West Regional Preview

TJ Orchard will be joined by the rest of the 2016 pitching staff in 2017 for the Whitworth Pirates.
Whitworth athletics photo

By Colton Westfall and Ralph Turner
for D3baseball.com

Year after year, West Region fans talk about parity in the region. “Dark horse” teams show strong performances in the postseason tournaments while regular season champions often sit at home with their parity driven won-loss records preventing Pool C consideration. The 2016 Trinity (Texas) Tigers became the second West Region team to win the World Series in the last four years, and they showed the rest of the region how to break out of the parity pack. After losing two games to SCAC regular season co-champion Texas Lutheran in early April, the Tigers won the last five regular season games and then 11 straight postseason games to win Trinity’s first baseball National Championship, the first for the SCAC, and the first by a Texan squad. They join Chapman (2003), George Fox (2004) and Linfield (2013) as World Series winners from the West in this century.

Trinity graduated most of the key individuals from the 2016 National Champion squad, so this year’s field is wide open. Texas Lutheran, Texas-Tyler, East Texas Baptist, California Lutheran, Whitworth and Pacific Lutheran are just a few teams that have a great chance to head to the West Region Championships hosted by Texas-Tyler in 2017.

New Faces

Brent Proche was 2-2 against Texes-Tyler in the all-time series.
Texas-Tyler athletics photo

Brent Proche, Texas-Tyler: Brent Proche takes the reins at Texas-Tyler as its fourth head coach, coming from LSU-Alexandria. LSU-A won the NAIA Red River Athletic Conference in 2015 with a 39-16 record and 2016 with a 35-22 record. Coach Porche amassed a four year record of 147-83 at LSU-A. He replaced previous head coach Chris Bertrand, who became the pitching coach at Northwestern (La.) of the D-1 Southland Conference. Coach Porche is an LSU-Shreveport graduate where he was a 4-year letterman and 2-time All-Academic All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selection.

Games to Watch in 2017

February 10: Trinity (Texas) vs. Texas-Tyler: More than Texas bragging rights are on the line as the top two pre-season teams open the season versus each other. A win for either team will set the tone for the young season.

February 11: Linfield vs. Chapman: Two West powers look to get their season started off in the right direction as they both expect to make it to the West Regional this year.

March 17-18: Trinity (Texas) vs. Texas Lutheran: The two SCAC favorites battle it out for conference dominance. TLU was the only team to give Trinity fits last season. A series win could be all that is needed to claim the SCAC title

March 18-19: Pacific Lutheran vs. Whitworth: The preseason NWC favorites match up in a series that could go a long way in determining the NWC champion.

April 14-15: Cal Lutheran vs. Pacific Lutheran: The two 2016 Regional teams match up in a non-league series hosted in Washington. If both teams are looking for an at-large bid in May, these games are a must win.

April 28-29: Texas-Tyler vs. East Texas Baptist: The two 30-game winners from last season’s ASC, battle in the final weekend. This series could be the decider between two teams expecting to make the regionals.

Justin Traxler made one start in 2016 and has matched that in a season opening win against No. 21 Texas Lutheran.
Concordia-Texas athletics photo

Conference Previews

American Southwest Conference: Texas-Tyler (32-19) has a new head coach, but the two-time defending champions are still the team to beat. The Patriots return 26 players from the 2016 team that finished 4th in the regular season, but won the postseason tourney and then went 2-2 in the 2016 Spokane Regional. Coach Porche will count on senior utility player Trenton Buchhorn and senior RHP Cason Adams. Other All-ASC returning players include C Brady McCoy, OF Graham Welch, IF Blake Wilson and RHP Reese Read. There are 10 transfers and 12 freshmen joining the team, adding depth to the roster.

Coach Tommy Boggs’ Concordia-Texas Tornados (28-15) won the 2016 regular season but did not earn a Pool C bid. The Tornados last made the NCAA postseason in 2014, and are picked to finish 2nd in the ASC Preseason Ballot. Key returners for Concordia-Texas include junior outfielder Michael Evans (.303 BA, 28 R, 33 RBI) and sophomore reliever Justin Traxler (7-2, 2.53 ERA, 54 K, 50 IP).

Hardin-Simmons (29-18) was one at-bat away from winning the 2016 ASC Conference post-season tournament. Coach Steve Coleman returns six starters and most of the pitching staff. D3baseball.com preseason first team All-American Utility player Taylor Cooling (.389 BA, 47 R, 3 HR, 24 RBI; 2-1, 2.20 ERA, in 18 appearances) joins senior LF Zach de Luna (.413 BA, 47 R, 36 RBI, 17 SB, .460 OBP) as players to watch for the Cowboys. Also returning is a 2nd team 2016 All-West Region DH/1B Colton Parker (.387 BA, 12 HR, 38 RBI).

Coach Jared Hood was 2016 ASC Coach of the year in his second year at East Texas Baptist (29-18). The Tigers tied for 3rd in the ASC Preseason balloting and will be led by D3baseball.com Preseason All-American senior 1B Connor Combs (.399 BA, 15 HR, 8 2B, 52 RBI, 20 SB) and 2016 All-West Region IF Zach Compton (.337 BA, 11 HR, 52 RBI).

McMurry (19-19) is re-classifying from Division II and Belhaven (20-18) is a 2nd year provisional member, but games against these teams will count as conference games but not in the nation regional records.

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: Trinity (Texas) (44-7) celebrated in Appleton in 2016 and with the win, Tim Scannell was named the D3baseball.com National Coach of the Year in 2016. Repeating will be his greatest challenge as coach Scannell lost seven All-Region players to graduation, but he has recruited well nationally as 15 of the 32 players on the 2017 roster are from outside Texas. Trinity fans talk about the depth the 2016 team had and how it carried the team deep into the postseason. Leadership for the 2017 Tigers, voted #7 in the D3Baseball.com Preseason Top 25, should come from OF Jake Martin (.362 BA in 22 games played), SP Troy Nelson (6-1, 4.25 ERA, 53 IP, 70K) and two strong relievers, Andrew Hoffman (2-1, 5 SV, 1.22 ERA, 37 IP, 27 K) and Chris Tate (6-0, 3 SV, 2.45 ERA, 47.2 IP, 63K).

Rightfielder Riley Schaefer is off to a hot start to 2017 for the Texas Lutheran Bulldogs.
Texas Lutheran athletics photo

Texas Lutheran (26-15) was 2016 SCAC Co-Champion and handed Trinity three losses. The big arm for head coach Greg Burnett’s Bulldogs is D3baseball Preseason All-American sophomore pitcher Nathan Malinovsky (9-1, 1.97 ERA, 87 IP, 58 K, 6 CG). TLU returns the entire outfield in junior Riley Schaefer (.371 BA, 43 R, 16 RBI), senior CF Rayce Gatlin (.365 BA, 23 RBI, .457 OBP), and senior LF Colby Schrade who may make the move to playing third base. Also returning is junior shortstop Eric Rubinowitz (.278 BA, 26 R, .950 PCT). TLU was voted 17th in the D3Baseball.com/NCBWA Pre-season poll but has to get by Trinity and Centenary (LA).

The Gents of Centenary (La.) and head coach Mike Diaz went 26-13 in 2016 and have plenty of quality in their returnees. Position players include RF Aaron Quintanilla (.311 BA, 21 R, 22 RBI), LF Michael Schimpf (.425 BA, 45 R, 65 H, 32 RBI), and catcher Chris Zapata (.335 BA, 54 H, 33 R, 43 RBI). Newcomer Freshman Cody Crowder should also contribute. On the mound, starters Jackie Allen (5-2, 2.99 ERA, 72.1 IP, 36 K) and Kaleb Kirk (9-4, 3.22 ERA, 81.2 IP, 60 K) will look to get the ball to reliever RHP Matthew DeVillier (6-1, 6 SV, 4.93 ERA, 34.2 IP, 31K).

Northwest Conference: The defending NWC champion, Whitworth (30-13), has its sights set on a deep playoff run this year, and anything less would be seen as a disappointment. The entire pitching staff returns along with all but one starting position player. The Pirates will rely on a trio of towering pitchers every weekend. 6’9” All-Conference sophomore Hugh Smith (6-1, 2.57 ERA, 77 IP, 48 K) leads the way. Following Smith is 6’6” TJ Orchard (8-1, 3.99 ERA, 79 IP, 39K) and 6’5” lefty Ryan Kingma (8-3, 4.68 ERA, 73 IP, 28K). Fresh off of leading the NWC in doubles, home runs, and stolen bases; the Pirates return a wealth of offensive firepower. JT Phelan (.333 BA, 6 HR, 12 2B, 32 RBI), Matthew Nelson (.290 BA, 7 HR, 13 2B, 31 RBI), and 2015 D-III Gold Glove recipient Garrett Hughes (.295 BA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 17 SB) are just a few of the returners that expect to have big years.

Cole Johnson will be needed to produce at the plate and on the mound for Pacific Lutheran to succeed in 2017.
Pacific Lutheran athletics photo

The Lutes of Pacific Lutheran (29-19) rode their hitting to a NWC tournament championship and three wins in the West Regional before getting knocked out by the eventual World Series Champions, Trinity. To get back to the Regional or beyond, they will again need their offense to carry the load. Fortunately, they return eight of their nine offensive starters. A loaded senior class is led by four-year starting shortstop Ben Welch (.331 BA, 42 R, 2 HR, 29 RBI) and his double play partner Landon Packard (.301 BA, 13 2B, 2 3B, 28 RBI). The Lutes must replace three of their four starting pitchers, but the do-everything Cole Johnson (5-4, 4.76 ERA, 87 IP, 40 K; .304 BA, 3 HR, 38 RBI) gives a veteran presence to lead an unproven staff.

The Linfield Wildcats (25-15) looks to bounce back from a disappointing 3rd place NWC finish in 2016 that left them on the outside looking in come playoff time. Last season, Linfield led the NWC in team ERA (3.89) and strikeouts (268), and it should only improve this year. The pitching staff returns all four starters from 2016, led by senior workhorse Riley Newman (7-3, 3.47 ERA, 83 IP, 36 SO) and sophomore Cason Cunningham (5-1, 2.73 ERA, 56 IP, 66 SO). The offense will rely on a powerful, veteran lineup that combined for 37 home runs last year. Seniors Ben Andrew (.386 BA, 18 2B, 7 HR, 39 RBI), Scott Hilpert (.340 BA, 4 3B, 10 HR, 38 RBI), and Ryan Pladson (.275 BA, 6 HR, 27 RBI) will be a force to reckon with in the middle of the lineup.

George Fox returns a team with experience that made the NWC tournament last year. NWC Pitcher of the Year, Dustin Wells (7-3, 3.44 ERA, 91.2 IP, 63 K) and senior catcher Andrew Reichenbach (.347 BA, 7 HR, 12 2B, 39 RBI) will be relied on to help the Bruins improve upon a 21-20 record from last year. Pacific’s (25-18) Kurtis Kloke (.348 BA, 11 HR, 20 2B, 57 RBI), a D3baseball.com Preseason First Team All-American combines with Dylan Wright (.368 BA, 3 HR, 4 3B, 11 2B, 37 RBI) to form the most potent hitting duo in the NWC, and perhaps the region. Pacific will once again rely on their offense to get them back to the postseason. Coming off their highest win total in nearly a decade, Lewis & Clark (12-28) will need seniors Akira Abderrahman (.283 BA, 1 HR, 2 3B, 15 RBI) and Ben Beck (.287 BA, 2 3B, 13 RBI) to lead a veteran offense as they work to improve on the last season.

Trey Saito returns in 2017 as the ace of the Kingsmen pitching staff.
Cal Lutheran athletics photo by Tracy L. Olson

Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: The Cal Lutheran Kingsmen (31-13) enters the 2017 season as SCIAC favorites, coming off a 4th straight SCIAC championship. Cal Lutheran must replace a ton of starters from last season’s team, but they always seem to reload. Gabe Hunter (.387 BA, 5 HR, 12 2B, 45 RBI) will be the focal point of the offense, but he can expect help from seniors Jimmy Jauregui (.311, 1 HR, 7 2B, 28 RBI), Eddie Villegas (.345 BA, 17 R, 9 RBI), and a bevy of new talent. Senior Trey Saito (9-4, 2.73 ERA, 89 IP, 41 K) returns as the ace of a staff that returns a lot of experience on the mound.

Redlands (25-16) has a chance to go as far as pitcher Felix Minjarez (5-3, 3.54 ERA, 68.2 IP, 55 K) can take them. The junior ace has flashed dominant potential for two years, but he must put it all together for the veteran Bulldogs to make a serious run at the SCIAC championship. Offensively, Redlands will lean on four-year starter Christopher Scalisi (.392, 12 2B, 34 R, 44 RBI). The infielder will team up with fellow senior Christian Conci (.369, 3 HR, 11 2B, 21 RBI) and four other returning starters to give the Bulldogs scoring throughout the lineup.

Chapman (26-16) will once again look to bludgeon teams into submission with a high-powered offense lead by three juniors. Gavin Blodgett (.389 BA, 4 HR, 14 2B, 42 R, 38 RBI), Jared Love (.351 BA, 6 HR, 11 2B, 38 RBI), and Conner Larkin (.336 BA, 3 HR, 9 3B, 9 2B, 33 RBI) are potential All-Region players that should help Chapman’s 2016 team batting average (.326 BA) improve even more this year. Missing in 2017 is Konnor Zickefoose who transferred to UC Irvine and was a big part of the Panther's offensive successin 2016. If Matt Mogollon (4-5, 5.92 ERA, 38 IP, 37 K) can make a big step forward in his sophomore year, along with a few other pitchers; the Panthers have a chance to compete for a conference and regional title.

Pomona-Pitzer (20-19) is looking to get back to the regionals in the tough West, and it might have the pieces to make it happen. It all starts with one of the best pitchers, if not the best, in the entire country. David Gerics (7-0, 2.31 ERA, 62.1 IP, 63 K) returns for his senior season looking to guide the Sagehens back to the SCIAC playoffs. As good as their ace can be, it is the offense that drives Pomona-Pitzer. All-American Tanner Nishioka (.418 BA, 7 HR, 11 2B, 36 RBI) leads a group of returners that hit .334 as a team last year. Expect juniors Cade Hulse (.358 BA, 1 HR, 2 3B, 23 RBI) and Bryce Rogan (.365 BA, 6 HR, 11 2B, 52 RBI) to help keep this offense among the tops in the entire country.

Last year’s surprise team, Occidental (32-10), will no longer sneak up on anyone. SCIAC Player of the Year, and All-American, Devon DeRaad (.414 BA, 16 HR, 15 HR, 57 RBI) can single handedly keep the Tigers in any game. A senior loaded pitching staff, including Nolan Watson (5-2, 2.74 ERA, 75.2 IP, 65 K), is the team’s real strength, but it is sophomore Will Martel (10-2, 2.46 ERA, 80.1 IP, 29 K) that has a chance to carry the Tigers deep on the mound.