Region Preview: Midwest

UW-Whitewater will hand head coach John Vodenlich his 600th win when his team wins their 31st game of the season.
UW-Whitewater athletics photo by Michael McLoone

by Jim Dixon

The status quo in the Midwest Region has not changed. The WIAC has been the top conference for many years and 2019 is no different. No. 2 UW-Whitewater and No. 18 UW-Oshkosh along with NACC's No. 10 Concordia-Chicago are favorites for national recognition. A stumble by St. Scholastica in the 2018 UMAC tournament and a sudden parity in the MIAC has relegated both the MIAC and UMAC to secondary status. Although the UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh were ranked above the Cougars of Concordia-Chicago for much of 2018, both WIAC teams stayed home while it was the NACC representative that was the standard bearer in the final D-III World Series held in Appleton.

The WIAC will once be denied an automatic bid and will have to fight for one of the Pool B bids or at-large selections. It is expected that the top team will easily grab a pool B bid, that is unless the partity seen in the MIAC also appears in the WIAC. The biggest question mark facing the teams that qualify for the NCAA playoffs is how Super-Regionals will be administered. Will we see a four team regional amoung the regional conference champions, or will we see teams shipped out of the region?

Both UW-Whitewater and Concordia-Chicago bring back the core of their teams while UW-Oshkosh will have to rebuild in 2019 around a good group of seniors. St. Scholastica should run the table in the UMAC if they are not derailed by Bethany Lutheran again and it will also be the same dogfight in the MIAC.

New Faces

Chad Harris, UW-Platteville: Harris has 17 years of collegiate coaching experiencing, most recently serving as assistant coach and pitching coach at the University of Dubuque. Harris returns to UW-Platteville after serving as an academic retention specialist and academic coach in Platteville from 2017-18. "In my time working at UW-Platteville previously, I grew to love this campus. It always felt like home, from day one," said Harris. "When I was on campus for my interview, nothing had changed. Everyone was welcoming and I knew I wanted to be here. And now having a chance to come back and lead the baseball program and to be able to honestly share my passion for this school with recruits and their families, it's a true honor."

Ryan Jerle, Northland: Jerle comes to Northland from Northern State University, where for the past eight seasons he helped the program reach new heights. While at Northern State, the Wolves collected 166 wins and four conference tournament appearances. In 2014, the Wolves set a new standard in wins and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since joining the NCAA Division II ranks. Prior to Northern State, Jerle served as an associate head coach and Recruiting Coordinator for Dakota State University. In 2007, the Trojans set a school record with 39 wins and were nationally ranked 7th in NAIA. During Jerle's time at Dakota State, he assisted the program in creating 8 All-Americans and 52 All-Conference selections. During this time, the program was nationally ranked and set a school record for wins 3 separate times. "I would like to thank the Northland College administration for this opportunity. I believe my passion for the game of baseball will allow US to succeed at Northland College".

Games to Watch in 2019

St. Scholastica vs Concordia-Chicago (March 11): The Saints meet Concordia-Chicago in Auburndale, Fla. in their spring trip to Florida.

UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater (April 6-7): The top two teams in the WIAC meet in Whitewater, Wisc.

St. John's (Minn.) at Bethel (April 13): In a rematch of last year's MIAC title game, the Johnnies travel to meet the Royalsin Arden Hills, Minn.

Aurora at Concordia-Chicago (April 27): A doubleheader between the Spartans and Cougars is expected to be key in winning the NACC race for both schools.

Conference Previews

Max Jackson (pictured) will join Wyatt Ulrich and
Jack Wingerd in the St. John's (Minn.) outfield. photo by Caleb Williams

Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Over the last three year, four different MIAC teams made the NCAA regionals with St. John's (Minn.) (33-8) last tournament title coming in 2016. With parity in full force, a first place regular season finish for the 14th time, a program record for wins in a season did not guarantee the Johnnies a playoff bid. They will have another shot at the top spot with quality back on both sides of the ball. The Johnnies will have an outfield tandem with Max Jackson (.373, 2 HR, 34 RBI, 13 SB) patrolling center and Wyatt Ulrich (.344, 26 RBI, 10 SB) on his right and Jack Wingerd (.287, 22 RBI) on his left. Pitching will be equally strong with the Mike Augustin Pitcher of the Year, Jake Dickmeyer (5-1, 2 SV, 1.57 ERA) back in '19. Danny Kuhn (7-1, 1 SV, 2.38 ERA) and Bennett Wiggins (6-2, 1.98 ERA) will also be back in the starting rotation for one of the best in the nation.

Bethel (32-11) finished second to St. John's (Minn) but won out in the MIAC tournament to represent the conference in the NCAA regionals. Bethel gave away a lot of diplomas but the cupboard is not bare. Pitching will be the early strength for Bethel as starter Michael Bohlke (5-1, 2.28 ERA, 56 K) and reliever (Jake Marsh (3-2, 9 SV, 0.84 ERA) return. The potential is there for the Royals to return to the NCAA playoffs, but this will be determined by how quickly the young players develop in doing the little things that win and lose baseball games.

St. Thomas (Minn.) (20-18) finished just behind St. Mary's (Minn.) (19-17) but is expected to leap frog the Cardinals in 2019. St. Mary's (Minn.) will be deep into a youth movement with only one senior, Eli Morison (1-2, 3.18 ERA), playing a key role for the Cardinals. The youth started arriving last year and they found a star in the MIAC Rookie of the Year, James Green (2-3, 1.68 ERA, 49K). Thirteen more first-year players have been recruited, adding to the potential for a playoff spot in 2019 and a possible title run in 2020. Henry DeCaster (2-5, 2.69 ERA, 2 CG, 72K) is the only All-MIAC player from 2018 back on the 2019 roster for the Tommies.

Macalester (21-17) and Gustavus Adolphus (20-18) both made the MIAC tournament on a year they would have been left at home. Spring arrived late and caused so many cancelations, the annual four team tournament was expanded to six teams, giving the Scots and Gusties a chance for the title. The Scots return the Max Molock Player of the Year, catcher Graham Low (.370, 7 HR, 29 RBI) and battery mate Matthew Plisko (8-2, 3.81 ERA). Expect both teams to battle for the final playoff spot - unless the 2018 weather returns for an encore and lets both play again.

Concordia-Moorhead (17-19), Hamline (17-20), Augsburg (18-20), St. Olaf (15-21), and Carleton (10-23) all missed the conference tournament in 2018. The one thing that is definite is that Hamline will have a hand in the MIAC tournament as they have been selected to host the series starting May 9th. One of the tournament games will be held at nearby Bethel. Nolan Schoonveld, Hamline (.363, 18 RBI, 3-2. 2.63 ERA), Mike Brookshaw, Augsburg (.464, 18 RBI, 15 SB), and Austin Ver Steeg, Concordia-Moorehead (3-0, 2 SV, 1.25 ERA) return for the 2019 season.

Favorite: St. John's (Minn.)

Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference: After a record setting 2018 campaign No. 10 Concordia-Chicago (40-15) has high hopes for 2019. The Cougars were one win away from the championship series in Appleton and with a top ten ranking, it is expected they could very well be playing for a national championship when the Cedar Rapids era opens in June. The Cougars will open the 2019 season on the road in Louisville, Kentucky at Spalding in a contest between 30 win teams before heading down to Florida for their annual spring break trip. With five All-Region players lost to graduation, head coach Mike Stawski will have to find play makers from his reserves. One position that is nailed down is senior shortstop Jose Mercado (.369, 46 R, 26 RBI, 39 SB). Mercado was the spark plug for the Cougars in 2018 and will be the player who will get the offense going in 2019.

Aurora pitcher Chris Roycroft was undefeated in
five starts for the Spartans.

Aurora athletics photo by Steve Woltman Photography

Job one for Aurora (30-15) is to prove that the Spartans are back to where the program has been in the past. The Spartan's return a lot of talent from a regional team in 2018. Swinging the bats are Jett Wedekind (.349, 1, 12 RBI, 17 SB), Davis Purviance (.339, 3 HR, 11 RBI), and Austin Wiskow (.305, 12 SB). They will be joined by rotation that saw a lot of success in 2018 with the likes of Will King (6-1, 2.36 ERA), Chris Roycroft (4-0, 3.04 ERA), and Kyle Blunt (5-3, 3.06 ERA). Reliever Nick Mathey (3-2, 2 SV, 5.17 ERA) will be there if the starters falter. The jury is still out if we are seeing a second power in the NACC but another playoff bid will go a long way to making this so.

Marian (18-22) and Milwaukee Engineering (25-19) finished behind Concordia-Chicago and above Aurora in the standings with the Sabres earning the bye. The final two teams that qualified for the NACC post season were Benedictine (23-18) and Concordia (Wis.) (23-19) but out of this quartet, only MSOE made it to the final day. Hoping to kick one of these team out of this year's tournament is Rockford (17-20). The Regents will bring in 11 transfer students for a fresh input of talent and experience to go along with the likes of senior first baseman Kyle Waugh (.337, 3 HR, 20 RBI) and junior starter Zack Jones (7-1, 2.67 ERA, 62 K). Rockford will have an early test as they open with North Central (Ill.).

Wisconsin Lutheran (11-26), Dominican (17-19), Edgewood (9-28), Lakeland (8-23) occupied the NACC cellar in 2018. Edgewood will have a pair of senior offensive players to build the lineup around. They are Bryan Sternig (.331, 28 R, 23 RBI, 17 SB) and Casey Willis (.253, 19 RBI). Senior Mason Maziarka (1-3, 8.03 ERA) and sophomore Will Mossa (0-2, 4.70 ERA) are the Eagles' best returning pitchers. Illinois Tech (15-25) moves to the NACC from spending last year in the WIAC.

Favorite: Aurora

Upper Midwest Athletic ConferenceSt. Scholastica (22-11) missed the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years last season but the Saints should restart another string of playoff appearances in 2019 despite losing nine seniors from the 2018 squad. Jake Sande (3-1, 3.86 ERA) and Ben Christofferson (injured in 2018) are the top pitchers returning for the Saints. For the offense, Juniors Aaron Weber (.340, 3 HR, 21 RBI) and Zoey Zwak (.296 31 RBI, 11 SB) will be back in the infield.

Bethany Lutheran (23-12) surprised St. Scholastica in the UMAC tournament, grabbing the automatic bid, their first playoff bid in the program. They carried this momentum into the Midwest regional, nearly knocking off the eventual regional champion, Concordia-Chicago in their opening game. The Vikings will be poised to challenge St. Scholastica with a ton of experience coming back in 2019. Ross Beumer (.385, 6 HR, 27 RBI), the UMAC Rookie of the Year will be joined with a mix of upper classmen experience including Grant Becher (.373, 36 RBI), Ben Boran (.402, 32 RBI), and Nick Caldeen (.306, 7 HR, 28 RBI). Logan Nissen (5-2, 4.72 ERA, 1 CG) is back on the mound for the Vikings.

Northwestern (Minn.) (18-19) and UW-Superior (12-25) were the final two teams in the UMAC tournament and both could be back there again. Northwestern will have youth in their battery with both their catcher, Carlton Lindow (.311, 3 HR, 21 RBI), and top pitcher, Phillip Wall (5-2, 3.24 ERA, 4 CG) in their sophomore year. Add the experience of senior Aaron Krahn (.312, 7 HR, 41 RBI) and you have the nucleus of a team with the potential to repeat a UMAC tournament bid. The Yellowjackets bring back UMAC Player of the year and Midwest regional catcher Cory Albertson (.411, 13 HR, 42 RBI). Joining Albertson will be fellow All-UMAC team member Braeden Barr (.352, 5 HR, 29 RBI).

Finishing out the the UMAC tournament were Northland (9-24), Minnesota-Morris (9-24), North Central (Minn.) (6-21), Crown (5-22), and Martin Luther (4-22). The top four teams are likely to repeat, leaving this quintet out of the UMAC tournament for another season. All-UMAC members back this year are Carson Ferry, Northland (2-2, 1 SV, 6.55 ERA), Matt Baehman, Martin Luther (.343, 43 RBI), and Cory Kukkola, North Central (.323, 4 HR, 22 RBI).

Favorite: St. Scholastica

Colan Treml is 19-8 with 10 complete games in
his first three years in an UW-Oshkosh uniform.

UW-Oshkosh athletics photo

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: With fewer than seven members in the conference, the WIAC title team will need to wait for Sunday to see if they made the grade but this was not an issue in 2018 and expect the winner of the WIAC to be awarded a Pool B bid with one or two lower in the standings hearing their name when the at-large bids are announced. No 2. UW-Whitewater (33-8) is reloaded and will be part of a two man race for the conference title. Whitewater brings back a great combination of talent and experience in 2019 and the expectations are as high as their preseason rankings. Runs will come for the Warhawks with Cal Aldridge (.451, 15 HR, 52 RBI) and Alex Doud (.438, 6 HR, 38 RBI) leading the offense. All-Americans Heath Renz and Austin Jones are gone but any staff headed by Michael Kaska (9-1, 1.41 ERA, 55 SO) will present problems for the opposition. If the starters falter, the Warhawk bullpen will have Matt O'Sullivan (3-0, 0.69 ERA, 18 APP, 49 K) and Riley Gruetzmacher (1-0, 4 SV, 3.23 ERA, 20 APP) warming up. Look for head coach John Vodenlich celebrating career win 600 at the end of the season.

No 18. UW-Oshkosh (34-10) will have big shoes to fill as Taylor Grimm and four other All-WIAC performers finished their time in a Titan's uniform. The success for Oshkosh will rest on the shoulders of starting pitcher Colan Treml (10-0, 2.15, 74 K), one of the best pitchers in the country. Providing runs for the Titan pitching staff will start with a lineup full of senior talent. Swinging the bats will be seniors, Alex Koch (.335, 7 HR, 42 RBI), Dylan Ott (.349, 29 RBI, 15 SB), Zack Radde (.310, 24 RBI, 10 SB), Jensen Hinton (.286, 2 HR, 20 RBI), and Jonathan Selchow (.341, 12 RBI).

UW-Stevens Point (24-14) and UW-La Crosse (24-15) competed for third place in the WIAC in 2018 and the same two teams look to battle it out again for the third place spot. It looked like three WIAC teams were headed for the playoffs in 2018 but the Pointers finished the season 6-9 and fell out of consideration for a playoff ticket. Four of five All-WIAC honorees are gone with only centerfielder Payton Nelson (.289, 27 RBI) back in a Stevens Point uniform. Nate Heili (.325, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 13 SB) will hold down the shortstop position for UW-La Crosse with a pair of Honorable Mention All-WIAC performers, Zach Carney (.308, 18 RBI) and Mitch Sutton (.337, 24 RBI) also returning to the offensive lineup. Starter James Witt (3-1, 3.97 ERA) and reliever Caleb Willems (4-1, 4 SV, 2.55 ERA) will take the mound for the Eagles.

UW-Stout (10-27) will be thirty years removed from their high water mark in wins (30 in 1989) but the Blue Devils made great strides last year, even if the record didn't indicate it. With every starter in the lineup back, it will be the pitching that ultimately determines if a program record for wins is in reach. Senior outfielder Jordan Wilson (.327, 34 RBI, 7 SB) will be the spark plug for Stout with Ben Vanhove (.322, 14 RBI, 7 SB), Jon Krueger, Sr. (.321, 13 RBI) and Jack Hemsath, Jr. (.317, 10 2B, 28 RBI) provding punch for the offense. UW-Platteville (10-30) joined UW-Stout in the WIAC cellar and is hoping that a change in the coaching leadership will get the program moving in the right direction.

Favorite: UW-Whitewater