The road to Cary begins this weekend as Division II baseball season is set to commence. West Chester ended last season on top of the DII world, surviving the eight-team battle in Grand Prairie, Texas, taking home its second championship in six years.
So how do those final eight teams look heading into 2018? Does anyone have an easy route back to North Carolina for this year’s championships? A quick look around the regions should show what to expect this season.
West Chester returns quite a few big pieces from its championship squad. Mike Cipolla and Jon Fisher pitched significant innings in Dallas and should anchor an impressive staff. They did lose closer Josh McClain — the tournament’s Most Outstanding Players — but have enough pieces that should fill the void.
There are strong teams lurking in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference alone, never mind the Atlantic region. Mercyhurst returns one of the stronger pitching staffs in DII, with Russell Lamovec, Vincenzo Lucente, Chase Vallimont and Matthew Minnick all back on the bump. Head coach Jon Shehan always seems to throw together a contender in Millersville. Eli Nabholz is coming off a big sophomore campaign in which he went 7-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 93 strikeouts in just 78 innings. Seton Hill may be a team to keep on the radar as well. The Griffins made it to the PSAC Championship game last season and return some nice pieces like home run leader MP Buckley and Craig Lewis and Tom McCarthy who tied for the team lead in batting average at .379.
The Atlantic region suffers the same fate as both the East and the Central. Teams play their early slate in unfavorable, winter conditions, if they even play consistently at all. Whoever can figure out their offense and pitching the quickest has a big advantage down the stretch.
Speaking of the East, St. Thomas Aquinas made a nice run, as one of the last three teams standing in Dallas. Giovanni Dingcong’s monster bat returns to the heart of this lineup after hitting .302 with 20 home runs, including a few highlight reel blasts in Dallas. Frankie Moscatiello also returns as ace, earning East Coast Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year honors. The three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen — George Navadel, Chad Sinko, and Chris Pennell — has been split up with only Sinko not lost to graduation. The Spartans were nearly unbeatable when they were able to get those three the ball.
This region will likely be a battle between the Spartans and Southern New Hampshire. Head coach Scott Loiseau has built a Northeast-10 powerhouse in the Penmen. The Penmen have won 93 games over the past two seasons, each year falling one game short of the final eight. There’s no reason to expect anything less in ’18.
Lindenwood was one of a few pleasant surprises to find themselves in Dallas last year. The Lions advanced as underdogs in the region and then shutout Delta State in the first round of the championship for their first-ever win in the finals. Brendan Feldmann, who pitched deep into that shutout, is graduated, as is Connor Law, the Lions’ reliever who closed out the game. Wes Degener and Drew Quinones, the team’s top hitters, do return to lead a solid lineup, so while the road may be tough, they have the pieces in place to make another run.
As always, Emporia State will loom large in the Central region as will Minnesota State. Dalton Roach is coming off of a 10-1 season that saw him post a 1.56 ERA with a 13.29 strikeout-per-nine rate and a 10.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was rewarded with DII Pitcher of the Year honors and anchors another solid Mavericks’ staff in 2018.
The Midwest region was one of the more compelling storylines of the 2017 postseason. Northwood completed one of the biggest turnarounds in DII and not only made its first postseason tournament, but earned the No. 1 seed. Kentucky Wesleyan advanced to the regionals by upsetting the No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed, winning on a wild pitch in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship. St. Joseph’s (IN) advanced to regionals playing an inspired season in their final year as a program.
None of those teams were the one who advanced. Instead, it was Quincy who found its way to Dallas, making its first appearance in the Championship in program history. The Hawks ace, Graham Spraker is gone as is their star second baseman Jake Walters, but this team returns quite a bit of its star power that got them to the finals last year. J.C. Demuri, Troy Wehde, and Nolan Snyder, three of the team’s top four hitters return as does Riley Martin, Alex Pribyl and Cole Crawford looking to build off their postseason experience on the mound.
The Hawks biggest obstacle will be a Northwood team that fell just short of an improbable run to the finals last season. The Timberwolves lost some big hitters in Connor Foley and Daniel Pulver, but return David Vinsky who finished second in DII with a .449 average as a freshman. Ian Dimitrie Tyler Jandron, and Matt Pearsall combined to make 39 starts last season, and all three return for their senior seasons. Northwood should be a team to watch from start to finish. Southern Indiana is a team to always watch as well. The Screaming Eagles return their best hitter in Drake McNamara -- who’s .368 average, seven home runs and 43 RBI were all team bests -- and ace Kyle Griffin to the bump. They will be highly ranked all season.
Delta State may be the best team in DII heading into the season. They return a few big guns that got the Statesmen to Dallas last year. Zack Shannon — a two-way star at first base and the bullpen — hit .434 with 19 home runs last season en route to DII Player of the Year honors. Outfielder Clay Casey also raked, hitting .333 with 17 home runs. Junior right-hander Seth Birdsong will ace a rebuilding pitching staff, coming off of a 10-2, 3.01 ERA, 83 strikeout season.
Interested in more? The Wild West Region is sure to pump out some MLB Draft prospects, as is the South Central. You can see the whole article here: