For the second straight year, Greenville University and Webster University are the preseason favorites among St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball teams. Greenville was chosen as the favorites in the East Division while Webster was picked as the clear favorites in the West Division.
Greenville received 45 total points, picking up eight first-place votes. Last year the Panthers captured their second SLIAC Tournament title in three years and finished the season with a 30-17 overall record and a 16-6 conference mark. Head Coach Lynn Carlson brings back plenty of talent from last year's squad, including his top two hitters and four of five starting pitchers. Travis Ralls, a senior catcher, headlines the list of returners for the Panthers. Ralls hit .384 with 9 home runs and 45 runs batted in last season and was named SLIAC Player of the Year while earning Second Team All-American honors. Jesse Getz, a senior shortstop that picked up conference tournament MVP honors, hit .405 with 9 home runs and 42 runs batted in last season while being named All-Conference and All-Region. Also back are juniors Adam Lamb (.333 average with 12 RBI while making eight starts) and Jonah Moore (8-3 record with 47 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched). Greenville will expect dual threat, Klaiton Wolff, to continue his development after being named Region Rookie of the Year last season after hitting .287 while driving in 27 runs at the plate and finishing with a 2.52 earned-run average and 24 strikeouts in 25 innings on the mound. Among the newcomers expected to make a contribution will be sophomore transfer Sam Alender.
Spalding was predicted to finish second in the East, receiving 39 total points and the final two first-place nods. The Golden Eagles return five starting position players and two pitchers from last year's team that finished 26-16 overall. Although head coach Matt Downs loses All-Region starting pitcher Kyle Olliges he has the luxury of Jimi Keating coming back. Keating, a senior, was an All-American performer last year after leading the nation in wins with 11 and strikeouts with 124. Spalding will look towards Matt Harper, Clay Kelly, and Dillon Sievert to provide the offense. Harper, a junior, hit .313 with 6 home runs and 17 runs batted in last season while Kelly, a senior, hit .250 with 10 doubles. Sievert, a junior, hit .329 while driving in 24. Spalding will be looking for their group of newcomers (freshmen Blake Benz, Jack Parisi, and Evan Trentman) to step in right away.
After going 20-19 overall last season MacMurray College was picked third in the East with 29 total points. The Highlanders welcome back former head coach Justin Fuhler and return 22 players and five starting position players and a couple of starting pitchers. Leading the list of returners is outfielder Brett Mammenga, who earned Third Team All-Conference honors after hitting .360 with 3 home runs and 28 runs batted in while swiping 19 bases. Even more speed returns for MacMurray as senior infielder Nick Balkenbusch is also back after finishing in the top five in the conference with 20 stolen bases last season. Justin Renoud, a senior outfielder, also returns after hitting .280 with 2 home runs and 18 runs batted in. On the rubber, the Highlanders will need to replace two of their top three pitchers. Senior Cory Steinhart finished second on the team last year by working 56 innings while recording a team-best 66 strikeouts. Ryan Meddows, a senior, had a 3.48 earned-run average while making a team-high 15 appearances last season. Newcomers include freshmen Beau Atkins and Austin Wombacher as well as transfer Hayden Radford.
Blackburn College came in fourth place in the East with 20 points. The Beavers return 14 players and four starters from last year's team that went 7-31 overall. Head Coach Mike Neal brings back some experienced players on the mound. Last year's team leader in innings pitched, Brady Wilkinson returns as does junior Jonathan Stepp, who averaged more than a strikeout per inning last season while throwing the first no-hitter in program history. Senior Jarrett Sandlin, who recorded 22 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched, will be looked to help fill out the rotation. Tyler Durand, a senior, could see more time on the rubber after working 13 innings last year and will remain a leader with the bat after hitting .319 with 4 home runs and 23 runs batted in. Shane Lewis, a senior outfielder, hit .324 last season while leading the team with 48 hits.
Principia College closes out the East standings with 17 total points. Head Coach Chris Marston led the Panthers to a 17-19 overall record last season, the program's most wins since the 2010 season. The team has 12 players coming back including seven starters, highlighted by Ed Bargmann, a Second Team All-Conference performer last year. Bargmann, an outfielder, hit .388 with 33 runs scored and eight stolen bases. Joining him in the lineup will be Parker Davidson, a senior, who hit .295 with nine stolen bases and Zach Grennie, a junior, who hit .308 with 4 home runs and drove in a team-high 30 runs. Alex Stamos, a junior, returns to anchor the pitching staff after notching four wins and striking out 56 with a 4.23 earned-run average last season. Newcomer Aleq McMullin, a junior utility player, should see time on the field as well.
Webster is anticipated to place first in the West with 44 total points and seven first-place votes. The Gorloks will be seeking to extend the conference record regular-season champion streak to 12 years. They return 18 players and seven starters from last year's squad that finished 29-15 overall and 18-4 in SLIAC play. Head Coach Bill Kurich returns a core of his hitters including First Team All-Conference outfielder Ben Dinter. Dinter hit .303 with 5 home runs and 23 runs batted in last season. The versatile Conner Wardlaw will help fill out the lineup after hitting .337 with 22 runs batted in last year and leading the conference with 26 stolen bases. Joe Swanson, a catcher, will take over behind the plate for the Gorloks and hit .311 in limited time last year. The Gorloks will have to replace their top five innings men on the pitching staff from last year including Division III Pitcher of the Year Josh Fleming. Among those expected to pick up the innings are C.J. Lee and Matt Mulhearn. Lee, a former SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, worked just 16 innings last year due to injuries while Mulhearn threw 28 innings as a freshman and recorded 26 strikeouts with a 3.86 earned-run average. Webster welcomes in newcomers Matt Staker and Ben Swords, a pair of freshman, as well as transfer Danny Strohm.
Fontbonne University was chosen second with 36 total points, picking up two first-place votes. The Griffins were 18-21 overall last season under head coach Ryan Good and return 25 players including five starters. Already with a strong core of returners, the Griffins will be hoping their group of newcomers can provide some depth to make enough difference. The Griffins bring back a trio All-Conference players as well as a former SLIAC Newcomer of the Year. Michael Golich (.375 average and stolen bases) and Jonathan Hoevelmann (.366 average and 21 stolen bases) will once again help set the table for senior first baseman Ryan Schocker (.377 average with 41 RBI). Austin Earnest, the 2016 Newcomer of the Year, missed the majority of last season with an injury but should be fully healthy for 2018. He will be joined on the mound by Luke Summers, a sophomore, that led the team in innings pitched a freshman last year. The Griffins are expecting their pitching staff to be filled out by a group of newcomers that include Ryan Howell, John Hughes, and Chris Little.
Westminster College was picked third with 34 points and one first-place vote. The Blue Jays return 14 players and seven starters after going 21-13 overall last season. Head Coach Denny Hughes should have one of the stronger top of the rotation pitching staffs with the return of Alex Dickneite and Sam Huesgen. Dickneite, a junior, worked 84 innings last season, leading the team with 8 wins and finishing with 62 strikeouts and a 3.51 earned-run average. Huesgen, a sophomore, was the SLIAC Newcomer of the Year after going 7-3 with a 2.57 earned-run average and 89 strikeouts in a team-high 91 innings pitched. The lineup will need to replace a pair of All-Conference hitters in Tanner Branneky and Nick Cessna. Seniors Nick Bohlmann, Blake Strebler, and Adam Mundle have the experience to carry the offense. Bohlmann hit .319 while driving 20 last season. Strebler earned All-Region honors after hitting .402 with 6 home runs and 33 runs batted in last season while Mundle finished with a .407 on-base percentage and led the team with 13 stolen bases.
Iowa Wesleyan University placed fourth in the poll with 21 points and will be breaking in a new head coach in Blake Beaber. The Tigers were 15-22 overall last season and return nine players and seven starters. The Tigers will look to a group effort to replace the program's all-time leader in hits, Tanner Anderson. Among that group is junior Chazz Brown, who hit .300 with a team-best 24 runs batted in and Tyler Cooksey, a senior, who hit .345 with a .621 slugging percentage in limited time last year. Senior outfielder Joseph Belarde played in all 37 games last spring, finishing second on the team with three home runs, while Parker Leland will be expected to continue his production with more playing time. The incoming class includes freshman Cody Brown, Ben Stoerts, and Mitchell Wilcox.
Eureka College received 15 total points and was picked fifth in the West Division. The Red Devils were 6-29 overall last season and will be under the guidance of first-year head coach Jerry Rashid. They return 22 players and five starters from last year's squad. The Red Devils offense will be led by senior Ray Vogel. Vogel hit .346 with 7 home runs and 26 runs batted in last season, finishing with a .607 slugging percentage and 20 runs scored. Braxten Ary saw plenty of time in the field as a true freshman last year, hitting .277 with 13 runs batted in, and will be expected to improve upon those numbers with his gained experience. Junior catcher Grant Mullin is not only solid behind the plate, with an exceptional .985 fielding percentage, but can hit as well with a .280 average and more walks than strikeouts while driving in 17. Thomas Harrison, an infielder, has worked hard in the offseason and will be looked upon to show results this spring. Isaiah Taylor, a two-way threat, drove in nine at the plate last year and worked the second most innings among pitchers. Newcomers include Sean Green, Michael Redmond, and Kody Silverthorn.
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