National newcomer Webster represented the Central Region in Appleton in 2013 and many early-season polls are giving the Gorloks love again in 2014 as they are perched in the No. 8 preseason ranking. Settling in behind the Gorloks is Augustana at No. 21, the only other Central Region team ranked in the D3baseball.com’s Top 25.
Each of these programs will be challenged by some serious talent this year as perennial contenders Illinois Wesleyan, Wartburg and Washington (Mo.) each return some of the region’s top players from 2013 squads that are now seasoned a bit more and look to regain what each feels is its rightful spot atop the region.
Stein Rear, Carroll: With a proven track record and success wherever he has stopped, Rear returns to his own neighborhood after coaching stops as an assistant at UW-Whitewater and head coach for three seasons at Northland. Rear, a native of Southern Wisconsin, returns home to grab the reins at Carroll, hoping to draw on his local recruiting ties to turn around a struggling Carroll program that had has not seen a winning season in some time and had a tumultuous 2013 season.
Brandon Townsend, Millikin: Brandon Townsend makes a return to the CCIW as head coach at Millikin. Townsend was a three-year player at CCIW opponent North Central (Ill.) and has spent the past seasons coaching at Concordia-Chicago where he helped lead the team to an NCAA berth.
College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin
Illinois Welseyan stumbled in the postseason last year but returns two first-team All-Region pitchers in Jeff Johnson and John Munyon. Couple that with one of the region’s best hitters in DH Nick Dahn and the Titans are looking like a team that may not only contend for the CCIW crown, but a regional crown as well. Illinois Wesleyan will be challenged in a tightly contested battle with North Park, Augustana and Carthage but they are our pick for the CCIW title.
Augustana is getting the preseason poll love from the voters. They finished 34-11 in 2013 and return first-team All-Region pitcher Seth Davis to anchor their squad. The Vikings have traditionally been a squad built around bats, but the emergence of Davis as a freshman last year has them looking for big things in 2014.
Wheaton (Ill.) may be the surprise team in the CCIW this season as they return All-Region pitcher Michael Kaufman as well as preseason All-American Trey Martin. If the Thunder are to make the leap to the next level, it will have to be on the backs of these two young men.
North Park has made a lot of noise in the past few seasons in the CCIW and on the national scene. For the first time in a while, the Vikes are not returning an All-Region pitcher. Still, the grittiest team in the region will find a way to be in contention when all is said and done. Elmhurst will be led by All-Region outfielder Tyler Wargo and All-American Dave Wolak. Their success will depend on if they can get an arm or two to step up and shut down the CCIW hitters.
Carthage, a staple in the NCAA field for a long time, has missed the CCIW tourney in two straight seasons after qualifying every season from 1990-2011 with seven World Series appearances in that span. The Red Men will be led by all-region catcher Nick Schmidkofer. North Central will be led by All-Region DH John Ciolkosz but their recent success has been led by success on the other side of the ball. They will need to find some arms quickly if they are to compete in this conference. Millikin has long been the CCIW basement dweller, but new coach Brandon Townsend has a record of success and looks to revive a dormant Big Blue program.
Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
The IIAC has been wide open in the past decade. Gone are the days when you could simply pencil in Wartburg as the conference champ as multiple programs have risen to the challenge and garnered the IIAC crown. Wartburg is poised to return to the top of not only the IIAC, but possibly the Central Region as well. They return some serious talent in All-Region players at third base (Ryan Powers) and pitcher (Ben Rettenmeier).
Buena Vista broke through in 2012 and ran all the way to the NCAA World Series, but the Beavers stumbled last year. The 2014 edition will be led by sophomore All-Region catcher Brandon Wessels who turned in a stellar 2013 season.
The IIAC boasts several other All-Region players who return for another season on the diamond in Loras pitcher Jeremy Gerardy, Coe pitcher Drew Arends and Central closer Judson McKown. Look for Wartburg to emerge from this knock-down, drag-out conference that beats up on itself and represent the IIAC is the NCAA postseason in 2014.
In most years, the MWC’s NCAA representative hails from the North Division and it will be no different this year. St. Norbert returns a pair of All-Region players in outfielder Alex Larson and utility Travis Mason and they will be challenged by Ripon in the MWC North Division who adds Michael Polcyn, an All-WIAC performer who transfered to the Red Hawks from UW-Oshkosh.
Only the top two in this division qualify for the MWC tournament so Beloit, Carroll and Lawrence have their work cut out for them if they are make the leap to the upper echelon in their division. The Southern Division is always wide open and this year is no exception. Monmouth will be led by All-Region second baseman Ryan Crandall while Cornell returns All-Region outfielder Joe Gerace and this program also produced the Regional Player of the Year in 2013 in shortstop Zach Rogers. Illinois College is always at or near the top of this division so expect them to be in contention when the dust settles. Our pick is Monmouth and Cornell advancing to the MWC playoffs from the South with St. Norbert outlasting Ripon for the MWC’s NCAA bid.
St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Webster has been the dominant program in the conference for over a decade and I see no reason it will not continue in 2014. The Gorloks, ranked No. 8 in the preseason, are fresh off a run through the NCAA that resulted in the Gorloks landing in Appleton, making a deep run before bowing out late. They return a pair of All-Region players in second baseman Taylor Stoup and pitcher Isaac Behme. The Gorloks are also returning the Central Region Coach of the Year in Bill Kurich.
If they are to be challenged in the SLIAC, expect it come from Spalding. All-Region shortstop Derek Ferch Leads Spalding in 2014 and they look to build on their success from 2013. A second contender to knock off Webster in the SLIAC is Westminster (Mo.), which returns All-Region players in third baseman Tyler Branneky and utility Deion Hughes.
Both Washington U. and Chicago are members of the UAA, a conference that is a national conference and does not award a Pool A NCAA bid. Still, each program has been impressive enough to be in contention for bids in the past and each looks to grab one again in 2014. Chicago will be led by All-Region third baseman Kyle Engle as the Maroons look to build on the successes of the past three seasons. Washington will be led by a twosome of all-region returners in first baseman Zack Kessinger and pitcher Dom Quaranta. The Bears have been on the verge of taking the leap from regional contender to national contender for a few years now and this could be the season they finally break through.
COURTESY OF D3BASEBALL.COM