Region Preview: Mideast

Wooster opens the 2019 season as the top ranked
team in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25.

d3photography.com photo by David Malamut

by Shawn Spence
for D3baseball.com

There’s little debate: As the D3baseball.com poll’s top-ranked team at the top of the season, Wooster is the team to beat in the Mideast this year.  But this has often been a tricky spot for the Fighting Scots and longtime head coach Tim Pettorini. Pettorini’s 1,213 wins is the most among active coaches in Division III, and he will retire third all-time in D3 coaching wins, trailing only Marietta’s Don Schaly and Eastern Connecticut State’s Bill Holowaty. Pettorini announced last month that his 38th season as head coach at Wooster will be his last.

Both of those men won the one thing that has – at times improbably – eluded Pettorini. Wooster, runners up in 1997 and 2009, is without a close second the best D3 program without a national championship. The Fighting Scots are also seeking to put history aside and win back-to-back regional championships for the first time.

Among other things, the statement announcing Pettorini’s intentions read that the famously fiery head Scot plans to “sit back and watch the game a little bit more.”

Close followers of the region are permitted a chuckle, and others should not fooled into thinking Pettorini will fade into the woodwork – not where that cherry on top on an already outstanding career is a real possibility.

The Scots’ competition in the Mideast will be fierce. LaRoche returns a raft of talent and experience, North Coast Athletic Conference rival Denison continues to build strength starting on the pitching mound, and whoever comes out of the battle royale that is the Ohio Athletic Conference – any of four or even five teams are about as good a bet as the other – has become will be talented and tested. There’s at least one team in every conference with a legitimate chance to be a regional champion in May.

The best news for fans: most of the power programs in the region have scheduled each other in non-conference play, providing plenty of chances to see quality matchups both during the week and on weekends throughout the spring.

New Faces

Grant Bellak, Hanover: Bellak is a first-time head coach, but he certainly carries a pedigree as an assistant. He arrives following 7 years as an assistant at Franklin, leading recruiting efforts and helping the Grizzlies to a school-record 39 wins in 2018 and their first NCAA National Tournament appearance since 2011. Bellak also had stints at Central Region powers Concordia-Chicago and Webster.

Phil Brua, Hiram: Brua, a graduate and recent standout from Oberlin, will come to Hiram knowing the conference and northeast Ohio’s D-III scene. Brua starts his head coaching career following Howard Jenter’s retirement. Brua spent two seasons on staff at Pomona-Pitzer before getting the nod at Hiram. Brua still holds the Oberlin record for pitching appearances (65) and ranks second in career wins (15).

Tony Vittorio brings a ton of experience with
18 years as D-I Dayton's head coach to the
Wilmington Quakers.

Dayton athletics photo

Jason Crain, Alma: Crain arrives at Alma following a successful tenure in the Michigan high school ranks. His 128 wins at Plymouth are the most in school history. Plymouth won four straight district championships from 2015 to 2018, and Crain is a five-time District School Coach of the Year recipient, as well as the Hometown Life News All-Area Coach of the Year in 2015.

Justin Thomas, Bethany: Thomas arrives from Voorhees, where he led the Tigers to a 20-20 record, Voorhees’ best season in fifteen years. Thomas has boosted his coaching chops in collegiate summer baseball, most recently in the Cal Ripken League. Former Bethany head coach, Rick Carver, stays in coaching and in the neighborhood. He will lead the restart of the baseball at nearby Franciscan in 2020.

Trevor Van Duyn, Calvin: Van Duyn was a two-time All-American as a player at Calvin, and will look to restore the Knights to the glory he led them to in two sports as a player. Calvin advanced to the NCAA Tournament in both basketball and baseball in Van Duyn’s playing career. Van Duyn will trade one alma mater for another, arriving after a long career in several athletics roles at his high school alma mater of Jenison, including two stints as athletic director.

Tony Vittorio, Wilmington: Vittorio ranks as one of the most intriguing hires in many years in the Mideast Region. His most recent job was development director at Friends of the Jaclyn Foundation in Hopewell Junction, New York. But more interesting for baseball fans is the job he had before that. Vittorio served as head baseball coach at Division I Dayton for 18 seasons and left the program as its winningest coach with 463 victories. Coming into D-III having more than 400 wins in Division I coaching is unusual. Taking over a program with 7 straight last-place finishes in its conference is even more so.

Games to Watch in 2019

Many of the top teams in the region play each other at least once, so there are tons of choices here. Check the schedules here on D3baseball.com. There are a lot more good matchups than are listed here.

Denison vs. Baldwin Wallace (Feb. 23): Two in-state rivals play a key regional contest in Ferrum, Va.

Case Western Reserve at Washington & Jefferson (March 2): Both teams will need wins on the day and a sweep by either could give the victor the edge if both are looking for an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs.

Geoff Snyder lined a bases loaded single of the left
field fence in the bottom of the tenth inning to give
Marietta a walk-off victory over La Roche, their only
win against the Red Hawks in the last three years.

Marietta athletes photo by France Moise

LaRoche at Marietta (March 20): LaRoche is 7-1 against Marietta over the last three years.

Adrian at Baldwin Wallace (March 26): Adrian is the favorite in the MIAA and a visit to Berea will give Coach Rainey's team an idea what to expect in the NCAAs.

Marietta at Wooster (March 27): Both programs have been so good for so long, that regional pride is on the line when the Pioneers and Scots meet on the field.

Wooster at La Roche (April 7): Wooster was kicked out of the 2016 Regional with a 13-0 win by La Roche and now that the freshmen then are now seniors, expect the memory of the game to still feel fresh.

Franklin at Rose-Hulman (April 16): The two top teams in the HCAC battle for the edge in determining the conference title.

Wooster at Case Western Reserve (April 21): Case Western will return back to Nobby's Ballpark after playing 10 games away over the last three weeks.

Denison at Wooster (April 27): the NCAC title will be on the line when the Big Red comes to Wooster for a key doubleheader.

Otterbein at Marietta, vs Franklin (May 4, 5): It will be all hands on deck for the Otterbein pitching staff as they finish off their regular season with an away doubleheader for position in the OAC standings and a big game at home with the Grizzlies.

Conference Previews

Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference: La Roche (35-10-1) has become a mainstay at the top of the AMCC and in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Chase Rowe and the Redhawks have dominated the league, but also proven their legitimacy with strong out-of-conference performances, and a top four finish in D3 World Series in 2016. Honorable mention All-American Tre Thomas (9-1, 1.47 ERA, 61 IP, 70 K) is just one of five experienced pitchers the Redhawks return in 2019 to make a run at not just a conference title, but a regional championship and beyond. The batting order is even more stocked, as all of last year’s seniors were pitchers. Jonathan Spina (.412, 10 2B, 6 3B, 23 SB) and Joe Professori (.378, 11 2B, 6 3B) leads an intact returning lineup that hit .341 as a team in 2018.

Pitt-Greensburg (26-13) was close to LaRoche in conference play in 2018, and Tyler Holland (.364, 9HR, 47 RBI) and Reno Rainey (.442, 7 HR, 43 RBI) lead a large number of returning regulars. Rainey was the only freshman on the top two all-AMCC teams in 2018. Pitt-Bradford (17-16) brings back first-team All-American catcher Austin Parent (.496, 9 HR, 48 RBI). The Arizona native is a rare western product to make his way to the AMCC. Returning with Parent is pitching ace Ryan Boyer (5-2, 4.45 ERA, 58.2 IP, 66 K). Boyer has a much shorter trip home to see the family over school break – he’s from Bradford.

Senior shortstop Scott Sada represented Penn State
Behrend as a 2018 Google Cloud Academic
All-American.

Penn State-Behrend athletics photo

Penn State-Behrend (25-17) looks to the left side of their infield to lead in 2019. Scott Sada (.459, 6 HR, 47 RBI) and Justin Foreman (.323, 7 HR) as seniors that were second-team all-league. Penn State-Altoona (17-21) returns first-team all-leaguer Peter Jacobs (.393, 17 2B, 5 HR) and second-teamer and strong all-name team contender Catcher Cumming (.319, 12 2B), who can catch but more often was a first baseman in 2018.

Mount Aloysius (10-26) returns Matthew McCourt (.407, 17 2B, 13 HR, 42 RBI) and Nick Belka (.369) to anchor the left side of the infield, but they need help to improve on 2018 and challenge for a top-four spot in the league. Alfred State (12-27) has second-team all-leaguer Jarrod Deaton (3.62 ERA, 32.1 IP, 26 K) in relief, but needs to get games to him in a winning position more often.

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference: Franklin (39-5) dominated the league in 2018, and may well be poised to repeat that feat. Of the nine first-team all-HCAC selections, the Grizzlies return seven from the best team in school history. Chief among them is first-team All-American Ryan Bixler (.369, 15 HR, 56 RBI). Bixler’s outfield mate Jarrod Smith (.439, 5 HR) was the HCAC’s leader in batting average. The one possible chink in the armor is that none of those returning all-leaguers are pitchers. Aaron Leming (7-1, 3.75 ERA, 62.1 IP) and the Franklin staff will have some margin for error though with the quality of the batting lineup.

Coach Lance Marshall has also beefed up the schedule in 2019, playing more regional powers, and stocking their Florida trip with several quality opponents. Rose-Hulman (20-23) has the one asset that Franklin doesn’t, and that’s a returning bona fide ace pitcher. Luke Buehler (4-4, 1.53 ERA, 70.2 IP, 62 K) was often a hard-luck case in 2018, and generating just a bit more offense in his starts could have a big impact on RHIT’s fortunes in an HCAC that, aside from Franklin, is very evenly matched from top to bottom. David Burnside (.303) will lead efforts to improve to manufacture more runs for the Engineers.

Anderson (25-20) finished second in the conference last year, and the same in the HCAC tourney. A pair of juniors infielders – Nick Jones (.367, 19 SB) and Jonathan Willoughby (.331, 29 RBI) – were all-league in 2018. Earlham (23-14) looked impressive for most of 2018 before suffering through a rough finish. Second-team all-leaguers Walter Talcott (5-2, 2.33 ERA, 69.2 IP, 6BB, 64 K), Danny Dopp (.308, 5 HR) and Addison Robertson (.357, 36 SB) are all back and looking to finish stronger this year. Bluffton (21-18) was the only team to beat Franklin in the HCAC last year, and brings back utility man Garrett O’Reilly, the only freshman to make either of the two all-HCAC teams last year.

Manchester (20-22) first-team all-conference choice Tyler LaFollette (.354) will look to lead the Spartans to a repeat trip to the HCAC tournament. Transylvania (17-22) returns Isaac Taylor (.319, 26 SB) off a second-team all-league campaign, while Hudson Chastain (.297) was honorable mention as a freshman. Defiance (14-20) has Michael Gilliland (.380) and Troy Konwinski (.305, 4 HR) back to lead a run at one of the four tournament spots. Mount St. Joseph (14-21) will pin its hopes on the pitching of Alex Wagner (6-4, 2.39 ERA, 71.2 IP) and Nathan Renner (2-3, 1.83 ERA, 34.1 IP, 29 K), while Hanover (8-25) brings back first-team all-league ace Garett Zorb (5-1, 1.98 ERA, 59 IP).

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association: Adrian (35-12) has become firmly established as the hegemon of the MIAA, and a regionally competitive program under coach Craig Rainey. Rainey has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the last 11 years. In 2018, Adrian hosted the Mideast Regional and won its first two games before dropping two to NCAC schools to close out the tournament. The MIAA pitcher and player of the year graduate, but that just means it’s next up on the assembly line. Jordan Williams (8-1, 2.07 ERA, 74 IP, 66 K) was clearly the league’s best freshman and the only first-team all-MIAA pitcher returning, while juniors Brady Wood (.399, 14 2B) and Gunner Rainey (.344) are likely contenders for top honors among hitters.

K-zoo sophomore Chase Coselman (.366, 26 RBI)
earned the
starting spot at third base for the Virginia
Beach CBL
All-Star Team this summer.
Kalamazoo athletics photo

Kalamazoo (20-19) was a distant second place in 2018, and will be looking to solidify its status as the best of the rest in 2019. Jordan Wiley (.366, 38 SB) and Alex Fultz (.325) will lead the effort in their senior seasons after making all-conference as juniors. Hope (18-24) and Calvin (16-25) each went 14-14 in the comprehensive MIAA conference regular season schedule in 2018. Hope sophomore Evan Maday (.373, 19 SB) and junior Mason Opple (.333, 5 HR) need the Dutchmen pitching staff to improve.

Calvin has the opposite need – offensive support for Jon Keane (4-3, 3.64 ERA, 66.2IP, 66K) and Trevor Van Duyn (4-5, 3 SV, 3.62 ERA, 77 IP). Alma (24-19) third baseman Logan Huff (.344, 13 2B) is the lone all-league holdover from last year’s third-place club. Trine (19-21) brings back the league’s only .400+ hitter in 2018 – senior Jacob Heller (.444, 12 2B), who somehow was only good enough for second-team all-MIAA despite that status. Albion (10-30) will build around first-team all-leaguer Riley Stesiak (.342, 4 HR), and Olivet (10-30) brings back Ryan Bennett (.331) – and the rest of its lineup regulars.

North Coast Athletic Conference: Wooster (40-10) loses possibly its best player in program history, and yet the consensus is for them to be better. The big reason why few preseason pollsters seem bothered by Wooster’s Michael Wielansky-sized vacancy at shortstop is that while there may not be another MLB draft pick, the Scots don’t figure to lack for ways to score runs. Junior OF/DH Dan Harwood (.383, 14 HR, 72 RBI) and senior 1B Garrett Crum (.365, 9 HR, 69 RBI) are the latest model off the Wooster assembly line of bases-clearing power hitters. Harwood was a second-team All-American last year, with Crum on the honorable mention list. The duo joins four more returning regulars that hit .330 or better last year. Chandler Dippman (8-1, 2.71 ERA; 69.2 IP, 78 H, 30 K) was not thought to be the ace of the pitching staff at the start of the season, but he ended it as Pettorini’s most trusted arm because of his control and command. Wooster will need improved consistency from the remaining holdovers, however. Even at that, Wooster kept opponents to 5 runs or fewer in 36 games last year, winning 33 of those. It won’t often take pitching perfection to rack up wins this year, either.

Denison (32-12) leads the chase group in the NCAC and possibly the region. Coach Mike Deegan is fresh off leading Denison to a first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2018 and has made the Big Red into a formidable force. The NCAC player and pitcher of the year both depart, but Deegan has a great cornerstone for 2019 in second-team All-American Mikey Rivera. Rivera (3-1, 2.13ERA, 8 SV; 63 1/3IP, 40H,28BB, 67K) is a modern D-III reliever – the guy you don’t start but once he comes on, it’s usually for the duration. Rivera combines velocity and movement with a funky delivery, just to make hitting him that much harder. Rivera leads four pitchers that return with more than 50 innings pitched last year. Deegan will be looking for them to control games while working on replacing Denison’s top three hitters from last year. Senior Grady Paine (.319), a second-team all-NCAC selection, and junior Will Krushena (6 HR, 41 RBI) are the top candidates to step up there.

Wabash had a lot to celebrate in 2018 with a NCAC title
and a program high 32 wins.

Wabash athletics photo

Wabash (32-17) had a solid 2018, but jumped into the national spotlight with two NCAC Tournament wins over Wooster on the way to the conference championship. Unfortunately for the Little Giants, their luck in Chillicothe was better than the next week at the Adrian regional, where Wooster handed Wabash two losses, eliminating the LGs. Still, four NCAA tournament wins was more than anyone had a right to expect from a team that lost its last six regular season games in a topsy-turvy adventure of a season. Second-team all-NCAC selection Sean Roginski (.342, 19 2B) and Jackson Blevins (.339, 20 2B) lead the returning hitters, while closer Zach Moffett (4-0, 11 SV; 39.2 IP, 29 H, 11 BB, 37 K) is the headliner among a group of several experienced arms looking to replace the 177 innings Wabash’s top two starters pitched last year.

Kenyon (16-18) earned an impressive split with Wooster to end the regular season in 2018 and win their way into the NCAC Tournament for the first time since 2012. Matt Contreras (.310, 5 HR) leads the Lords’ efforts to repeat that feat. Ohio Wesleyan (19-20) junior second-team all-NCAC pick Canyon McWilliams (.414, 45 RBI) would have been a first-teamer in many conferences. DePauw (11-26) sophomore Charlie Patrick was the only freshman named first or second team all-NCAC in 2018 and ace Grant Rademacher (5-3, 3.29 ERA) joined him on the second team.

Tommy Cannon (.402) leads an Allegheny (17-21) team that returns most of its top players from 2018, Wittenberg (14-24) ace Jace Barga (4-4, 2.50 ERA) is the only returning first-team all-NCAC not from Denison or Wooster, Oberlin (12-28) pitcher Zachary Steer and catcher Brendan Mapes can power a bid for a post-season tournament spot, and Hiram (4-29) needs to find help for Vince (.360) and P.J. Suso (.343, 5 HR)

Junior outfielder Dudley Taw was named a
2019 Preseason All-American.

Baldwin-Wallace athletics photo

Ohio Athletic Conference: Baldwin Wallace (33-14) qualified for the 2018 OAC Tournament via a tiebreaker, and boy, did the Yellow Jackets ever take advantage. BW demolished the tourney to the tune of 56 runs – the most in a three-game stretch in an OAC Tournament since 1993 – to win the school’s first OAC crown since 1985. BW turned a decent season into a very good one by going 9-2 in May, winning six true road games. It was a big bounce-back year for coach Brian Harrison, who took BW to a regional championship in 2014 and has qualified the Yellow Jackets for the OAC Tournament three of the last four years. One thing he hasn’t done yet is crack the OAC’s top two in the regular season, but he may have the depth to change that in 2019. Dudley Taw (.385, 16 2B, 14HR, 58 RBI, 22 SB), coming off an honorable mention All-American season in 2018 as a sophomore, is just one of several reasons for further optimism. First-team all-OAC pitcher Danny Cody (7-3, 83.1 IP, 3.13 ERA, 100 K) leads five returners with 20 or more innings last year, and Taw is joined by Phillip Wells (.338) and Alex Ludwick (.331, 39 RBI) in what will be another physical and aggressive lineup – a Harrison hallmark at BW.

Otterbein (30-16) coach George Powell had the Cardinals flying high as April closed. May did not go as well, falling in the OAC Tournament on their home field, and a quick exit from regional play finishing a 4-7 record in the month. The reason is easy enough to diagnose – the Cards surrendered 9 or more runs on six occasions. Otterbein topped the regular season table by scoring in bunches, and with second-team All-American Ben Beachy (.385, 23 2B, 9 HR, 47 RBI) leading five returning .300+ hitters, there’s no reason to think the Cards will do any different in 2019. Luke Barber (.376, 6 HR, 39 RBI) is also back after being the only freshman named All-OAC in 2018. First-team all-league pick Collin Hoffman (8-2, 5 SV, 2.97 ERA) did his best to help stretch Powell’s pitching resources. Hoffman was only sixth on the team in innings pitched, but figured in nearly half the team’s wins.

Marietta (27-18) coach Brian Brewer annually challenges his teams with one of if not the toughest schedule in the country, and the OAC slate has turned into a veritable minefield. Still, four years without a 30-win season must be a jarring reality. The 2018 season will have left salty memories – Marietta lost 7 of 8 in May. But Marietta’s greatest successes in Brewer’s tenure have followed periods of adversity. After a rocky year in 2008, the Etta Express recovered with back-to-back 30-win seasons, followed by back-to-back national titles and 95(!) wins in 2011 and 2012. In 2006, the only Pios that had ever won a regional were on the coaching staff. That group won Brewer’s first national title. Marietta needs big steps up from returners – most of which are sophomores – and heavy contributions from a bevy of newcomers. Seniors and high school teammates Mike Hale (.319, 21 2B, 6 HR) and Greg Peffley (.304, 10 2B in 2017; injured in 2018) are the only two .300 hitters returning. Hale, a first-team all-OAC pick, is a player Brewer will be counting on for consistent production and to lead this youthful squad. On the pitching mound, the task is daunting, at least on paper. Six of the top 7 in innings pitched last year graduated. Dalton Wiggins (2-1, 53 IP, 3.40 ERA) was third on the team in innings and second in earned run average as a freshman. Brewer will need freshmen and lightly used returners to perform like veterans.

Ohio Northern (27-15) led the OAC in batting average in 2018, led the OAC in ERA, and still needed a tiebreak to slip into the conference tournament as the 4th seed. Sounds strange, until you find out ONU was sixth in extra-base hits and seventh in fielding percentage. The pitching staff is in great shape, as one might expect when coach Gene Stechschulte is a former MLB pitcher. Josh Mohr (5-2, 1.93 ERA, 56 IP, 57 K) headlines a standout staff that boasts seven returners that logged at least 16 innings last year. Nate Bye (4-1, 2.73 ERA) is a quality starter, Scott Beaton (2.34 ERA) a reliable reliever, and Jack Schaller (3.30 ERA, 30 IP, 41 K) can miss bats in either role. First-team all-OAC selections Luke Klinehoffer (.399, 16 2B, 4 HR) and Caleb Thomas (.289, 4 HR, 38 RBI) are two of only 3 returning regulars, though several got their feet wet as freshmen last year with varying degrees of success. Whoever ends up in the lineup needs to produce more extra-base hits than last year’s group if Northern is to consistently capitalize on its strong pitching.

The Student Princes of Heldelberg will have six
games against teams in the 2019 Preseason Top 25.

Heidelberg athletics photo

Heidelberg (27-13) was the odd team out of the three-way tie for third place last year, missing the OAC Tournament on a tiebreak despite an 11-7 league mark. All-OAC picks Trevor Adkins (5-0, 2.43 ERA, 70.1 IP, 71 K) and Alex Sir Louis (6-0, 1.10 ERA, 41 IP) combined for an 11-0 record, but coach Chad Fitzgerald will be looking for improvement over 2018 elsewhere on the staff. Matt Psychas (.338, 5 HR) will be the centerpiece of an offense looking to replace the other four of last year’s top five in at-bats and is the only returner hitting .300+ as a regular starter in 2018. John Carroll (20-18) returns Patrick Keohane (.393, 9 HR) and Mittiga (.373) from last year’s All-OAC first team. They join a bevy of Blue Streaks coming back with an eye toward a tournament berth, including two more honorable mention all-league selections.

Capital (14-24) caused several Maalox moments for opposing coaches, but a 3-10 record in one-run games stymied the Crusaders. Cap coach Ryan Grice will look to Shayne Lyons (.347) and Ross Thompson (2.67 ERA, 67.1 IP) to turn almost into victory in 2019. Mount Union (21-16) will pin their hopes on a bounce-back season for 2017 Mideast pitcher of the year Phil Mary (5-5, 3.62 ERA in 2018; 10-0, 0.81 ERA in 2017), while Muskingum (15-23) and Wilmington (11-26) each bring back the bulk of their pitching staffs to lead their improvement efforts.

Presidents' Athletic Conference: With the PAC one school lighter in 2019, Washington and Jefferson (28-15-1) is the clear preseason favorite. The  Presidents roared through the PAC last year before stumbling in the conference tournament, and return their top two hitters. Coach Jeff Mountain has built a consistent winner in Washington, Pa. The Founding Fathers have advanced to regional play in six of the last 10 years, and were national runners up in 2017. W&J has some holes to fill if they’re to fulfill aspirations beyond the conference. Mountain will look Mason Socha (.375, 6 HR, 15 SB) and Spencer Howell (.338, 5 HR), the only returning .300+ hitters, to anchor the lineup while he brings along a supporting cast.

Ben Marsico (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 62 IP) will likely anchor a pitching staff that also includes several 2018 relievers that may be asked to step into a starting role. St. Vincent (15-21) brings back first-team all-league honorees Bobby Finn (.376, 9 HR) and Jimmy Malone (5-2, 3.76 ERA, 79 IP) as the Bearcats tried to seize upon opportunity and become the top challenger to W&J, while Thiel (15-24) brings back second-team selections Andrew Giesey and Alex Lam (.359). The Tomcats and Bearcats were separated by just half a game last year, with St. Vincent playing one fewer league contest.

Westminster (Pa.) (15-14) and Geneva (19-14) are the only two PAC schools besides W&J to post winning records in 2018, but both are just part of a long list of teams that will vie for a spot in the conference tournament. Dante Parente (.347, 12 2B) leads Westminster’s returners, while Geneva will be replacing all of its all-conference honorees from 2018.

John Bini finished six of his ten starts for the Grove
City Wolverines in 2018.

Grove City photo by Dave Miller/ADM Photography

Grove City (15-18) will hope to ride the arm of first-teamer John Bini (5-4, 2.92 ERA, 71 IP), while Bethany (13-23) returns junior standouts Kelaen Welch (.346, 22 SB) and Isaac Wengert. Both were second-team all-PAC as sophomores. Waynesburg (10-22) brings back second team all-PAC infielder Tyler Reis (.342, 7 HR) and two honorable mention picks, and Chatham (8-23) will be hoping Drew Brannon (.336) is just one of several juniors and inaugural recruits that will be ready to lead a new phase of building the program in its third year.

University Athletic Association: Case Western (29-10) bolted to a 23-4 start in 2018, but couldn’t hold it together well enough against a brutal nine-game stretch late in the season. Case, surprisingly to some, wound up on the outside looking in. The Spartans return first-team All-American Rocco Maue among seven lineup regulars and five pitchers with at least 30 innings, all of whom kept their ERA under 4. Maue is the only returning .300+ hitter coach Matt Englander has. To get back into the NCAA regionals, that likely needs to change. Mark Gross (6-4, 3.69 ERA, 70.2 IP) and Corey Brown (4-1, 2 SV, 2.75 ERA, 39.1 IP, 24 H) lead a Spartan staff that, while effective for most of the year, buckled against the heavies. As a group, they generally keep the ball in the yard, but strikeouts are relatively few. Missing more bats would likely spell more Spartan success against regional powers.

Independent: Thomas More (24-20) head coach Jeff Hetzer was the PAC coach of the year in 2018, but guarantee he won’t repeat – the Saints are out of the league. Hetzer got creative and, likely, persuasive in filling a schedule. Dallas will make perhaps the first-ever road trip by a West region team to the Mideast in April, the Saints travel to Birmingham Southern in February, and Hetzer scheduled six road games against former conference mates. Sean Lawrence (.399, 8 HR, 28 XBH, 44 RBI; 5-1, 3.09 ERA) will be a crucial player both in the lineup and on the pitching mound again for the Saints. Lawrence and Sam Hauer (.380, 6 HR, 45 RBI) were first-team All-PAC in 2018, but they’re just two of the six .300+ hitting regulars Thomas More returns. Jordan Houze (6-1, 4.47 ERA, 56.1 IP) will join Lawrence as a mainstay in the pitching staff after a second-team all-league freshman campaign.