Greenville College and Webster University have been chosen as the favorites in their respective divisions according to the 2017 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll. Greenville totaled 37 points in the poll, receiving five first-place votes and are the favorites in the East Division while Webster picked up 45 points, including nine first-place votes, and are the favorites in the West Division.
Webster finished 28-15 last year, going 18-4 in conference play and winning their 10th consecutive SLIAC regular season title. Head Coach Bill Kurich will count on one of the nation's top sluggers to carry his offense while also bringing back the bulk of his pitching staff. Senior Kyle Uhrich earned All-American honors last season after hitting .329 with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Two years ago Uhrich led NCAA Division III in home runs with 17 and last spring he became the Gorloks' career home run leader. Setting the table for the Gorloks will be outfielder Mike Wick, who led Webster with 36 runs scored and 14 stolen bases last season while hitting .377 with 11 doubles. Senior infielder Matt Wollnik also returns after hitting .297 with 19 runs batted in. Despite the loss of All-American pitcher Jack Bensinger the Gorloks are still expected to have a talented pitching staff. Leading the staff will be All-Conference pitcher Josh Fleming, who went 4-1 last season with a 2.88 earned-run average while striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings. Senior Matt Goro figures to find more innings this year as well after compiling a 0.96 earned-run average in 37 innings last season while picking up two wins. Top newcomers include Dakota DeFreitas, Nate Tholl, and Conner Wardlaw.
Westminster College is coming off a trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament and was picked second in the West Division with 29 points, picking up the final first-place vote. The Blue Jays were 28-15 overall lats season and return five starters. Head Coach Denny Hughes will have nearly an entirely new pitching rotation, losing 22 of their 28 wins due to graduation. The offense also takes a hit with the graduation of Tyler Branneky and Deion Hughes, the last two SLIAC Player of the Year winners. Senior outfielder Tanner Branneky will be in the middle of the Blue Jays order after hitting .343 with 10 home runs and 43 runs batted in during a break out season. He will be surrounded by three others players that hit above .300 last season. Junior Adam Mundle hit .333 while finishing second in the conference in stolen bases with 17. Junior outfielder Nick Bohlman finished with a .344 batting average and 32 runs batted in last season while junior Blake Strebler hit .314 with 28 runs batted in.
Fontbonne University was picked third in the division with 28 points after finishing 2016 with a 15-25 overall record. The Griffins return a majority of their roster from last year, with 22 players coming back including seven starters. Head Coach Ryan Good will look to senior designated hitter Ben Greenway and sophomore pitcher Austin Earnest to lead the team. Greenway was named All-Region last year after hitting .358 with four home runs and 37 runs batted in while Earnest was the SLIAC Newcomer of the Year after notching five wins with 63 strikeouts in 51 innings pitched. A trio of All-Conference players from last year are also back to help Greenway and the rest of the Griffin offense. Senior Ethan Boyer hit .295 with 21runs batted in while senior Devon Tolan hit .323 with three home runs and junior Ryan Schocker finished with a .322 batting average and 16 runs batted in. The Griffins welcome in newcomers Levi Earnest, Cole Lankford, and Luke Summers.
Iowa Wesleyan University was chosen fourth in the poll, receiving 16 total points. The Tigers return seven starters from last year's team that finished 14-25 overall. Head Coach Derek Zander brought in several transfers over the summer which will give him his most mature team during his five years at the helm. Among top returners for the Tigers will be sophomore infielder Chazz Brown. Brown hit .297 as a true freshman, driving in 14 runs while scoring 32 runs and recording a .430 on-base percentage. Tanner Anderson, .318 average and 21 RBI, and Joshua Sanchez, .303 average and 21 RBI, are also back to fill out the Tiger lineup. Among the newcomers expected to contribute will be Austin Christian, Tyler Cooksey, and Garret Pettyjohn.
Eureka College rounds out the predicted West Division, coming in fifth with 13 total points. The Red Devils finished 9-26 overall last year under head coach Kim Johnson. They return 17 players and four starters while bringing in more than a dozen newcomers including four junior college transfers. The Red Devils top returners include a pair of underclassmen in sophomore Grant Mullin and junior Ray Vogel. Mullin, a catcher, hit .309 with 15 runs batted in last season while scoring a team best 25 runs. Vogel, an outfielder, led the team in all three major offensive categories; hitting .311 with seven home runs and 29 runs batted in. The Red Devils lose their top two pitchers from last year (Nick Finney and John Kurtz) but will have a staff of 12 pitchers to choose from to pick up innings. Among the newcomers that will see time on the field will be junior infielders Kyle Maki and Evan Smith as well as junior outfielder/pitcher Isaiah Taylor.
Greenville was narrowly picked as the favorites in the East Division, edging out MacMurray College and Spalding University. Greenville went 24-21 overall last season while advancing to their third consecutive SLIAC Tournament Championship game. The Panthers return 18 players and seven starters from last year's squad, highlighted by First Team All-Conference catcher Travis Ralls. Ralls, a junior, hit .353 with three home runs and 35 runs batted in last season with a team high 13 doubles. Also returning are senior outfielders Mike Hardin and Shane Olmsted. Hardin set the table for the Panther offense, hitting .317 with 40 runs scored and also offers some pop at the top of the order with six home runs. Olmsted finished with a .282 batting average with five home runs and 27 runs batted in. They will have a young pitching staff led by sophomores Adam Lamb (3-1 record with a 3.07 earned-run average) and Jonah Moore (2-2 record with a 4.14 earned-run average). Helping the pitching staff however will be the fact that they also return their middle infielders, which set a program record for double plays last season with 45. Head Coach Lynn Carlson is looking for newcomers Logan Murphy, Bryce Pearce, and Joe Wood to make an impact.
MacMurray was picked second in the poll, receiving 36 points and two first-place votes. Last year the Highlanders advanced to their first conference tournament since 1999, finishing 22-20 overall. Head Coach Austin Brough returns a whooping 27 players from last year's team along with seven starters. MacMurray will rely on their experienced pitching staff led by seniors Connor Jacobs and Luke Jarvis and junior Cory Steinhart. Jacobs led the staff in innings pitched last season with over 70 and notched five wins while striking out 65, earning Third Team All-Conference honors. Jarvis, a First Team All-Conference selection and All-Region pitcher, went 6-3 while making just seven starts last season and finished with a 2.87 earned-run average and 57 strikeouts. Steinhart logged 55 innings pitched last spring while recording 56 strikeouts. The offense will lean on junior second baseman Collin Antoine and junior first baseman Alec Quandt. Antoine hit .410 last year, the second best average in the SLIAC, with a conference leading five triples while driving in 24 runs. Quandt meanwhile hit .277 with two home runs and 19 runs batted in and 10 doubles. Junior College transfer Justin Renoud, an infielder, should provide a potent bat as well.
Spalding received 31 points, accumulating three first-place votes, and was chosen third in the poll. The Golden Eagles were 22-17 overall last season and will look to senior first baseman Kam Bruner to carry the offense after the graduation of All-conference infielder Korie Vire. Bruner hit .423 last season with team highs in both home runs (5) and runs batted in (39) and finishing first in the conference with a .522 on-base percentage. Sophomore infielder Matt Harper played in 36 games last year, hitting .255 while driving in 23 and should take on a bigger role on offense. The pitching staff returns all five starters, led by the duo of junior Jimi Keating and senior Kyle Olliges. Keating led the team with five wins and held a 2.41 earned-run average while Olliges was 4-3 with 87 strikeouts in 70 innings pitched. Seniors Aaron Mitchell (3.02 E.R.A.) and Javier Guerra (2.50 E.R.A.) give the Golden Eagles a deep and talented starting four.
Blackburn College was picked fourth in the East Division with 18 points after going 14-26 last season. The Beaves will have to replace standout Matt Mokriakow and will look to a pair of juniors in Shane Lewis and Brandon Smith to do so. Lewis, an infielder, hit .324 with 21 runs batted in while scoring 31 runs last season. Smith, an outfielder, finished with a .330 batting average and 23 runs scored, tallying 32 hits in 33 games played. Senior Joey Szerletich, a catcher, will provide some power for the Beavers after hitting .312 with six home runs and driving in a team high 34 runs. The Beaver pitching staff will be young after the graduation of their top two inning eaters (Tyler Gosnell and Jarrett Luckett) but junior Dillon Hensley did work 23 innings last year while appearing in 19 games.
Principia College closes out the East Division, finishing fifth with 13 total points. The Panthers were 9-28 overall last season and bring back eight starters on a roster that features an experienced senior class. Senior shortstop Connor Coyne led the team with a .319 batting average last season, driving in 20 and finishing with 11 doubles and 11 stolen bases. Junior outfielder Parker Davidson hit .300 while tying for the team lead with 11 stolen bases while senior designated hitter Hunter Mehring hit .311 with three home runs and finished second on the team with 26 runs batted in. Head Coach Chris Marston is excited for return of outfielder Ed Bargmann, who missed last year, as well as incoming freshman Sean Hannan.
|SLIAC East Division||SLIAC