base. A Preseason All-American by D3baseball.com, Donovan batted .348 with 13 homers and 68 RBI, while compiling a 4-1 record and 3.79 ERA on the mound. Anchoring the pitching staff will be senior Riley Tincher, who led the nation with a 13-1 record with a 3.87 ERA, while earning Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year accolades.
• Opening Up: March 4 vs. Concordia-Moorhead in Omaha, Neb.
No. 9 Birmingham Southern (34-5)
The Panthers are ready to pounce in 2011 with nine All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference players returning from last year’s squad, including D3baseball.com Preseason All-Americans Bruce Maxwell and Brandon Ricco. Maxwell, the 2010 SCAC Newcomer of the Year, led the league with 15 homers while knocking in 61 runs, while Ricco ranked second in the SCAC with a .473 batting average and contributed 56 RBI. Ricco, a second baseman, committed just four errors, garnering the 2010 Division III South Region Gold Glove Award from Rawlings.
• Opening Up: Feb. 4 at Trinity (Texas)
No. 10 UMass-Boston (32-17)
The Beacons return seven position starters from last year’s team that advanced to the Division III World Series for the first time after claiming the program’s first Little East Conference title. Senior second baseman Ryan Walsh will look to improve on his school-best .381 career batting average, while senior left-hander James Dalton anchors the pitching staff following an 8-2 season that was accompanied by a 2.82 ERA and 72 strikeouts.
• Opening Up: March 11 vs. Thomas More