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College  | Rankings  | 1/21/2016

2016 NAIA Baseball Preview

Nick Herfordt      Andrew Krause     
Photo: Oklahoma Wesleyan

2016 Perfect Game College Baseball Preview Index | @PGCollegeBall | @_eephuspitch (Nick Herfordt) |  PG College Facebook Page

Listed below are the Preseason Top 25 teams at the NAIA level followed by detailed capsules of each program and the top 20 NAIA prospects in regards to the MLB Draft. The rankings and the first three capsules (teams ranked 23-25) are available for free, the rest is available with a College Baseball Ticket (CBT) subscription. To learn more about the College Baseball Ticket and to sign up today please visit this link.

While home runs, strikeouts and diving catches capture the headlines, it’s often the little things that make a difference in a ballgame. A hit-by-pitch, poorly played hop, errant toss or missed cut-off can be just as meaningful as a grand slam.  The 2015 season proved that a single miscue can reshape an entire game.

It started with Point Park’s two run lead heading into the seventh inning at the KIAC Baseball Tournament. They were up 4-2 and playing for the opportunity to earn the conference’s automatic bid into the national tournament. With a top 25 ranking the Pioneers probably felt the game wasn’t necessarily a must-win to advance, but wanted to remove any doubt they’d be playing in the extended postseason.

Nevertheless, one bad inning, fueled by a pair of hit-by-pitches and a wild throw, cost them the lead and ultimately the game. The Point Park club would have to wait to see if they’d get an invite to continue to play for a trip to Lewiston.

When the at-large bids were announced the Pioneers’ name wasn’t on the list. The senior class, which compiled a 169-58 (.744) record in their four years and made the national tournament the three years prior, was left without the opportunity to play in the extended postseason. Their college careers were over.

Three weeks later Faulkner was two outs away from an appearance in the championship round of the World Series. Up 3-0 with one out and the bases empty, St. Thomas rallied to cross the plate three times to send the game to extra innings. A hit-by-pitch and a ground ball error led to the tying run.

The next inning the Bobcats scored three times to send the Eagles into a win-or-go-home game.

Despite the loss, Faulkner had another chance to play for the title and avenge their loss to STU. Again they were up late, this time to Lewis-Clark State, a team they took to the woodshed two nights prior and thumped 12-0, but the lead was only 8-7 with 2 ½ innings left to play.

A home run began the unravelling as the Warriors tied the game. A pair of costly hit by pitches allowed the go-ahead and insurance runs to score. The Eagles lost and embraced in consolation. For the seniors their hope of ending their college career with a national title ring would evaporate two wins away from their goal.

The next night St. Thomas, who inconceivably rallied a few days prior to advance to the championship game, was leading 7-1 after five innings, 7-3 after six and held a three-run lead with six outs to go.

In the eighth inning the Bobcats imploded. LCSU plated six runs thanks in part to a pair of hit-by-pitches and an error. Instead of St. Thomas coming home with the first national championship in school history in any sport, the Warriors celebrated by capturing their 17th baseball crown.

Fate and luck don’t win championships, players do. And it takes an entire team to take home the title when the last out is made.

Compiling and sorting the list of teams most likely to advance to Lewiston is an arduous task. Different teams have different talents. What one club lacks in pitching, they may make up for it in batting. Another school may have a lineup void of power hitters, but they could have a roster filled with speed and great defense.

Each of the 25 teams as listed below, as well as dozens of others, were examined up, down, left, right, inside and out. It’s a list that will evolve each week as games are played out on the field. In June it won’t necessarily be the team with the best players that dogpile at Harris Field, it will be the club that best uses their talents and takes advantage of the opportunities presented to them between the chalked lines.

Following are the Top 25 NAIA teams determined to be the best positioned and prepared to bring home the 2016 championship.

2016 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

RK School ST Record
1 St. Thomas Bobcats FL 48-18
2 Oklahoma City Stars OK 46-13
3 Tabor Bluejays KS 54-12
4 Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles OK 49-14
5 Faulkner Eagles AL 51-15
6 The Master's Mustangs CA 42-14
7 Davenport Panthers MI 51-12
8 Lewis-Clark State Warriors ID 46-12
9 Keiser Seahawks FL 40-14
10 Freed-Hardeman Lions TN 37-17
11 Lindsey Wilson Blue Raiders KY 41-19
12 Bellevue Bruins NE 46-15
13 Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies GA 50-14
14 LSU Shreveport Pilots LA 46-14
15 Vanguard Lions CA 39-22
16 Northwestern Ohio Racers OH 45-15
17 Sterling Warriors KS 47-15
18 Missouri Baptist Spartans MO 43-13
19 Bryan Lions TN 44-18
20 Point Park Pioneers PA 37-13
21 Madonna Crusaders MI 37-17
22 Auburn Montgomery Warhawks AL 40-18
23 Mt. Vernon Nazarene Cougars OH 37-12
24 Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs TN 45-12
25 Westmont Warriors CA 47-17

25. Westmont Warriors, Golden State Athletics Conference
How deep the Warriors are able to go into the postseason will depend much on the head-turning athletic ability of Alex Bush. As one of the top pro prospects in the NAIA, Bush was barely bested in leading the GSAC in batting at .375 last year and combines his tremendous hitting ability with surprising speed and steady defense. His offense will be especially needed if new arms aren’t found to step up and replace some of last year’s top-shelf pitching staff.

24. Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs, Appalachian Athletic Conference
Almost the entire starting lineup from last season’s Bulldog AAC regular and tournament title team won’t be back this spring. Luckily for TWC, their primary holdover is one of the best players in the NAIA, shortstop Wardy Polano who batted  .417 (tied for 20th in the nation). Nevertheless, neophyte Head Coach Travis Watson’s acclaimed bench skills and ability to recruit should keep Wesleyan’s
season results in par with recent successes.

23. Mt. Vernon Nazarene Cougars, Crossroads League
The Cougars made their sixth consecutive appearance in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round last season and increasing that total to a lucky No. 7 shouldn’t be a problem. While the offense had a bite taken from it following the final out of last season, the bulk of the pitching staff – which held opposition to a 3.62 ERA – returns, including three pitchers who combined for 34 starts on the mound.

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