Mideast Regional Preview

Jack Peck got a regional win over Webster as DePauw finished third in their regional playoff series.
DePauw athletics photo

By John Skomra
for D3baseball.com

The 2014 Mideast season preview showed tremendous potential for exciting baseball all spring and the season held up to expectations. Some of the usual teams ended up with regional bids but new faces as well made the playoffs. The routes taken to get there were anything but easy. 

We had a rare treat of seeing four teams from one conference (Ohio Athletic Conference) playing regional playoff baseball. We saw Baldwin-Wallace make easy work of its regional opponents as it made a deep World Series run. Case Western played consistent baseball before falling in the regional final. The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association had a tight race for the top spot, something that has been a landslide in years past. The La Roche-Penn State-Behrand rivalry got bumped up a notch in the race for 30 wins. With this much fun in 2014, expectations for the 2015 could not be higher.

Can Marietta, a team that lost virtually no one, ascend back to the top of the OAC? Can Calvin or Hope put the finishing touches on Adrian and knock them off the top of the MIAA? DePauw made an exciting run before falling short in the regional last spring. Do the Tigers have what it takes to back there or will Wooster bounce back from a playoff-less 2014 to claim the NCAC title. As the snow in the Great Lakes area disappears and sun finally shines, who makes the run to Appleton in 2015? Let’s take a look.

New Faces

Chad Fitzgerald, Heidelberg: Fitzgerald takes over the helm in Tiffin for the Student Princes. A seven-year staff member, Fitzgerald was elevated to Associated Head Coach in 2011. Under the headship of former head coach Matt Palm, Fitzgerald has engineered successful OAC pitching staffs season after season. Coach Fitzgerald looks to bring the ‘Berg back to the postseason again in 2015.

John Rypel, Calvin: Rypel enters his first season under at Calvin College. The former head coach of Gordon, Rypel takes over a program that had second-most wins in school history in 2014. Rypel amassed 58 wins at Gordon and broke 23 school records as a team. Expectations at Calvin have been set for the postseason following the 2014 season and Rypel hopes to expand that even further.

Tyler Ferguson has 22 career wins for the La Roche Redhawks and is tied for with James Connelly for the program career wins record.
La Roche athletics photo

Conference Previews

Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference: La Roche looks to be primed for a big season in the Allegheny Mountain this spring. The Redhawks return a group of strong seniors including LHP Tyler Ferguson (11-4, 2.56 ERA, 107 SO), 2B Colin Feikles (.435 BA, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 42 R, .718 SLG.) and LF Franzee Barlamas (.401 BA, 44 RBI, 40 R). In an extremely top heavy conference, La Roche will make light work of the bottom of the division. Along with Behrend, La Roche are the favorites to top the standings. The Redhawks were bounced from the Mideast Regional a season ago but expectations remain high for La Roche.

Penn State-Behrend returns to action this spring after a 31-win campaign. The Lions return twenty-one letter winners in what looks to be another battle atop the AMCC. Sophomore Brian Bohman (.362 BA, 51 H, 2 HR, 24 RBI) captains a fierce group of talent in hunt for a NCAA Regional bid.

Pat McHenry was named the 2014 AMCC  Newcomer of the Year and also took first team All-Conference honors as a DH.
Penn State-Altoon athletics photo

Penn State-Altoona enters 2015 hopeful of mimicking the success of its counterpart in Erie. The Lions in Altoona have struggled as of late and look for a turn of the stakes this spring. Sophomore 1B/DH Pat McHenry was the AMCC's Newcomer of the Year and first team All-Conference, a first team ECAC DIII South Region All-Star, and a first team ABCA/Rawlings All-Mideast Region pick last season and could be poised for another big campaign in 2015. 

If there is one team that is set up to make a strong run this year it is the Mount Aloysius Mounties. Derrick Capiak (AMCC Pitcher of the Year and 2nd Team All-Region) and Connor Bowie (1st Team All AMCC and ABCA All-Mideast Region) captain a program that is set to battle La Roche and Behrend at the top. The Mounties return all starters and starting rotation from a season ago. Don’t sleep on the Mounties in 2015.

Chad Jacob leads a strong returning squad at Pitt Greensburg into the spring. The senior hit .401 with 59 hits, six home runs and 41 runs batted in. With expectations at the bottom of the conference to be weak, the Bobcats will have to prove they deserve the a top ranking by beating talented La Roche and Behrend teams to earn the AMCC crown. Pitt Bradford enters 2015 poised for another 20-win season. The Panthers will rely on their returners from a year ago to make a splash in the AMCC. Losers of all its game against top opponents a year ago, Pitt Bradford will need to show stability against the top tier of the conference.

The struggling programs in Buffalo attempted to make small strides this spring. As the snow thaws, the optimism of a little success pushes these baseball teams through. Hilbert, Medaille, and D’Youville will likely take the back seat again in the AMCC but consistently competitive is the aim in hopes of turning these programs around.

Manchester's Jordan Nieman will be back in 2015 after an injury last year.
Manchester athletics photo

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference: Manchester will enter the spring looking for its seventh HCAC baseball title including a sixth straight conference tournament appearance. Last season, the Spartans eventually bowed out to Rose-Hulman in the final game of the Heartland tournament. Manchester returns 2014 conference MVP Trevor Kimm (.347 BA, 9 HR, 44 RBI). The Spartans were selected to as preseason favorites and anything less than a conference championship would be a major disappointment.

Rose-Hulman rallied after a third place regular season finish in 2014, streaking into the regional before falling in the championship round. The Engineers are looking for just its second HCAC title. They will return All-HCAC player Kody Alayon (.393 BA, 59 H, 20 RBI) among others in a very strong squad in Terre Haute. Buckle your seats for a strong finish in the HCAC between the Spartans and Fightin’ Engineers for the automatic bid to the regional. 

Anderson Ravens enter the spring after a nice 2014 but fell in the HCAC tournament to Manchester. Anderson returns two All-HCAC first-team members from last season's team.  Senior catcher Cole Heberling led the Ravens lineup, hitting .354 with 31 runs scored, 38 RBI, and 15 doubles a year ago. Jake Craft supplied the tenacity of the Ravens with eleven dingers and forty-four RBIs. Expectations are high in Anderson to catapult them to the summit of the Heartland.

Jameson Brooks is a starting defensive back for Franklin football as well as an outfielder for the baseball squad.
Franklin athletics photo

The Grizzlies of Franklin College are returning all five of its starting infielders from a season ago. This has led to high expectations on campus. Franklin boasts the longest active consecutive postseason conference tournament appearance in the league at seven with high prospects of making that eight. Senior SS Mitch Frey and P Seth Powers hope to build off admirable campaigns a year ago to lead the Grizzlies to a conference championship for the first time since 2009. 

HCAC Freshman of the Year Luke Hickey leads the Bluffton Beavers, hoping to build off a 21-win campaign of a year ago. The Beavers have been hovering around the .500 mark for several consecutive seasons. Nate Simonds and Ben Roeschley head a strong pitching staff that may elevate the Beavers to the next level and a HCAC title.

After some lowly seasons dating back to 2010, the Earlham Quakers showed some major improvements a season ago. The expectations to expand on their consistency in 2015 are heightened with senior P Matt Brankle slotted as the ace for the Quackers. Along with Brankle, the Thomas Rea (.391 BA ,61 H, 21 RBI) leads the offensive talent in Richmond this spring.

The Transylvania University Pioneers baseball team enter in 2015 primed to make some noise in the HCAC. Transy has been consistently average over the past few seasons but with a number of returners taking the field, the Pioneers will work to fight for a HCAC postseason berth. Hanover, Mount St. Joseph, and Defiance wrap up the Heartland conference looking to improve their programs and raise the level of play in 2015.

Adrian will have an early season test as they start play at No. 18 Birmingham-Southern.
Adrian athletics photo

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletics Association: Once again, residents of the top spot in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference are the Bulldogs of Adrian. Adrian returns a pair of preseason award nominees in pitcher Eric Schmidt and SS Ryan Dorow. Dorow was crowned Freshman of the Year by D3baseball.com while Schmidt boasted a 7-0 stint with a 3.16 ERA in 57 IP. The Bulldogs fell to eventual National Champions Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Regional final a year ago and look to lay claim to a berth in Appleton this spring. With major disparity between the top spots in MIAA and the lower end, expect Adrian to reach 30 victories and be crowned conference champions once again for the eighth straight season.   

Calvin comes off its best season in recent times amassing 28 victories a year ago. New head coach John Rypel leads the Knights with a talented group with a good core from last year. The depth of the team may be a deciding factor for the ability to win games consistently. Senior centerfielder Grant Van Putten (.355 BA, 43 R, 59H) leads an offense out to prove themselves for a second consecutive season.

A 2013 season to remember turned into a 2014 disappointment for the Hope Dutchmen.  After an impressive 27 victory campaign two year back, last year saw Hope drop to just 21 victories and two losses to rival Calvin in the MIAA tournament. With the loss of Tim Bodine, Hope may in line for another setback. Pitcher Austin Goodyke (2.60 ERA, 62.1 IP) will lead the Dutchmen staff with eyes on postseason push but do not expect Adrian to be derailed.  

Scott Devine will be a Captain for the Hornets for a second year.
Kalamazoo athletics photo

In only his second season, Mike Ott took the Kalamazoo Hornets from 8th in the league to 4th and securing a spot in the MIAA tournament. For just the third time in eight seasons, the Hornets eclipsed the 15-win mark recording 17 victories in 2014. This spring, K-zoo returns a majority of its players to a very talented Mike Ott-recruited squad. In the field and at the plate senior OF Scott Devine hopes to surpass his marks of a year ago to lead to the Hornets again, into the postseason. 

Trine took a major step back last season after successful 2012 and 2013 campaigns. The Thunder struggled offensively a year ago hitting a subpar.250 as a team. Infielder Jordan Baer will have to carry a depleted offensive with hopes to match with the upper echelon of the MIAA.

Over the last couple seasons, the Alma Scots have slowly improved and have threatened some of the top teams in the MIAA. Alma enters 2015 with hopes of the cracking the .500 benchmark and compete for the chance for postseason ball.

Albion will ride the coattails of junior Michael Fischbach (.402 BA 5 HR, 30 RBI), the MIAA’s most consistent hitter from a year ago with intentions to end the streak of non 20-win seasons, a streak that extends from 2007.

The Olivet Comets look to get back to their winning ways in 2015 after winning a lowly ten games last spring. Despite the woes of last spring, a senior-heavy squad hopes to rebound with a 20-win campaign. Expectations for the conference tournament may be farfetched at this point, however.

Frank Vance closed the 2014 season hitting safely in 27 of his last 43 at bats (.628).
Wooster athletics photo

North Coast Athletics Conference: A sweep by DePauw of the Fightin’ Scots saw Wooster’s playoff dreams flame up last season. Wooster looks likely to bounce back to contend regionally and nationally in 2015. Senior Frank Vance powers an offense this year that lost some of its big hitters a year ago. The three major inning-eater starts for the Scots in 2014 have graduated so the youngsters will have to step up to allow the Scots a chance for a deep playoff run. Nonetheless, Wooster will be in contention for the conference despite the loss at the top of the pitching rotation. 

Seven starters return for DePauw this spring. The 2014 North Coast Athletic Conference Champion Tigers finished the season third in the regional, making their second appearance in three seasons. Cory Meixner leads the offense after losing three quality hitters from a year ago. Senior Jake Peck (3.07 ERA, 55.2 IP, 40 SO) plans to ace the staff for the Tigers. DePauw and Wooster will likely battle for the top stops in their respective division which will make a fun NCAC Tournament.

Charlie Apfelbach (.358 BA, 4 HR, .470 OBP) and the 2015 Denison Big Red charge into this spring with high hopes for a NCAC crown. NCAC West Division champs a season ago, the Big Red stumbled in its final ten winning just four games to see its playoff dreams smashed.  Denison will come out with a chip on its shoulder to earn that NCAC Tournament berth and avenge the disappointing ending of a season ago.

Zach Gray finished the 2014 season second on the team with a .346 batting average.
Allegheny athletics photo by Ed Mailand.

Coming off back-to-back 25-win seasons, the Allegheny Gators are primed for another strong campaign in 2015. A quick bounce in last season’s NCAC tournament left a lot to be wondered about what could have been. Expectations remain high in Meadville. Senior Zach Gray (.346 BA, 12 2B) aims to step into the offensive role to catapult this team back into the postseason. 

Wabash enters the spring trying to rejuvenate what has been a stagnant program for several seasons now. The Little Giants have failed to muster anything more than about. 500. The loss of JT Miller has left large shoes to fill but Josh Piercey (4.53 ERA, 47 IP, 40 SO) hope to compete to fill that void.

Hiram has played the role of ‘easy win’ for seasons but that changed last season. The Terriers edged out fifteen victories last season and hope to use that momentum this year to play spoiler or maybe even contend in the NCAC. To do so, Hiram will rely heavily on senior Jaren Bell (.389 BA, 2 HR, 15 RBI).

Following a woeful season last year, the Battling Bishops of Ohio Wesleyan enter 2015 with a new sense of optimism. A fairly young team a year ago, Wesleyan has gained some necessary experience to compete to win in the NCAC. Sophomore Aaron Strausbaugh looks to build off an impressive freshman campaign to help the Bishops vie for a top spot in the conference. Kenyon comes off a challenging 13-win season looking to make major strides. Jake Dunn hit .416 with 62 hits including 4 homers and 25 RBI.

Oberlin and Wittenberg round out the conference hopeful to make strides from a year ago to contend. Oberlin has consistently sat around the .500 mark however some young talent may elevate the on-field performance this season. The Tigers of Wittenberg are aiming for small strides in a program that has lost its luster in the past few seasons.

Christian Herstine was named a 2015 D3baseball.com Preseason All-American in January.
Marietta athletics photo

Ohio Athletic Conference: The preseason number 10 Marietta Pioneers enter this spring with something to prove. The Etta Express finished 30-16 in 2014 winning the OAC regular season championship. Marietta will look to pitcher Christian Herstine (9-1, 1.20 ERA) to command the Pio pitching staff. The junior was a first team All-American by d3baseball.com last season. Chris Wingipler (.376 BA All-OAC All Mideast, Preseason All-American) and Mitch Geers (14 2B and 5 HR) lead the Pioneers offense this spring.  Boasting the toughest schedule in the nation last season, this season will not be different. Eight opponents fall into the top 30 in the nation preseason voting.

Heidelberg junior Derek Hug, a 2014 All-American, leads new head coach Chad Fitzgerald and the Student Princes into 2015.  Hug hit .400 and drove in 48 runs last season. Senior outfielder Trevor Oldham (49 H, .350 BA) adds to an experienced ‘Berg squad. After a drop in 2013, Heidelberg showed great promise during the regular season campaign contriving another 30 victory season before being bounced from both conference and regional tournament play in just four games. Sitting just outside the preseason top 25, Heidelberg is geared for a very strong 2015 campaign in Chad Fitzgerald’s first year.

Coming off the strongest campaign in program history, the Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets enter 2015 with sights set for Appleton again. BW will be led by preseason All-American Kyle Chontos. The southpaw first baseman led the Jackets in hitting (.370, 19 2B, 5 HR 50 RBI) in 2014. BW returns a solid group of veterans with the goal to win the coveted OAC title and set sights on a National Championship. 

John Carroll comes off its first OAC title in program history. The Blue Streaks, led by two senior All-Americans of a year ago, will have to rely on its youth and emerging upperclassman to get them back to the competitive level they were at in 2014. With an emotional OAC tournament capped by a victory over Baldwin-Wallace, the Blue Streaks saw themselves quickly eliminated from regional play after two losses. Despite this, the experience of the conference championship and four strong starting ‘aces’, John Carroll may be poised for another post season run. Pitchers Drew Doring, Aaron Lapaglia, Brandon Maddern, and Mark Materise all bring solid arms to what looks to be a dynamic starting core.

Dan Belliveau has played in 114 games, making a start in 113 of them for Northern Ohio.
Ohio Northern athletics photo

Over the past few seasons, the Ohio Northern Polar Bears have made nice strides toward championships levels. 2015 should be no different. ONU finished in a tie for the final spot in the OAC a year ago but lost the tie-breaker to a World Series-bound Baldwin-Wallace. The Polar Bears return preseason All-American Dan Belliveau (56 H, 8 HR, 43 RBI) among others to thrust this program to the next level.

The Otterbein University baseball team enters the 2015 season with high expectations, looking to build off a 23-win campaign last spring and make a postseason run this time around. This veteran Cardinals squad welcomes back every starter in the lineup and pitching rotation. Dynamic infielder Sean Kettering (9 HR, 43 RBI) and senior Jake Simmerman (7 HR, .704 SL) champion this Cardinal baseball with postseason play on the mind, falling short in its last two campaigns.

Just two years removed from an Ohio Athletic Conference title, Mount Union propels into 2015 looking to get back there. An easy schedule led to an early 10-1 start before falling in the depths of the OAC, sealing its fate last spring. With only four returning positional starters, the Raiders will rely on senior Sam Clarke to ace the staff. Despite the results of last season, Mount Union will need to bank on young talent to elevate them to postseason play.

Brett Robberts and the Muskingum Fightin’ Muskies enter this spring looking to improve on its 16-victory season of a year ago. The Muskies are trying to hit the .500 mark for the first time this decade. Robberts, who clocked 4 HR, 26 RBI with a .397 BA in 2014, will strive for a bit more success this spring. 

Capital look a huge step back a year ago after a 21-win 2013 campaign. The Crusaders do return a lot of players so expect them to improve from last spring. Wilmington College has yet to prove it should be feared. The perennial basement-dweller will maintain its position for another year.

Nick Vento led the Presidents with five home runs in 2014.
Washington & Jefferson athletics photo

President Athletic Conference: Washington & Jefferson has made a routine of being a strong contender annually for the Presidents Athletic Conference title. This season should be no different. After two thirty-plus win seasons in 2012 and 2013, the Presidents fell short with a respectable 29 victories. The season ended with two big losses to Thomas More in the PAC Tournament. That trend is one that the Presidents will not let repeat. Leading the charge for W&J is sophomore standout Nick Vento, who hit .393 with five home runs and a .600 slugging percentage.

A supreme season compiled by the Thomas More Saints ended in defeat to the hands of runner-up Mideast Regional Case Western a year ago. The Saints look to respond with another strong season. Losing two key players to graduation, Thomas More will rely heavily on Donovan Pogue on the right side of the infield and Logan Miller on the hill. Pogue hit .393 with 53 hits and Miller chucked 81.1 innings with a 4.09 ERA. 

The Bethany Bison slide into a .500 position in the conference and amassed its best season since 2010 before falling in the PAC Tournament. With no one having 40+ hits a year ago, the team will continue to play small ball and have to grasp the opportunities for wins. Still a fairly young team, the Bison will have an opportunity take the next step forward to make Bethany an impressionable program and win the PAC. 

Waynesburg had a somewhat dreadful season by record standards but took advantage playing in the woeful PAC finish with thirteen conference wins and winning a tournament game against Bethany. The Yellow Jackets are prized for another season behind the forerunner W&J and Thomas More but expect them to be in a similar position again this year, eking into the tournament with hopes for a few upsets.

St. Vincent is a program on the rise. Consistently competitive a season ago, the Bearcats run into 2015 with higher expectations from a season ago. A young group of players will head a St. Vincent team that looks for its .500 season in a few years and break through and top the upper epsilon teams in the PAC.

Matt Elko will lead the Tomcats of Thiel College on the field this spring. The junior ace will look to repeat from a season ago. Trent Smith and Bryan Mitchell also return for Thiel in what hopes to be a promising year with many its players returning. Geneva, Grove City, and Westmister wrap up the bottom of the conference. Still a long way away, these programs are in search of consistency both in recruiting and on the field.

Case Western has won at least 27 games in each of the last four seasons.
Case Western athletics photo

Independents: Case Western returns to the field this spring coming off a school-record season, finishing as runner-up in the Mideast Regional. It has its sights set on a UAA championship and are primed for a deep championship run. Leading the group are four seniors including Preseason All-American Andrew Gronski (.439 BA, 6 HR, 43 RBI). Kerrigan Cain, Jordan Swisher and Rob Winemiller bring back reputable talent that makes for a menacing challenge for any opponent. The Spartans are known to play consistent ball throughout the season as they open up league play just a couple weeks into the season. Despite an extremely difficult schedule, Case Western is set for another Pool C bid with 25+ victories.

Finlandia is still in the infancy of its program and looks to build off of its three victories a year ago. The only D3 Yooper program, the Lions handle the challenging task of day-to-day baseball in the harsh Upper Peninsula of Michigan.