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College | Story | 1/14/2020

2020 NAIA Baseball Preview

Nick Herfordt         Brian Sakowski        
Photo: Josh Sears (Freed-Hardeman Athletics)



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Listed below are the Preseason Top 25 teams at the NAIA level followed by detailed capsules of each program. The rankings and the first capsule is 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.



Final 2019 NCAA Divisions II and III and NAIA Rankings

The last decade has seen the Freed-Hardeman baseball team establish and maintain tremendous success, especially the past two seasons. In 2018 the Lions complied a 47-16 record and advanced to the NAIA World Series where they won four games and finished the season as the national runner-up. Their unprecedented accomplishment was even more incredible considering the team started the season with an inconspicuous 10-9 record.

Last season the Lions roared once more, again reaching the 47-win plateau and making a repeat trip to Lewiston. While they were eliminated early from the finals, their body of work – which included winning the AMC regular season and tournament titles – cemented themselves as one of the NAIA's premier baseball programs.

The architect of the team’s winning ways is Johnathan Estes, who is now in his 11th year coaching at his alma mater. He has guided the team to a 371-201-1 record and national tournament appearances four of the past five years, an amazing accomplishment for a program situated in Henderson, Tenn., a tiny off-the-beaten-path town with a population which barely reaches 6,000. When students come to FHU to play baseball they aren’t coming to town for a vibrant social scene or entertainment options, they want to play for Coach Estes.

This season Estes’ army is the favorite to reach Lewiston for the third consecutive season and take home the title. The lineup is filled with multiple All Conference and All-American candidates, led by future professional hitter Josh Sears, the irreplaceable Bryce Lester and a cache of talented starting pitchers. They are an experienced, motivated group which will not be defeated easily.

The Lions are Perfect Game’s pick to win it all this season, but from reading the rest of the Top 25 capsules below an FHU title is not a foregone conclusion. There are a slew of talented teams capable of winning the title and each will be ready to pounce and claim the championship for themselves. Each of these schools, as well as a number of other worthy contenders, have what it takes to be this season’s NAIA baseball champion.


2020 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk.
School
ST
'19 Rk.
Record
1
Freed-Hardeman Lions
TN
7
47-17
2
St. Thomas Bobcats
FL
2
49-15
3
Southeastern Fire
FL
4
53-12
4
USAO Drovers
OK
3
49-12
5
Oklahoma City Stars
OK
13
46-14
6
Faulkner Eagles
AL
6
49-12
7
Texas Wesleyan Rams
TX
14
46-15
8
LSU Shreveport Pilots
LA
16
47-13
9
Georgetown Tigers
KY
20
46-16
10
Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs
TN
1
56-10
11
Bellevue Bruins
NE
11
48-16
12
Campbellsville Tigers
KY
NR
32-20
13
Bryan Lions
TN
18
36-17
14
Arizona Christian Firestorm
AZ
NR
39-21
15
Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies
GA
5
48-13
16
Cumberlands Patriots
KY
9
46-10
17
Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles
OK
8
45-11
18
Central Methodist Eagles
MO
25
35-16
19
Benedicine Mesa
AZ
15
44-13
20
Concordia Cardinals
MI
NR
39-20
21
Madonna Crusaders
MI
22
37-22
22
Lyon Scots
AR
NR
40-22
23
Indiana Southeast Grenadiers
IN
NR
37-20
24
Concordia Bulldogs
NE
NR
33-20
25
Taylor Trojans
IN
NR
38-18


1. Freed-Hardeman Lions (47-17)
Last season the Lions won 47 games for the second year in a row and won the American Midwest Conference regular season and tournament titles. They host the NAIA Opening Round and advanced to Lewiston where they won their opening game before dropping their next two.

Returning two-time First Team All-American Josh Sears, a super-sized slugging first baseman who has homered 21 times in each of the past two seasons while bating a lofty .369/.460/.728 leads the Lions’ offense. After another dominating regular season at the plate, he continued to flourish over the summer where he was an All-Star with the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League. He should easily place in the top-five nationally in home runs and slugging percentage. Backing Sears in the order and playing on the opposite side of the diamond at third will be Will McCall. McCall reportedly upped his game in the fall after an impressive freshman season in which he was second on the team with nine home runs and batted .291. The team will once again be solid at the ever-important shortstop position with Bryce Lester, a four-year starter who’ll be looking to end his career on a high note. Lester, the Lions’ on-field and in-dugout catalyst, has batted .337 while playing at FHU. His career on-base percentage is a lofty .478 and he provides solid defense.

Alex Huey, Jacob Sawyers and Austin Steel provide Head Coach Jonathan Estes with a trio of established starting pitchers who combined to throw 299 innings, 15 complete games and receive credit for nearly 70 percent of the team’s win last season.

Huey topped the team in wins and had a 2.88 ERA as a freshman. On the heels of an outstanding fall he should easily fulfill his Preseason All-American status. Sawyers is a polished pitcher with three plus pitches, a draftable arm and is highly regarded by his teammates. Steel has a propensity to shine in big games, put up identical 3.49 ERAs his first two seasons and finished in the top-five nationally in walks allowed per nine innings last season as he issued a paltry 14 in over 100 IP with 88 Ks. Joining them in the rotation will be Connor Creasy, a redshirt last season, who threw 51 innings in 2018.

Landon Sewell, last season’s American Midwest Conference First Team closer who earned 10 saves and only allowed earned runs in five of his 24 appearances, will be back in the bullpen once again.


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