Webster and Spalding SLIAC Preseason Favorites

Webster and Spalding SLIAC Preseason Favorites

For the second year in a row Webster University and Spalding University have been chosen as the favorites this season in the SLIAC preseason baseball poll as voted on by the league's coaches. Spalding is the East Division favorite after receiving 43 total points while Webster is the West Division favorite, receiving 45 total points.

Spalding received 43 total points, including five first-place votes. The Golden Eagles went 25-16 overall last season, going 15-7 in conference play. They will be led by first year head coach Matt Downs, who brings back 20 players from last year's squad. Spalding will need to replace outfielder/pitcher Ryan Mosby, who was the 2015 SLIAC Pitcher of the Year. Heading up the returners is junior outfielder Austin Drake. Drake hit .286 while swiping 15 bases last season and earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Also back is Third Team All-Conference members; Korie Vire and Kyle Olliges. Vire, a senior infielder hit .282 with 30 runs batted in while Olliges, a junior pitcher, led the staff in starts with nine; going 5-2 with a 3.76 earned-run average and 58 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched. The Golden Eagles welcome in freshmen Matthew Harper and Nolan Simpkins, the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year nominee, as well as Aaron Mitchell, a transfer from Wabash Valley. 

2015 SLIAC Tournament Champion Greenville College was picked second in the East Division, receiving 39 total points, garnering the remaining five first-place votes from the division. The Panthers went 22-21 overall last season, finishing 16-6 in the SLIAC. With head coach Lynn Carlson at the helm the Panthers return 30 players and seven starters. After the loss of Tim Osborne, Jared Storment, and Dalton McFarland the Panther offense will lean heavily on senior catcher Trevor Montgomery. Montgomery hit .305 with 12 doubles and 23 runs batted in last year, earning honorable mention All-Conference honors. Junior outfielder Max Gabriel showed promise last year, hitting .328 with four doubles in limited duty while sophomore infielder Jesse Getz gained valuable experience as a freshman last year; hitting .276 and tied for the team lead with a .407 on-base percentage. Junior outfielder Shane Olmsted should provide some pop after hitting three home runs in just 61 at bats last season. The Panthers pitching staff returns their top two starters in Ryan Strohm and C.J. Opp but will need to find someone to anchor down the bullpen after losing closer Nick Bifano.

MacMurray College was picked third in the East with 24 total points. The Highlanders will be led by first-year head coach Austin Brough. MacMurray went 17-22 overall and 9-13 last season. They bring back 19 players and four starters including several standout sophomores. Sophomore second baseman Collin Antoine hit .352 with 22 runs batted in and 39 runs scored while drawing a nation leading 40 walks last year and finishing with a .518 on-base percentage. Nick Balkenbusch, a sophomore infielder, hit .296 with a team leading nine stolen bases in his first year on campus while Bret Mammenga, a sophomore outfielder, hit .280 with three home runs and 21 runs batted in. The pitching staff will be led by sophomore Trevor Knipe, who finished with a team leading five wins last year, and senior Dillon Hodges, who recorded a 2.93 earned-run average in 2015. A pair of newcomers in pitcher Connor Jacobs and utility player Brendan Pesko should see plenty of time on the field.

Blackburn College was picked fourth in the East, totaling 18 points. The Beavers were 13-27 overall and 5-17 in the SLIAC last season. Head Coach Mike Neal will count on senior outfielder Matt Mokriakow to boost the offense. Mokriakow, a First Team All-Conference honoree last year, was second in the conference with a .437 batting average while adding three home runs and 36 runs batted in. Senior infielder Aaron Moody returns as well after hitting .329 with 20 runs batted in and 34 runs scored. Sophomore Shane Lewis gained plenty of experience last season, hitting .297 in 36 games as a true freshman. The pitching staff will be headed up by sophomore Tyler Morgan. Morgan made seven starts last season, going 3-6 on the mound with a 2.54 earned-run average and limiting opponents to a .226 batting average.

Principia College was picked fifth in the East, receiving 11 total points. The Panthers welcome in a new head coach in Chris Marston and bring back 12 players and five starters. The Panthers went 11-24 overall and 6-16 in the SLIAC last season. The Panthers offensive charge will be led by junior Eddie Bargman and sophomore Paker Davidson. Bargman hit .286 with 12 runs batted and led the team in runs scored with 19 while Davidson hit .309 with 13 runs batted in and five stolen bases. The pitching staff will need to replace Gavin Thomas and Dallen Russell. Sawyer Grow, a junior, was third on the team in innings pitched last year and should see his workload increase with the two departures on the pitching staff. Newcomers Zach Grennie and Jake Kearney will battle for playing time.

Webster University was chosen as the SLIAC West Division favorite, receiving 45 total points and garnering nine first-place votes. The Gorloks went 34-15 overall and 18-4 in the SLIAC last season, advancing to the Division III World Series for the third time in the last four years. Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, returns 24 players and 10 starters. The Webster offense should be loaded once again with the return of Second Team All-American, Kyle Uhrich. Uhrich provides the Gorloks with elite power, hitting a Division III leading 17 home runs while batting .354 with 63 runs batted in. Senior third baseman Jeff Kammer, First Team All-Conference, is back after hitting .385 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in while fellow returner Dylan Rajkovich, a senior outfielder, hit .331 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in. The pitching staff will need to replace Isaac Behme but need look no further than the duo of Josh Fleming and C.J. Lee to pick up the innings. Fleming, the 2015 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, went 7-3 with 86 strikeouts while leading the staff in innings pitched. Lee, the 2014 SLIAC Newcomer of the Year, was 5-1 last year with a 2.92 earned-run average. The Gorloks add to the depth of their team with several newcomers including freshman infielder Jake Milosch and transfers Zach Bishop and Brandon Smith.

Westminster College is picked second in the West Division with 35 total points and one first-place vote. The Blue Jays, coached by Denny Hughes, went 24-12 overall and 16-6 in the SLIAC last season. They bring back 22 players and six starters including the SLIAC Player of the Year Tyler Branneky. Branneky, a senior infielder, hit .413 with six home runs and 45 runs batted in last season while slugging .690. Connor Hager, a junior infielder, hit .346 with 23 runs batted in last season while Nick Bohlmann, a sophomore outfielder, hit .343 with 22 runs batted in and six stolen bases. Senior catcher A.C. Long is back as well after hitting .273 with 25 runs batted in and will work with battery mate Deion Hughes. Hughes, an outfielder/pitcher, led the team with seven wins while striking out 71 and finishing with a 1.71 earned-run average. Teaming up with Hughes to give the Blue Jays a tough top of the rotation is senior Will Miller. Miller went undefeated, 6-0, last season while leading the Blue Jays in innings pitched and earned-run average with a 1.69 mark. Freshman Alex Dickneitte has the potential to join the rotation during the year.

Fontbonne University was chosen third in the West, with 24 total points. The Griffins were 18-20 overall and 13-9 in the SLIAC last season. Head Coach Ryan Good brings back nearly his entire roster with 25 players and 10 starters. Returning pitchers Tanner Carter and Vince Santarsiero give the Griffins a strong rotation. Carter, a senior, picked up four wins last season while finishing with a 3.92 earned-run average over a team high 64.1 innings pitched. Santarsiero, a senior, posted a team best 2.18 earned-run average with four wins and three saves over 45.1 innings pitched. The Griffin offense will be anchored by senior infielder Ben Greenway. Greenway, a First Team All-Conference performer last year, hit a league best .462 while driving in 31 and compiling 15 doubles. Ethan Boyer, a junior infielder, also returns after hitting .323 with 15 runs batted in and a team high seven stolen bases. Among the newcomers looking to see time are freshmen Brendon Beck and Jon Hovelman. 

Iowa Wesleyan University finished fourth in the poll with 16 points. The Tigers, coached by Derek Zander, finished 18-22 overall and 8-14 in the SLIAC last year. The Tigers return 11 players and five starters including First Team All-Conference performer Justin Katich. Katich, a senior outfielder, hit .400 with five home runs and 38 runs batted in last season. The Tiger offense will again have depth behind Katich with the return of Tanner Anderson, Travis Kostello, and Josh Sanchez. Anderson, a junior infielder, hit .349 with 20 runs batted in while Kostello, a junior catcher, hit .289 with two home runs and 12 doubles. Sanchez, a sophomore outfielder, hit .333 with 16 runs batted in during his first collegiate season. The pitching staff will miss Second Team All-Conference performer Jeff Burdett and will look to junior Luis Eric Torres to increase his time on the mound after throwing 27 innings last season. Several newcomers should compete for time including freshmen Ruben Ramirez and Christian Schmidt as well as transfer Korbin Taylor.

Eureka College was picked fifth in the West, receiving 15 total points. The Red Devils were 8-24 overall and 4-18 in the SLIAC last season. Head Coach Kim Johnson returns 13 players and five starters and bring in a large incoming class of over 20 players. Senior third baseman Nick Passini, .376 batting average with three home runs and 20 runs batted in, will head up the offense. Sophomore outfielder Ray Vogel will help set the table after hitting .296 with 17 runs batted in. Senior infielder Trevor Froehling, an infielder/pitcher, hit .324 with seven doubles at the plate and finished third on the team in innings pitched while recording three saves. Among the group of newcomers expected to contribute are Ryan Hickey, Grant Mullin, and Jake Schnulle.

SLIAC EAST DIVISION SLIAC WEST DIVISION
School Points (1st) School  Points (1st)
Spalding 43 (5) Webster 45 (9)
Greenville 39 (5) Westminster 35 (1)
MacMurray 24
Fontbonne 24
Blackburn 18
Iowa Wesleyan
16
Principia 11 Eureka 15
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