|Daytona Bryden makes things happen in center field and at the top of the order for UW-Whitewater.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
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Meet the teams
|Ben Swords rounds third en route to one of his 43 runs, tying for the Webster team lead.
Webster athletics photo by Jennifer Propken
By Pat Coleman
The two additional teams in the NCAA Tournament, expanding the field from 56 to 58 teams, land here, turning the Central Regional from a six-team regional to an eight-team regional. Whether that means a team will be more tested, or just less rested, on the way out of the regional, remains to be seen.
Webster, the top-ranked team in the NCAA's Central Region rankings, gets the top seed and will look to shake off last year's two-and-out performance in the regional, one which came at the end of an admittedly down season for the Gorloks. Of course, UW-Whitewater is the No. 1 team overall, and should be, but as the second-ranked team in the NCAA's Midwest, UWW is slotted second here -- even though their NCAA selection criteria are noticeably better than the Webster resume. The Gorloks do come in with 22 wins in their past 23 games, 19 of them against SLIAC competition.
The larger field makes the Central Regional more complicated than in the past, and seeing Texas-Tyler in this bracket certainly makes things intriguing. Meanwhile, Franklin provides perhaps one of the darkest dark-horse possibilities in years. We'll see how it plays out.
Aurora, the surprise winner of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (and bursters of someone's playoff bubble), took two of three from Concordia-Chicago in the conference tournament and has a game vs. TCNJ and another vs. North Central (Ill.) on its resume. Well-tested, the Spartans also had to really tax their pitching staff, throwing 24 innings on Sunday alone to win the NACC title.
Rhodes is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Lynx may well have been hitting the links for the past 15 days, as the three-game SAA championship series ended on April 29. So, even though Jack Mercer and Trey Sledge have combined for 25 of Rhodes' 43 starts, and have thrown more than 70 innings apiece, they'll have had an opportunity to recover. Both got hit pretty hard by Berry in the championship series, although Sledge ended his season with more than a couple of rough outings.
For the first time since automatic bids were awarded to the Midwest Conference in 1999-2000, St. Norbert was shut out, not receiving one of them in any sport, and the final blow was laid by Monmouth, which took two from the Green Knights in the MWC tournament. But on a national level, the Scots' only blip on the radar was a pair of season-opening losses to La Roche.
Thomas More finishes its tenure in the Presidents' Athletic Conference with one final PAC championship, ensuring national runner-up Washington & Jefferson did not make the Field of 58. The Saints struggled through the first month of the season but saw their bats come alive in April and May.
Sauget Regional schedule
All times Central
Thursday, May 17
Game 1: No. 4 Rhodes (29-14) vs. No. 5 Franklin (38-3), 10 a.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Webster (36-8) vs. No. 8 Thomas More (24-18), 1:15
Game 3: No. 3 Texas-Tyler (29-16) vs. No. 6 Aurora (30-13), 4:30
Game 4: No. 2 UW-Whitewater (31-6) vs. No. 7 Monmouth (Ill.) (28-12-1), 7:45
Friday, May 18
Game 5: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1:15
Game 7: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4:30
Game 8: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:45
Saturday, May 19
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 10: Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 1:15
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 4:30
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7:45
Sunday, May 20
Game 13: Game 12 winner vs. Game 11 loser, 12 p.m.
Game 14: Game 11 winner vs. Game 13 winner, 3:30
Monday, May 21
Game 15: Game 14 winner vs. Game 14 loser, if necessary
Having played 17 games in the past 19 days, and won 14 of them, UW-Whitewater is clearly rolling right now and it's easy to envision the No. 1 team in the country continuing that roll through the regional and into the final Division III World Series in Appleton. Michael Kaska, Heath Renz, Austin Jones and Sam Heilenbach form an effective four-man rotation, the kind of arms needed to get through the WIAC's four-game weekend series. Meanwhile, sophomore Alex Doud has moved into the lineup over the past three weeks and has gone 31-for-63 with five homers in that span, adding his power to that of center fielder Daytona Bryden and DH Cal Aldridge.
Most likely to disappoint
Franklin might well have won 38 out of 41 games and the Grizzlies clearly deposited a bunch of home run balls on the football coach Mike Leonard's front lawn, beyond the right-field fence. But whether that can equate to production against some of the best teams in Division III baseball has yet to be seen, since Franklin faced just about none of them this season in compiling those gaudy numbers. The long-ball barrage peaked in May, where the Grizzlies parked 24 balls in eight games. Franklin played three games vs. teams who reached the NCAA Tournament, with two of those against Thomas More (24-18) and the other a 19-18 loss to Otterbein in 10 innings in which seven Franklin pitchers failed to rein in the eventual Mideast Regional 2-seed.
UT-Tyler often looks really good on paper this time of year, but has had its struggles in the West Regional, going two-and-out in 2015 and 2017 and never advancing in multiple trips over the past decade. This is a team where perhaps a change of venue could have a significant impact. The big question, as with many West Region teams, will be what the Patriots do for starting pitching beyond their top three, assuming they get that far. Ryan Cheatham, Simon Sedillo and Nate Imig have combined for 34 of the team's 45 starts.
Players to Watch
C Jacob Telli, Rhodes (.364, 997 OPS, 43 R, 16 2B, 24 RBI, 31 BB, 30 K, 18-22 SB)
1B Kyler Kent, Webster (.435, 1090 OPS, 43 R, 17 2B, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 7 BB, 14 K)
2B Ben Laumann, Thomas More (.345, 1058 OPS, 55 R, 16 2B, 7 HR, 25 BB, 33 K, 17-10 SB)
3B Blake Wilson, UT-Tyler (.399, 917 OPS, 35 R, 12 2B, 26 RBI, 13 BB, 16 K)
3B Frank Podkul, Franklin (.340, 52 R, 10 2B, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 29 BB, 35 K)
SS Sam Claycamp, Franklin (.323, 1007 OPS, 49 R, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 31 BB, 25 K)
OF Daytona Bryden, UW-Whitewater (.507, 1470 OPS, 70 R, 16 2B, 8 HR, 38 RBI, 27 SB, 23 BB, 10 K)
OF Ryan Bixler, Franklin (.376, 1198 OPS, 62 R, 8 2B, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 29 BB, 40 K, 10-13 SB)
OF Grant Myers, Monmouth (.448, 1306 OPS, 45 R, 12 2B, 9 HR, 50 HR, 26 BB, 15 K)
DH/3B Cal Aldridge, UW-Whitewater (.434, 1359 OPS, 49 R, 18 2B, 13 HR, 47 RBI)
DH Bryce DeSpain, Aurora (.363, 28 R, 9 2B, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 18 BB, 27 K)
UTL Sean Lawrence, Thomas More (.384, 1111 OPS, 39 R, 15 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 40 RBI)
SP Jacob Stockman, Aurora (9-2, 1.47 ERA, 86 IP, 5 CG, 68 H, 11 BB, 70 K)
SP Michael Kaska, UW-Whitewater (9-1, 1.33 ERA, 61 IP, 47 H, 13 BB, 53 K)
SP Matt Mulhearn, Webster (9-2, 2.86 ERA, 78.2 IP, 71 H, 14 BB, 71 K)
SP Simon Sedillo, UT-Tyler (7-2, 2.44 ERA, 84.2 IP, 77 H, 15 BB, 63 K)
SP Will King, Aurora (6-0, 1.61 ERA, 50.1 IP, 42 H, 10 BB, 26 K)
UTL Sean Lawrence, Thomas More (5-1, 3.09 ERA, 32 IP, 32 H, 8 BB, 17 K)
RP Shane Donovan, Webster (6-0, 7 saves, 50 IP, 37 H, 11 BB, 26 K)
RP Nick Bosma, Rhodes (2-3, 2.61 ERA, 14 saves, 38 IP, 28 H, 14 BB, 29 K)