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College  | Story  | 2/8/2024

NAIA Top 25: February 8

Nick Herfordt     
Photo: Joey Grabanski (Concordia Athletics)
Last season Westmont claimed the program’s first Red Banner as they held off hometown favorite Lewis-Clark State who was hoping to win their 20th title. The Warriors’ win was a surprise as they hadn’t won a single game in the championship tournaments previously. It was just their second trip to Lewison and they had gone 0-2 in Idaho the year before. Westmont will not repeat as champions because after the final out was made the school began their transition to NCAA DII.

Even if the Warriors were returning to the NAIA, they wouldn’t be the favorites. Southeastern, who almost went wire-to-wire as the top team last season, somehow are even better this year than last. The Fire were already oozing with talent on offense and the mound, but now have an extra year of experience, topped with increased motivation after being dethroned last season. 



Nonetheless, despite being a favorite, SEU still has to earn the title. As demonstrated last season, the winner isn’t decided until the last out is made and each of these teams have legitimate aspirations to to be crowned national champion.

Rk. School State '23 Record '23 Final Rk.
1 Southeastern Fire FL 58-6 2
2 Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies GA 50-8 4
3 Lewis-Clark State Warriors ID 37-18 5
4 William Carey Crusaders MS 49-11 3
5 Bellevue Bruins NE 48-10 8
6 Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs TN 43-11 11
7 Cumberlands Patriots KY 49-9 7
8 Missouri Baptist Spartans MO 44-9 12
9 LSU Shreveport Pilots LA 47-10 10
10 Faulkner Eagles AL 15-35 NR
11 Taylor Trojans IN 42-17 9
12 Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes KS 44-15 15
13 Concordia Bulldogs NE 40-18 NR
14 Hope International Royals CA 33-11 13
15 Columbia Cougars MO 40-15 NR
16 Reinhardt Eagles GA 34-20 NR
17 Indiana Wesleyan IN 41-20-1 6
18 Vanguard Lions CA 35-18 16
19 Benedictine Mesa Redhawks AZ 44-14 14
20 Point Park Pioneers PA 39-15 NR
21 Central Methodist Eagles MO 36-19 21
22 Doane Tigers NE 43-12 24
23 MidAmerica Nazarene Pioneers KS 35-28 20
24 Loyola Wolf Pack LA 31-22 NR
25 Science and Arts Drovers OK 35-20 NR


1. Southeastern Fire
As the final ten teams traveled to Lewiston for the 2023 NAIA World Series, SEU appeared to be on their way to winning their second straight national title. They had spent the entire season as the consensus top team with little doubt they were the last team anyone wanted to matchup against.  They had a 55-4 record and had scored double-digit runs in 33 of their games while holding opposition to a single run or less in 22 contests. Often a Venn diagram of their incendiary offense and unforgiving pitching overlapped, resulting in blowout games such as their decisive 15-1 win over ranked Kansas Wesleyan in the NAIA Opening Round. Alas, their winning ways came to a halt in Idaho as William Carey reversed the trend with a 13-4 victory.  The Fire regintied to win a pair of elimination games, but Southeastern in large part defeated themselves in the penultimate game with defensive miscues and a lackluster pitching performance which included seven walks, four hit batters and a run scoring balk to have their season come to a close. Although SEU didn’t come home with the title trophy, they did return with a roster ready for another run to Lewiston. The overwhelming bulk of last year’s roster returns, and Head Coach Adrian Dinkel has added some incredible transfers which could make this year's edition of the team its best yet. 

Seniors Isaac Nunez and Gary Lora are two of the top ten players in the NAIA and hold down the corner infield positions. Nunez, a third baseman, hit a team leading .433 last season with 101 hits and 18 home runs. He also added 22 stolen bases. Over the past two seasons Lora has batted .386 with 36 home runs and 32 doubles. Chane Bryant and Josh Pigozzo are another pair of prolific performers back in the lineup. Bryant led the team with 23 home runs last season and batted .370. Pigozzo, who’ll handle centerfield duties and bat leadoff, batted .355 with 21 doubles last season. Yet another senior, catcher Pablo Lanzarote, hit .331 with 12 home runs in his first season at SEU after transferring from Purdue. Expect David Castillo, who hit .359 last season with nine home runs, to contribute even more this season. Josh Smith and Landrey Wilkerson put the offense over the edge in ability. Smith was a three-year starter at Georgia State where was an All-Sun Belt Conference outfielder and the team’s leading hitter in 2021. Wilkerson pitched relief and played the outfield at Louisiana. 

The already formidable pitching staff added Lex Garcia who struck out 172 batters in only 102 ⅓ innings at San Jacinto. Garcia was a top Texas prep pitcher and initially had signed to play at Texas Tech. He will join established starters Darien Smith, Robb Adams and Danny Batcher in the SEU rotation. Smith had a 2.94 ERA last season and struck out 127 batters in 85 ⅔ innings while only allowing 64 hits. Adams, the 2022 he was the NAIA Pitcher of the Year, was second on the team with 104 strikeouts, a total he amassed in just 80 ⅓ innings pitched. Batcher, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school, had a 2.93 ERA last season and struck out 83 batters in 67 ⅔ innings while only allowing 43 hits. Ramsey David, who spent a season at Auburn before pitching at Gordon State and Northwest Florida St., has also joined the staff. He struck out 84 batters in 70 ⅓ innings at NWF last spring. Reece Wissinger will be back in the bullpen to close games. In 25 appearances in 2023, he struck out 81 batters in 41 ⅔ innings while only allowing 17 hits (.126 B/AVG) and 10 walks. Despite Colby Martin having been an All American at DIII Shenandoah where he hit .433 over two full seasons and slugged .682, is likely to have a role in the SEU bullpen this year.

2. Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies 
The Grizzlies were the second-ranked team for most of 2023. As anticipated they reached the NAIA World Series for the fifth consecutive year (excluding the Covid canceled 2020 season) and appeared to be one of the few teams with a strong shot of upending SEU for the title. However GGC underperformed in Lewiston, dropping two games in which their usually dependable pitching staff surrendered 34 runs to be quickly eliminated. Their offense lost two top hitters over the offseason; however their absence, while detrimental, will be minimal. They retained many of the bats which combined for a .380 team batting average and .630 slugging percentage, as well as three of their four starting pitchers. The team also welcomes back the 2023 NAIA Player of the Year Ajay Sczepkowski whose boisterous bat is able to outscore a number of opponents on its own. 

Sczepkowski became the first player in NAIA to record a 30 home run and 30 stolen base season last spring and earned a slew of honors following the season. He hit .421 with 17 doubles, five triples and 33 home runs to compile an incredible 216 total bases. The centerfielder also stole 36 bases, drew 30 walks and was hit by a pitch 18 times to finish with a .521 OB%. He probably drove the bus back from road trips a couple of times too. Braxton Meguiar and Blaze O’Saben are the other two top returning players. Meguiar batted .416 as the team’s second baseman and stole 36 bases. O’Saben hit .413, had a .500 OB% and stole 12 bases. Cohen Willbanks and Joe Quelch also have the ability to hit over .400. Wilbanks batted .400 in 120 at bats and earned defensive honors for his ability at catcher. Quelch hit .399 in 36 games and stole 19 bases.  Transfers Jackson Cobb and Henry Daniels fortify the everyday lineup. Cobb was a regular in the middle infield last spring at Kansas and has also spent time on the rosters at Arkansas and Texas Tech. Daniels hit .335 at West Georgia and led the Wolves with 15 home runs.

Senior Gage Williams returns as the team’s ace in this fourth year on the roster. He had a 3.65 ERA and a team-high 106 strikeouts in only 79 innings last season after moving from the bullpen to the rotation. He also threw three shutouts.  Ben Harris also rejoins the rotation. His 2.88 ERA led the team’s starters. In 56 ⅓ innings he struck out 69 batters and only allowed 44 hits. He was particularly impressive against top teams as he struck out 11 on the road against both Tennessee Wesleyan and Middle Georgia State as well as earned the win in the deciding game of the Lawrenceville Bracket which propelled the team to Lewiston.  Caleb Hill, who made 18 appearances and nine starts last season at Charleston Southern, will join the Grizzly rotation. He has made 18 starts over the past two seasons at CSU with 120 strikeouts in 119 ⅔ innings. Tommy Ross and Wyatt Dodgens are newcomers to the staff who should make big contributions. Ross made 16 relief appearances at Georgia Southern in 2023. He had a 3.92 ERA in 20 ⅔ innings. Dodgens pitched previously at USC Sumter (Go Fire Ants!). He had a 3.21 ERA and held opposition to a .242 average over 12 appearances which included eight starts.

3. Lewis-Clark State Warriors
The Warriors were playing marvelous baseball early last year but hit a pair of rough patches that would have cost any other team an opportunity to play in the postseason. They were 18-4 going into late March when they went 8-10 over a stretch which saw them drop series to British Columbia and Oregon Tech. They ended the regular season strong, but went 1-2 in the Cascade Conference Tournament. However, the Warrior had an automatic bid to host the NAIA Opening Round Tournament which extended their season. They made the most of the opportunity and earned an invite with a pair of wins over Concordia (MI) who had been 47-8 headed into the tournament. As has become the custom, the Warriors played well in the series. After being exiled to the elimination bracket by top ranked SEU, LC won three straight games to advance to the title game where they were finally felled by Westmont. 

The Warriors offense will be one of the best in the country. The already prolific lineup had added some strong bats to fortify the offense. The pitching staff is solid and experienced, but may need to lean on the offense to win games until they get into a groove. Impressively the Warriors have one of the NAIA’s most stringent starting schedules which should set the pace for yet another winning season. 

Redshirt outfielder Nick Seamons led the offense. He topped the team with a .346 batting average and slugged .641 with 13 doubles, two triples and 17 home runs. He also earned accolades for the defense in the outfield. Third baseman Dominic Signorelli started every game last season and led the team in runs, doubles and triples while hitting .345. Isaiah Thomas, who helped Vanderbilt to a pair of College World Series appearances, including a national title, will play another season in Lewiston and is the team’s most prolific performer. After a slow start, Thomas erupted late and hit six home runs in six games during the NAIA World Series to be named the MVP of the tournament. Overall he hit a team leading 20 home runs and slashed .341/.448/.710. Pu'ukani De Sa and Carter Booth also return to the team. De Sa hit .329 with eight home runs and provided excellent defense at second base. Booth seems to have finally found a home after suiting up at three other colleges, including the University of Utah and Oregon State. He batted .332 with 12 home runs and has earned honors for his defense while playing for the Warriors as well as Everett CC. New to the team are Jake Gish and Ike George. Both played at DI schools last spring. Gish played in 31 games with 23 starts at Utah last season and George, an Idaho native returns to his home state from Charleston Southern. At CSU George led the team in stolen bases and had a .245 average. 

The pitching rotation will likely be the trio of Jace Hanson, Drake George and Dallas McGill. Hanson appeared in 13 games last season with eight starts. In 45 innings he allowed 41 hits while striking out 44. George will be playing his third season as a starter on the staff. Over the past two seasons he has struck out 85 batters in 89 ⅔ innings. His ERA was 6.92 which should improve substantially this spring. McGill made 12 starts last year and stuck out 52 batters in 43 ⅓ innings as a sophomore. Hiroyuki Yamada, a Japanese native, was a two-time all-conference winner at Mt. Hood CC and should see some starts as well. Kolby Solomon and Zachary Ediger are the go-to guys in the bullpen. Solomon played two seasons at Gonzaga and Ediger threw in nine games last season.

4. Williams Carey Crusaders
The Crusaders advanced to Lewiston for the first time since 2017 after they clobbered Houston-Victoria and Ave Maria in the NAIA Opening Round by outscoring them 45-6. While in Idaho they earned two wins at the World Series, including a 13-4 drubbing of top ranked Southeastern. Their season came to an end at the hands of the host, but had one of the best seasons in recent school history with a 49-11 record and incredible 22-2 finish in conference play. The Crusaders’ offense, which hit .338 as a team, slugged .554 and stole .94 bases is largely intact from last season. They did lose their top slugger from last year, but have recruited talented  transfers to lessen the blow. The pitching staff will also be without one of its primary contributors, but retained much of the rest of the staff for what should be another highly competitive season. 

RJ Stinson is one of NAIA’s elite players. The senior will be playing his fifth season as a starter and has shown improvements each year. Last spring he hit .399 with 105 hits which included 18 doubles, six triples and 11 home runs. He also walked 36 times and was hit by a pitch in another six at bats to accumulate a .476 OB%. Jake Lycette and Brady Wilson return to man the corner infield positions. Lycette, a fourth year starter at first, batted .371 last season with 13 home runs and 27 stolen bases. Wilson hit .321 in his first year on the team after transferring from Southwest CC. Braydon Coffey, who played alongside Wilson in high school, will be back behind the plate for the team. He hit .305 last season. Preston Ratliff and Bailee Hendon also return. Ratliff batted .311 with nine home runs when he wasn’t pitching. Hendon hit .344 last season after transferring from South Alabama. He is anticipated to be a major force in the middle of the lineup.  Newcomer Bridley Thomas adds an impact bat on offense and solid glove on defense. He hit .296 with five home runs at Mississippi College last season as their starting shortstop. 

Dario Herrera and Andrew Shirah will rejoin the starting pitching rotation. Herrera had a 4.09 ERA over 17 appearances which included 13 starts. He struck out 76 batters in 77 innings. Shirah was second on the team with 86 strikeouts over 91 innings. He had a 4.35 ERA and threw five complete games. Bobby Magee, a transfer from Pearl River CC, will likely join them in the regular rotation. He had a 2.08 ERA and struck out 43 batters in 34 ⅔ innings while only allowing 22 hits last season for the Wildcats. As mentioned earlier, Preston Ratliff will be back on the mound. He threw 43 innings in a dual-role last season in which he only allowed 23 hits while striking out 55. Lane Jarreau can also be unhittable out of the bullpen. In 45 innings he only allowed 30 hits while striking out 55. John Snyder, who appeared in a team leading 24 games out of the bullpen is also back. He had a 4.50 ERA as the team’s closer. 

5. Bellevue Bruins
The Bruins had their third consecutive 40-win season last spring which ended with their 16th appearance in the NAIA World Series. Their wins were fueled in large part by a solid lineup which had 10 players who started at least 25 games and hit well over .310. While three of those batsmen won’t be back, the rest return, along with ¾ of their starting rotation which will keep the team elite. They’ve also added some very high-caliber transfers, especially on the mound, which will give them an edge as they look to advance to Lewiston for the third year in a row. 

The team is led on offense by a pair of Canadians. Brendan Luther missed nearly two months of the season, but when he was on the diamond he helped the team at the plate and in the field. He batted .361 in 28 games and drew 21 walks to generate a .488 OB% while only striking out 13 times. Defensively he had a .972 fielding percentage at shortstop. Logan Grant, another Bruin with two first names who hails from this country’s neighbor to the north, hit .367 with 11 home runs as the team’s catcher. Nick Grade earned an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove for his play at third base. He was also exceptional at the plate, batting .356 with a team leading 15 home runs. Local product Anthony Lind had 22 extra base hits and a .339 average as the team’s flawless fielding right fielder. A return to full health by Alex Ackerman could pay off dividends on offense. He was limited to 10 games before injury cut short his season. In 2022 he was the team’s starting shortstop and hit .378 with 38 extra base hits. Expect Jake Lacey and Bryce Zimmerer to earn all-conference honors. Lacey hit .323 with 32 extra base hits and homered in four-straight games last season. Zimmerer transferred from South Dakota State to get more playing time.

The Bruins’ pitching is what truly makes them a favorite this year. Dustin Schorie and Blake Crippen were both phenomenal last spring. Schorie was an honorable mention All-American as he had a 2.38 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 72 innings. He threw six complete games, of which two were shutouts. Crippen had a 3.47 ERA over 98 2⁄3 innings in his second year as a full time starter.  He pitched six complete games as well and was especially dominant during the postseason when he had a 2.31 ERA over 23 1⁄3 innings. Brock Townsend, who appeared in 31 games over the past two seasons at Oregon State, will join the rotation this spring. Another newcomer expected to put up strong numbers is Brady Toth from Columbia Basin College. Easton Brinton who threw 70 innings and struck out 61 batters with a 4.63 also returns. Western Illinois transfer Cade Herrmann has the ability to dominate in relief if he can find the strike zone.   

6. Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs
Tennessee Wesleyan spent the entire regular season firmly entrenched in what has become their customary position in the top five of the rankings. However the postseason was a mess. After going 2-2 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament, which included a mercy-rule loss, TWU went 1-2 in the NAIA Opening Round and narrowly avoided going 0-2.  Despite the lackluster finish the Bulldogs finished with a 43-11 overall record and 29-1 mark in the AAC regular season which are finishes most teams could only dream to achieve. This year’s roster has a similar flavor to last year’s edition which should produce the same overall success.  They just need to obviously perform better at the end. The sting of their letdown and a group of timely transfers should remedy whatever failed them last year.

Seniors Marco Martinez and Carson Ford are the top players back offensively. Martinez hit .360 last season with 12 home runs and will play shortstop. Ford had a breakout season last spring. After only batting .257 as a sophomore, he hit.365 with 32 extra base hits and 25 stolen bases. Evan Magill and Braxton Turner will also provide the team with experience and the ability to generate runs. Magill will be playing his third season as a regular starter in the outfield. His previous two seasons he generated a .336 batting average with solid pop. Turner is a quick senior athlete who is as comfortable playing centerfield as he is catcher. Although his average dipped last season, he hit .390 in 2022 and will bat leadoff. Daniel Stewart who hit .363 at Wallace State CC and Jack Stevens from Catawba Valley CC have proven to be excellent hitters and will join the lineup. Stewart especially has a very high ceiling for his potential.

Blake Peyton and Sam Rochard will lead the starting pitching staff. Peyton had a 3.47 ERA and struck out 108 batters in 70 innings while only allowing 40 hits last year. When he keeps his pitches in the strike zone few players can match his ability. Rochard can also dominate opposition. He struck out 70 batters in just 56 ⅔ innings while only allowing 15 walks.  Daniel Davila and Christian Delashmit are transfers who will solidify the staff. Davila initially committed to New Mexico before pitching at Central Arizona College. He had 1.74 ERA and only allowed 19 hits in 36 ⅔ innings for the Vaqueros. Also of note, he struck out 44 batters and only walked five. Delashmit spent two seasons pitching at Tennessee before moving on to Dyersburg State CC. He was one of the top pitchers in his Tennessee prep class and could be very good for the Bulldogs. Jake Sergent split time last year as a starter and in relief. With the additions of Davila and Delashmit, as well as Julian Berinti from Compton College, he will likely concentrate on closing games. He struck out 60 batters in 59 ⅓ innings last year with a 0.99 WHIP.

7. Cumberlands Patriots
The Patriots have consistently been one of the top teams in the NAIA under Head Coach Brad Shelton, yet have also consistently have fallen short of advancing to the NAIA College World Series. That changed last season when Cumberlands not only advanced to Lewiston with a win over Columbia College, but also earned Shelton his 1,000th career win. The Patriots were solid both at the plate as well as on the mound as they had a .350 team average with 142 home runs, and 3.64 staff ERA with 549 strikeouts in 458 innings. While their everyday lineup is just as formidable as last year, some pitchers will have to step up, or transfers step in, to put another trip to Idaho on their itinerary. 

Junior catcher Charlie Muñiz batted a team-high .425 and set a new program record with 96 hits - 24 of which were home runs and 26 were doubles. In the NAIA Opening Round he hit six home runs in three games to get the team over their opening round hump. Defensively he threw out 18 of 30 base stealers with a .991 fielding percentage. Max Harper and Evan St. Claire can be beasts at the plate as well. Harper is a graduate student who started his college career at BYU. He hit .409 in 2023 with 23 home runs and 14 doubles. St. Claire also initially started playing at a DI school. He spent three seasons at Siena where he was a starter. At UC he batted .380 with 15 home runs, 15 doubles and a team high 21 stolen bases. Returning to the lineup this spring will be Seth Benner who was the conference freshman of the year in 2022. He didn’t play last season, but hit .399 with 31 extra base hits as a true freshman. Alex Gonzalez from Lipscomb and Jeremy Garcia from Bethune-Cookman, are middle infield transfers looking to get quality at bats and play for a winning program. Clay Shelton, the son of the Patriots’ head coach, is expected to have a bigger role in the offense this year. He has hit .385 in 25 games coming into the season.

Knicko Billings, Cesar Avila and Jared Shelton are the top three returning pitchers from last season. Billings, who also transferred from Bethune-Cookman, had a 2.86 ERA and held opposition to a .192 batting average. In 72 ⅓ innings he struck out 69 batters. Avila was primarily a reliever last year, but will likely start more in ‘24. Over 20 appearances he threw 29 ⅓ innings and struck out 41 batters. Shelton threw 23 innings over 13 appearances and struck out 31 batters while only allowing 14 hits and seven walks. He is penciled in to be the closer this spring. Kailen Hamson, who originally hails from Australia, has joined the team after pitching at Three Rivers CC. He will likely take over one of the open starting pitching jobs.  Wesley Culley from Southwest Tennessee CC is also being suited up for a starting role. Michael Tolson, who pitched four years at DI Longwood, is a graduate student looking to finish his career at UC and should find a regular role in the bullpen.

8. Missouri Baptist Spartans
The Spartans nearly advanced to Lewiston for the first time since 2017 with a remarkable run by a revamped roster which was a vapid 25-23 the year prior. MBU finished the year with a 44-9 record and won the American Midwest Conference regular season title with a 19-2 mark. The team returns seven All-AMC players, two of which also were awarded All-American honors. The determined Spartan team has five graduate athletes who will make a strong run at a red banner.

Blaine Besse is a local area product and the reigning AMC Player of the Year after a spectacular season in which he hit .424 with 16 home runs. He will be back in the outfield along with Blayne Yarger who hit .420 with 16 doubles, six triples and five home runs. He also added 24 stolen bases. Shortstop Alex Adams batted .400 last season with 22 extra base hits and stole 18 bases. Venezuelan native Cesar Soto batted .333 in his year with the Spartans while playing second base. Each of the four previously mentioned played at local community colleges. Cole Robinson had played previously at Missouri State and Missouri Southern State. In his first year back in his hometown of St. Louis, he batted .387 with 13 home runs. DJ Schmidt will be making his fifth season as a regular starter for the Spartans. He hit .302 last year with 17 stolen bases and provides well- above average defense in the outfield.   

Anthony Green was named the AMC Pitcher of the Year after striking out 117 batters in 86 ⅔ innings last spring. He had a 3.52 ERA and held opposition to a .190 batting average. The rest of the starting pitching positions will likely be filled by transfers. Anu Reis was initially headed to Hawaii out of high school and was a top five prep prospect from the Aloha State. Teague Robertson is a hard thrower from North Iowa Area CC who’s high school mascot was the Kewpie Dolls. Jackson Wells struck out 74 batters over 56 ⅓ innings at St. Charles CC and should start a fair share of games as well. Skout Rallo and Brady Stephan were important pieces of the MBU bullpen last year and will be once again. In addition to having a cool name that would be good for a Star Wars character, Rallo struck out 32 batters in 26 innings while only allowing 13 hits (.146 B/AVG). Stephen struck out 48 batters in 40 ⅓ innings of work.  Micah Diamond has proven to be effective as a starter or in relief in his two previous seasons as a Spartan. He has stuck out 100 batters over 111 ⅔ innings in 23 appearances. 

9. LSU Shreveport Pilots 
The Pilots looked like a lock to advance into Lewiston with a squad which was firmly entrenched in the top five almost the entire season. However it was not smooth sailing in the postseason where their performance didn’t measure up to their on-field actions earlier in the year. They went 2-2 in the Red River Athletic Conference Tournament with a pair of one-run losses to get eliminated. In the NAIA Opening Round they suffered a surprising loss to MidAmerica Nazarene and struggled to stay alive with two close wins. The avenged their loss to the Pioneers to set up a winner-take-all finale, but MNU scored two runs in the ninth to come from behind and earn the invite to Lewiston. LSUS has had some notable losses on both sides of the ball, but looks to have filled any absences with transfers able to contribute from the opening pitch. 

Trevor Burkhart will lead the Pilot offense this season on the field and in the dugout. The senior centerfielder has hit .331 over the past two seasons with 70 stolen bases. AJ Fritz was the top ranked Ohio outfielder in high school and was a starter at DI Evansville before spending seasons at State College of Florida and Northwest Florida State College. He hit .358 in his first year at LSUS with 20 doubles, five home runs and 13 stolen bases while only striking out 10 times in 204 at bats. Speed second baseman Vantrel Reed batted .371 with 13 doubles and five triples and 18 stolen bases. Josh Gibson will likely bat lead off after hitting .393 last season. He also walked 40 times and suffered seven HBPs to push his OB% to .541. Angel Rodriguez, Jose Sallorin and Austin Gomm are transfers who will see innings immediately. Rodriguez was an exquisite hitter at Dallas College Eastfield. He hit .414 and slugged .764 for the Harvester Bees. Sallorin hit .336 for the Blackhawks of Southeastern CC and Gomm was an JUCO All-American as he slashed .455/.533/.906 for the Parkland Cobras.

The Pilots have a pair of pitchers who project to play professionally in Draven Zeigler and Byrion Robinson. Zeigler was a part-time starter last season. He had a 3.14 ERA and struck out 48 batters in 43 innings. Robinson struck out 44 batters over 35 ⅓ innings in three seasons at Pearl River CC. He will be playing his first season at LSUS. Isaac Rohde was an exceptional pitcher for Clarke the past two seasons and will likely lead the Pilot staff. Last season he struck out 104 batters in 76 ⅔ innings. He threw a complete game in eight of his 13 starts and had a 4.70 ERA. Chase Guitreau has primarily seen action out of the bullpen his first two seasons on campus, but could see more action as a starter this year. Last season he had a 2.30 ERA over 47 innings with 47 strikeouts while holding opposition to a .205 average. Kenneth Schechter from the College of the Desert will get an opportunity to close games. He had 51 strikeouts in 43 ⅓ innings with a 1.87 ERA for the Firebirds last season. 

10. Faulkner Eagles
The Eagles’ record and performance last season is not a representation of their ability - not even close. They officially had a 15-35 record last year as they had to forfeit 11 games due to self-reported clerical oversight violation. However, even if the Eagle’s were to have kept the wins, they still would have finished far below their expected outcome. Expect last year’s result to be an absolute anomaly and for the Eagles to once again be one of the top teams in the NAIA. 

Jose Varagas was an All-Southern States Athletic Conference performer at catcher. He led the team in batting last season with a .361 average. He may see more time at other positions with the addition of Christian Webb to the roster. Webb hit .337 in a part-time role at LSU Shreveport.  Tuane Cope and Evan Gilliam bring a lot of speed to the team which typically is a feature of the Eagles’s offense - although last year they only stole a total of 54 bases which is fewer than they did in the Covid shortened 2020 season. Cope is a transfer from Southwest Tennessee CC. He batted .362 and stole 40 bases last season for the Saluquis. Gilliam, a senior outfielder, stole 20 bases in each of the past two seasons, but struggled at the plate overall last year. Francisco Soriano and Jorge Lucero are another pair of returning players who will contribute to scoring. Soriano batted .305 with 22 extra base hits and Lucero hit .306 with 14 doubles and six home runs. He also had a combined 36 BBs and HBPs to push his OB% to .461. Two transfers from the west should be just the spark the team needs to reignite its offense. Orlando Lorduy was the top hitter at Benedictine Mesa. He earned All-Cal Pac honors twice and batted .401 last season with 19 doubles, 11 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Johnny Lopez joined the team from St. Katherine. Lopez batted .349 with 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases.

Nick Graham and Alexis Saldana are returning starting pitchers who will take to the mound once again. Graham transitioned from a relief role to an occasional starter last year with mixed success. In 49 innings he struck out 57 batters while only issuing 18 walks, but also was prone to giving up timely hits which bloated his ERA. Saldana has earned 157 strikeouts in 134 innings over the past two seasons. Marco Ozuna from Cochise College will join them in the regular rotation. In 123 innings with the Apaches, he had a 2.27 ERA, struck out 175 batters and only issued 33 walks. Tyberius Correa, 6’7” hurler from Tampa missed last season, but was a starter in 2021 and 2022.  Over the summer he had a 0.83 ERA in the Alaskan Summer League. Hunter Dupay was solid out of the bullpen last spring. In 34 innings he struck out 38 batters and had a 4.24 ERA. Evan Valencia, another transfer from St. Katherine, will help bolster the bullpen. In 2022 he had a 3.57 ERA over 22 ⅔ relief innings with 25 strikeouts.

11. Taylor Trojans 
The Taylor Trojans have consistently been a power in the Crossroads League with numerous regular season and tournament titles under Head Coach Kyle Gould. They annually also finish frequently with win totals in the upper 30’s and have been nationally ranked around the 20th position, but have struggled to break into the top half of the Top 25. That changed last season as Taylor went 42-17 with a school record 30 wins in conference play. They advanced to the NAIA World Series for the first time to break into the top ten as they set program records for runs and home runs. Much of last year’s roster is back with an enviable amount of pitching depth and an experienced lineup looking to build upon last season’s success.

Taylor’s offense is driven by their athletic outfield. Kaleb Kolpien will be a third year starter.  In his first two seasons he hit .387 and a conference leading .424. He also had 21 doubles and six home runs last year and only struck out 15 times while earning 30 walks. Brayden Manning hit .330 last year and led the team with 12 home runs as a freshman. Cam Knepp will likely play centerfield and leadoff games. He batted .326 with 65 walks and 12 HBPs to compile a .521 OB%. Mason David played sparingly in 2022, but became a major part of the offense last year. He hit .332 with 17 doubles and seven home runs. Brennan Frickel is ready to have a breakout year this spring. As a freshman he had a .469 OB% and 10 stolen bases. Sam Gladd, who hit .294 with ten home runs, also returns.

Matt Dutkowski led the team with 81 ⅓ innings and 85 strikeouts. His 13 starts last season included a pair of nine-inning complete games. With his 4.08 ERA and 1.12 WHIP he was a First-Team All-Crossroads League selection. Gabel Pentecost threw 60 innings and struck out 62 batters as a freshman. He’ll likely be the number two starter for the team. Alec Holcomb and Dalton Swinehart should round out the rotation once again. Holcomb is a senior in his fifth year as a Trojan. Last season he threw a personal best 68 innings in which he struck out 67 batters and had a 4.90 ERA. Swinehart made 16 starts and struckout 73 batters in 70 ⅓ innings. David Platt, a transfer from Indiana, helps solidify the staff. Jack Ross will once again close games. He led the team in ERA, appearances, wins and saves last season. In 52 ⅔ innings he had a 3.08 ERA with 55 strikeouts.

12. Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes
The Coyotes had their best season in school history as they won 44 games, went 27-6 in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and reached the NAIA Opening Round title game. Unfortunately for them they were in the same bracket as top ranked and defending national champion Southeastern which was too much of an obstacle to overcome. This year they return several core players, including the KCAC Player of the Year, for what should be another strong postseason run. 

KWU returns a trio of senior sluggers to drive their offensive machine. Shortstop Jarrett Gable was named the KCAC POY last season after hitting .345 with 17 doubles and 23 home runs to win. He also set a new school record for RBI with 82. Kendall Foster was nearly as prolific at the plate. He batted .311 with 14 doubles, four triples and 24 home runs. Zack Beatty is also likely to surpass the 20 home run mark this season. Last year he hit 19 over the wall while batting .296. He also drew 45 walks to push his OB% to .414. Jacob Williamson, a transfer from Diablo Valley, doesn’t have the same power of the previous three, but he can get on base and will bat lead off. Eric Romero, another California JC transfer, should find a home in the outfield as well. Tyler Favretto from Crowder College will help on offense and behind the plate. He slashed .371/.530/.516 for the Roughriders and will bat near the top of the order for the Coyotes. 

Pitching will be a strong point for the team this season. Jarret Brannen and Nathan Righi will lead the rotation. Brannen threw 89 innings last season with 16 starts. His 5.56 was inflated due to a couple of poor performances. Righi had 108 strikeouts in 97 innings. His 3.53 ERA led the starters and he held opposition to a .221 batting average. Brett Maddock from Merced College is penciled in to be the team’s number three starter. He threw 100 innings and had a 3.78 ERA and 1.24 WHIP for the Blue Devils last season. Pedro Ramirez from Iowa Wesleyan, a school which closed its doors permanently, has transferred and should see some significant innings as a starter as well. The bullpen is exceptional with a number of quality arms. Ritter Steinmann appeared in a school record 31 games last season. He compiled 52 innings and held opposition to a .219 batting average.  Ryan Sandoval earned a 1.59 ERA over 22 ⅔ innings as the team’s closer. 

13. Concordia (NE) Bulldogs
While the Bulldogs had hoped their juggernaut offense would lead them to a second trip to Lewiston in three seasons, Head Coach Ryan Dupic’s team fell just short. They advanced to the NAIA Opening Round and defeated both St. Xavier and Midway, but lost twice to Freed-Hardeman. The eliminating loss was an absolute backbreaker as they lost despite being up 8-5 headed into the ninth inning. The Bulldogs were also edged by Doane in both the Great Plains Athletic Conference regular season standings as well as the conference tournament. Concordia will battle for conference and national supremacy again with a lineup that will keep opposing defenses playing with their backs against the wall. They also return much of a pitching staff that is good enough to win games even when the offense’s power plug is pulled. 

Joey Grabanski and Jaidan Quinn each hit 27 home runs last season and will challenge each other once again. Grabanski has 62 career home runs headed into the season. If he hits another 15 he’ll become the NAIA all-time leader. He’s more than just a slugger as he batted .382 last season and even stole six bases. Quinn, the club’s third baseman, slashed .361/.508/.848. Alec Blakestead and Jayden Adams also hit double-digit home runs last season. Blakestead batted .361 with 15 doubles, 13 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Adams hit .326 with 31 extra base hits and was 14-14 in stolen base attempts. Concordia also returns shortstop Ty Nekoliczak who led the team in batting at .411 last year, and catcher Tanner Tompkins who batted .364. 

The pitching staff features Caden Johnson and Blake Benson to start the rotation. Johnson has been named to the All-GPAC First Team twice. Last season he had a 3.30 ERA and struck out 60 batters in 58 ⅓ innings. Benson threw 72 ⅔ innings of baseball and stuck out 79 batters. Christian Gutierrez and Caden Bugarske both pitched in 11 games with eight starts last season and will be in their third year of being a starter. Gutierrez had a 4.79 ERA in 62 innings in 2023, and Bugarske had a 4.79 ERA. Qwin Zabokrtsky and newcomer Braxton Greenburg are the top arms out of the bullpen. Zabokrtsky had a 3.71 ERA over 26 ⅔ innings last season. Greenburg was a starter at Mayville State.

14. Hope International Royals
The Royals spent the entire regular season positioned in the top ten last year due to an experienced team with several superlative seniors. They had a 31-7 record headed into the postseason and it appeared that perhaps they’d be going out in style, but the team struggled in May. They went 2-2 in the GSAC Championships and lost both their NAIA Opening Round games by allowing a total of 35 runs, Because the Royals had so many upperclassmen, their roster is one of the most made over from last year. They did return a number of excellent players; however if they are going to have a deep postseason run it will require a number of transfers to play to their potential.

The Royals return much of their infield with David Rivera, Alex Moreno and JJ Cruz back in action. Rivera was one of the NAIA’s most productive shortstops last season with a .397 batting average and 17 home runs. Moreno, who handles third base with aplomb, batted .315  in his first year after transferring up the highway at Concordia Irvine. Cruz spent three seasons as a regular at Cal State Fullerton. He hit .326 last year with six home runs and only made three errors. Branden Chun-Ming hit .356 and slugged .644 in 29 games last season and should play full time in the outfield this year. The team has added four transfers which should keep them elite. Alec Arnone is a graduate student who spent the last two seasons at San Diego Christian and hit .358. He also was a starter at UC Riverside as a freshman. Amari Bartee was also a starter at a DI school. He played last season at Marshall. His father spent six seasons in the major leagues. Mario Tostado and Dean Toigo will also make their way into the starting lineup. Tostado hit .342 at Santa Ana CC and Toigo almost went to Oregon following two strong seasons at Cypress CC.

The pitching staff has been overhauled as the Royals’ top arms graduated or were drafted. Tyler Tilton will likely be a full time member of the rotation this season. He made four starts last season and struck out 18 batters in 16 innings. Trey Seeley and Chaz McWilliams are the top transfer candidates to take to the mound. Seeley struck out a batter per inning while at Cypress CC last season.  McWilliams impressed at Riverside City College. Josh Landry, another Cypress alum, will get innings out of the bullpen. Steven Ordorica and Justin Drury are experienced relievers. Ordorica led the team in ERA last season at 2.37 and stuck out 32 batters in 29 innings while only allowing 29 hits. Drury appeared in 15 games and struck out 22 batters in 19 ⅔ innings.

15. Columbia Cougars
The Cougars had one of their best seasons in history as their 40-15 record set a new school record for wins. They finished second in the AMC regular season to Missouri Baptist in the regular season, but claimed the conference’s tournament title. In the NAIA Opening Round they continued their winning ways with victories over Mobile and Reinhardt, but couldn’t overcome the Cumberlands. This year the Cougars should be better than last season. They return all but one regular position player and their pitching staff is just as good if not better. 

Indy Stanley and Cayden Nicoletto both put up All-American caliber numbers last season. Yes, Stanley is named after Indiana Jones. Stanley is phenomenal behind the plate and magnificent in the batter’s box. In 2022 he batted .423 to earn AMC Newcomer of the Year. Last season he hit .373 with 16 home runs. Like the Wiggles, Nicoletto is an Australian with lots of hits. He earned NAIA All-American honors after batting .385 with 21 home runs. He also added 19 doubled and four triples to compile a .817 slugging percentage. Tyle Renn led the team in batting last season with a .386 average as a freshman. He also had 31 extra base hits as the team’s third baseman. Brayden McGinnis and Braden DeSonia are also integral parts of the offense. McGinnis hit .348 with 14 home runs and 16 doubles. DeSonia will be playing his fifth year on the team. He hit .347 last spring with 23 extra base hits and 15 stolen bases. The team added Nick Fleckenstein from USAO. He hit .324 for the Drovers and will take over at shortstop. 

Dan Fick and Reece Clapp are the team’s top two starting pitchers. Fick is a big 6’7” hurler who has had two solid seasons as a Cougar. Last year he threw 82 innings in which he struck out 78 batters. In 2022 he had a 2.20 ERA over 81 ⅓ innings. Clapp had a 3.41 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 58 innings as a freshman and earned All-AMC First Team honors. Pierce Hartmann will likely become a full time starter after a split role last spring. Ray Schroeder who went to high school in Columbia (another Hickman  Kewpie in the write-ups!?!?!), will likely take over the closer role. He pitched sparingly last season at St. John’s River CC and spent a season at Missouri. 

16. Reinhardt Eagles 
The Eagles were an offense force last season, but were handicapped by an inconsistent pitching staff that gave up too many runs. Nevertheless, they remained competitive the entire season and were a club no one wanted to face. The Eagles’ offense will once again power the team and the coaches have added some quality starters to a revamped staff which should take it to the next level. 

On offense the Tucker Zdunich and Nash Crowell are the best Canadian duo since gravy and cheese curds. Zdunich is the MVP of the offense and has generated a .364 average over the past two seasons with 30 home runs.  He also has patience at the plate with an OB% on the cusp of .500. Crowell crushed 20 home runs while batting .360. Jarrett Burney was the team’s leading hitter for average last season as he finished at .363. He will be playing his fourth season at Reinhardt and has shown improvement each season. Dylan Lewis and Lance Dockery also hit for power with average. Lewis batted .306 with 12 homer runs in his first season after transferring from Fresno City CC. Dockery raised his average from a dismal .202 to an impressive .303 while also hitting eight doubles, six triples and 13 home runs. Jacob Profit can be very good. He batted .340 with 31 stolen bases in 2022, but his average dropped to .242 last year. Shortstop Luis Mendoza could help elevate the team on offense and defense. He missed last season due to injury but batted .338 over three seasons at Coffeyville CC. Adrian Vargas can also help turn the offense up to 11. He batted .353 last season at Indian Hills CC.

The Eagles pitching staff has been completely overhauled with several transfers expected to take on important roles. Andrew Herbet is the only pitcher anticipated to be back in a starting role this spring. He has thrown two solid seasons for the Eagles. Last year he had a team leading 2.82 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 51 innings. He also threw a complete game in four of his seven starts. The rest of the rotation will be made up of transfers. Eli Clotfelter will likely be the team’s number one starter. He was highly rated coming out of high school and pitched the last two seasons at Volunteer State CC. Alex Galvez, another transfer out of Coffeyville, struck out over a batter an inning while pitching for the Red Ravens. Ben Medley from East Georgia CC will also get an opportunity to start. He struck out 51 batters in 46 ⅔ innings as a Bobcat. Hunter Paulen who appeared in 12 games last season is said to have upped his overall game. Brett Allen from Barton CC or Evan Venable from Chattanooga State will likely close games. 

17. Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats 
The Wildcats had a memorable 2023 in which they finished with a 41-20-1 record, a Crossroads League Tournament title and earned the program’s first ever trip to the NAIA World Series. While in Lewiston their winning ways continued as they earned wins over Bellevue and Georgia Gwinnett. Another successful season is certainly on the agenda for this year; however replicating last year’s historic run will not be easy. They’ll have to do it without two of their top hitters (although technically one of them is still around, but as a coach) as well with a new head coach. However much of last year’s team will be back, along with the invaluable experience of being a part of the most successful season in school history. 

Ty Mathews and Nick Wiley will lead the offense. Mathews hit .322 with 12 home runs and was named to the All-Crossroads League First Team as a sophomore. A 6’6” behemoth, Wiley hit .288 and slugged 12 home runs as a freshman. MJ Stavola will be a fifth year starter at IWU. He has consistently been one of the team’s top hitters and has a .342 average over the past three seasons and has stolen 75 bases. He has also earned honors for his defense . Jake Thompson and Luke Roman will also be back on the diamond. Thompson was another player who played at a high level as a freshman. He batted .322 with 32 stolen bases. Roman doesn’t put up big numbers at the plate, but provides solid defense in the middle of the infield. The Wildcats haven’t added any impact transfers, but are cultivating another crop of freshmen with Andrew Stinish and Trevor Vojtkofsky predicted to be the next top players.

The Wildcats will welcome each of their four top starters back from last season. Drue Young had a 4.20 ERA over 94 ⅓ innings pitched with 91 strikeouts and 24 walks. He also threw a pair of shutouts. Brock Buckley and Will Eldridge had strong showings as freshmen. Buckley had a 4.37 ERA in 80 ⅓ innings, and Eldridge struck out 89 batters in 70 ⅓ innings while only allowing 48 hits. He did however walk 57 batters. Grayson Knight should round out the rotation. In 50 innings last season he had a 4.68 ERA and struck out 40 batters. Evan Fry split time between being a starter and the bullpen last season. He is expected to be the Wildcats’ closer this spring. In 67 innings last season he only allowed 48 hits (.199 B/AVG) and struck out 76 batters.

18. Vanguard Lions
The Lions have won 119 over the past three seasons which is more than any other three-year stretch in program history. The wins have resulted in a trio of NAIA postseason appearances. The school has never made the tournament four years in a row, but that could very easily change this season. Although they lost two of their top hitters from last season, they’ve maintained much of their elite pitching staff and have been able to recruit some excellent additions to the offense which will keep them competitive in the unforgiving Golden State Athletic Conference.    

Fred Buckson, Oscar Diaz and Adam Stevens are the top returners on offense. Buckson bats in the cleanup position and plays shortstop. He hit .294 last season with 22 extra base hits and 19 stolen bases. Diaz is the top slugger of the trio and is capable of putting up big numbers. He hit .315 in 2023, but is capable of much more. In 2022 he hit .377. Stevens is a graduate student who hit .300 in his first full season. Michael Downtrain batted .268 in a limited role last season and could bust out if given the opportunity. Jarred Mazzaferro and Steven Casas both transferred to Vanguard after playing at DI schools. Mazzaferro played the past two seasons at Washington and will take over second base. Casas spent last year on the roster of San Jose State  

While the offense is sound, it will be the pitching staff that powers the team to victory. Senior Dylan McDonald was elite on the mound last season. He had a 2.44 ERA and only allowed 49 hits over 70 innings (.194 B/AVG) while striking out 75. Jacob Dahlstrom struck out 68 batters in 62 innings while allowing 57 hits. The 6’8” junior had a 4.35 ERA in his first year since transferring from Bellevue CC. Jesus Munguia should regain his 2022 form when he had a 2.74 ERA over 62 ⅓ innings. He had some bad outings last year, but that doesn’t change the fact he has an elite ability to get batters out. Jake Hiner and Quincy Vassar will also figure into the Lions’ pitching plans. Hiner appeared in eight games as a freshman and Vassar struck out 41 batters in 38 innings. Jackson Webber will be playing his fifth season for Vanguard. He is one of the most dependable arms out of the bullpen. Last season he had a 2.98 ERA over 45 ⅓ innings of work and held opposition to a .211 batting average.

19. Benedictine Mesa Redhawks
The Redhawks had their best season in school history last spring as they finished the year with 44 wins, had a 27-gme winnings streak and advanced to the title game of the NAIA Opening Round. There was a big change for the program in the offseason as Brian McCabe, who had been on the staff of the program since its inception, and the head coach for the past six, returned to his alma mater Clarke to take over the Pride program. Nonetheless, a number of All-Call Pac players do return to campus, along with some excellent transfers which makes the Redhawks one of the top teams in the west.

Dylan Bangs had an exceptional first season at BenU. He hit .408 with 20 doubles, seven triples and nine home runs. He will lead the offense along with Ryan Curran and Jack Fitzgerald. Curran is a graduate student who spent two seasons at Montevallo before joining the Redhawks last season. He batted .331 last year. Fitzgerald didn’t get as much playing time as anticipated over three seasons at George Mason and also made a successful move west to join the BenU roster. He batted .294 as the club’s catcher. Anthony Sortino is one of the most dangerous weapons in the lineup. Last season he hit .356 with five triples and 20 stolen bases. Cameron Jowaiszas has returned to his hometown after spending two seasons at Nevada and will likely start at third base. Kyle Fenner, an NJCAA All-American at Dupage who hit .370 last season, will get a chance in the outfield. 

Kameron Haviland has put up two solid seasons as a starting pitcher and will be back for a third. Last year he struck out 84 batters in 84 innings. Justin Bates also returns after making 21 starts over the past two seasons. He had a 4.28 ERA and earned 75 strikeouts in 82 innings last spring. Connor Coerper will be a second year starter after pitching previously down the road at Mesa CC. Jared Cruce and Reece Dexter, who pitched at Los Medanos CC, are expected to bolster the bullpen and provide quality innings. 

20. Point Park Pioneers 
Point Park had an exceptional second half of the season last year which nearly propelled them across the county to Lewiston. After finishing runner-up in the River States Conference regular season, they won the RSC tournament the hard way by going through the loser’s bracket. They eliminated two teams before twice besting Indiana Southeast by a combined score of 33-7 to win the title. In the NAIA Opening Round they twice defeated perennial power Tennessee Wesleyan, but couldn’t get by a determined Taylor team. The team set a school record for home runs which will likely be surpassed this season. They have almost their entire offense back along with key pitching arms which finished last season in the top ten of team ERA. 

Centerfielder Jared Campbell was the RSC Player of the Year after leading the team with a .379 average which included 16 doubles, a pair of triples and 17 home runs. He also added 52 walks to amass a .528 OB%. Isaac Santana and Omar Morillo also put up big numbers in 2023. Santana hit .358 with 28 extra base hits and Morillo, the team’s lead off hitter and second baseman, hit .345 with 17 stolen bases. Michali Brito earned All-RSC honors at DH after hitting .311 with 16 doubles and seven home runs. Carlos Burroughs batted .324 with 23 extra base hits. Crixtian Tavars, a third baseman from Compton CC, could wield an impact bat. He hit .375 for the Tartars. 

Javier Cardoso leads the pitching staff. Cardoso was named to the All-RSC First Team after earning a 2.59 ERA in 87 innings of work He only allowed 67 hits (.199 B/AVG) while striking out 86 batters. He threw three complete games, two of which were shutouts. Ramon Rodriguez threw almost exclusively out of the bullpen last year, but coaches have praised his improvements and want to try him out in the rotation. He had a 3.63 ERA in 22 ⅓ innings last year with 25 strikeouts as a freshman. John Hawley and Harold Boyce should complete the rotation. Hawley is a bit of a project as he was seen as more of a hitter coming out of high school. Boyce is a transfer from LA Mission CC. Jose Moreno and Joathan Rivera give the team depth and experience in the bullpen. Both pitched in 17 games with Rivera also making nine starts.

21. Central Methodist Eagles 
The Eagles advanced to their seventh straight appearance in the NAIA Opening Round last season . They also won the Heart of America Athletic Conference as they finished with a 36-19 record. They will be without two of their top players this spring as both the Heart Conference Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year have graduated. Yet the rest of the CMU roster is largely intact and looking forward to another run to Lewiston. 

Tanner Sears and Jeremy Conforti give the team two strong experienced bats in the middle of the lineup. Sears has put together two strong seasons and will spend his time on the field behind the plate as catcher. He hit .380 last season and led the team with 13 home runs. Conforti batted .378 with 29 extra base hits. Bobby Nichols will be playing his third season with the team as the Eagle’s centerfielder and lead off hitter.  He has a combined .333 average the past two years and has stolen 90 bases. Weatherford batted .316 after transferring from Lyon. Newcomers to the team include second baseman Valentine Cerna Jr. who hit .391 last season at College of Lake County, outfielder Carlos Negron, a .364 hitter from Bryant & Stratton and Zeb Wede, and outfielder with an outstanding arm who hit .315 at Ellsworth CC.  

Sebastian Escobar gives the team a legit number one in the rotation. He had a team leading 2.75 ERA last season and struck out 90 batters in 78 ⅓ innings. He also threw four complete games. Clayton Burke and Marcus Pritchard will also be back on the mound. Burke, another former Lyon player, made 13 starts last season and accumulated 76 innings. He struck out 75 batters and allowed 72 hits. Pritchard made 13 as well and threw 61 innings.  Justin Guzman and Larry Riddle provide stability and experience out of the bullpen. They combined to throw 40 innings last season with 41 strikeouts. 

22. Doane Tigers 
The Tigers are looking to join Bellevue and Concorda as Nebraska based schools who’ve made the trip to Lewiston in recent years. Doane edged the Bulldogs in both the GPAC regular season and postseason titles last year and two teams will battle for conference and national supremacy again this spring. Their offense will be without a few major players from 2023, but the pitching staff is in great position with three of their top performers back on the roster. 

The outfield of Joe Osborn, Nate Mensik and Logan Amick lead the Tiger attack. Osborn will be playing his fifth season on the team. Over the past seasons he has batted .335 with 32 home runs and 29 stolen bases.  Mensik batted .364 last year with 16 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs. He also added 17 stolen bases. Amick led the team with a .408 average in 112 plate appearances. Narumi Okayasu and Justin Nevells will play the left hand side of the infield. Nevells batted .307 with nine doubles and four triples.  Okayasu, played his first season at Doane after transferring from Edmonds. He is excellent both with the bat and the glove. Noah Winkerman is an older transfer who was the top rated outfielder in his Minnesota prep class.

Aaron Forrest and Kyler Beekman have both put together three solid seasons at Doane. Last year Forrest had a 2.66 ERA and only allowed 66 hits over 88 innings. As a Tiger he has struck out 225 batters in 206 innings. Beekman has a 3.32 ERA over 46 collegiate games and only allowed 28 hits in 39 innings last season with 35 strikeouts. Kaden Crawford and Haldon Craig were excellent as freshmen in 2023. In 76 ⅔ innings Crawford held opposition to a .235 average and struck out 64 batters. Craig struck out 24 batters in 20 ⅓ innings and will likely close games after being a starter last season. Ethan Merk from the University of Victoria could make the very good pitching staff great.

23. MidAmerica Nazarene Pioneers
The Pioneers were the absolute surprise of the postseason. They lost their final six games of the regular season, as well as their opener in the Heart Conference Tournament. They then won four straight elimination games to advance to the conference title game. Although they lost to Grand View, their runner-up finish gave them an automatic bid into the NAIA Opening Round. The Pioneers won their next three to play against host and highly ranked LSU Shreveport for the invite to Lewison. The Pilots needed to win twice, and did easily to force a winner-take-all finale. With LSUS up with two outs, MNU rallied to score twice and secure the win and their second straight trip to the NAIA World Series. Much of last year’s team returns which makes a third visit to Lewiston a real possibility. 

Noah Castillo was the team’s top hitter last season and is back for his third year as a starter. He batted .349 with 15 doubles and 12 home runs last year. In 2022, he hit .384. Brycen Sherwood is another important cog in the Pioneers offense. He hit .305 with ten home runs and 14 stolen bases. MNU has a strong contingent of players from across the map on the roster who all play at a high level. Javier Melendez, a senior from Puerto Rico, batted .347 in his first year on the team.  Aruban import Dionathan Cornet and Sean Maple from Australia are also run producers. Cornet batted .281 last season with 10 home runs and Maple batted .310 and also had 10 home runs. Brentt Olmo, another Puerto Rico native, joined the team in the offseason from Cerro Coso CC. He was highly rated coming out of high school and could be the team’s top hitter at the end of the season. 

The pitching staff has Zach Trevino to head the staff. He struck out 107 batters last year in 109 ⅓ innings. Over the past two seasons he has made 33 starts for the Pioneers and thrown 13 complete games. Adam Gray, a transfer from Central Missouri, will join the rotation. He has a strong arm and is making the transition from catcher to pitcher. Ryan Wilwers and John Barry will start the year in the rotation. Both were roughed up a bit last season but have tremendous upside. Wilwers can flat out dominate on occasion and struck out 66 batters in 55 innings last year. 

24. Loyola Wolfpack
The Wolfpack had a solid season in 2023 and spent a good chunk of the season in the Top 25, but were one of the last teams to miss the cut and invites were announced for the NAIA Opening Round. The Wolfpack should return to the extended postseason this year with a solid everyday lineup and experienced pitching staff that is intact from last spring. 

Six of Loyola’s top eight hitters from last year are back on the roster. Leadoff hitting lobo Brandon Mooney led the team with a .411 average and stole 22 bases as the team’s second baseman. Shortstop Jake Mills hit .361 in his second full season. Both Mooney and Mills earned SSAC Gold Gloves. Tucker Ganey will be playing his fourth season as a starter in the outfield. He has hit over .310 each of the past two seasons. Anthony Fernandez also provides stellar defense at third base. He hit .277 as a freshman. Aaron Davis and Kason Cullins will be back in the outfield. Both provide pop and speed and are capable of hitting over .300. Marcus Steen, who played last season at Lubbock Christian, earned honors at Napa Valley when he hit .401.

The starting pitching is solid with three time All-SSAC pitcher Stephen Still back on the mound. In 82 1⁄3 innings last season he struck out 97 batters and only allowed 73 hits. Brady Bowed struck out 71 batters in only 54 2⁄3 innings last season. Of his 20 appearances last season, four were starts, but he should be a regular in the rotation this spring. Thomas Hakimian and Nathan Monceaux, who both saw a lot of innings as starters as freshman, also return. Hakimian pitched in 15 games with 12 starts. He had a 3.97 ERA and struck out 57 batters in 59 innings. Monceaux threw 59 2⁄3 innings and also helped out at the plate as an occasional DH. He is penciled in for a move to the closer role this season. Matthew Weil struck out 34 batters in 30 2⁄3 innings. He had a high ERA last season, but in 2022, his 2.96 mark was second best on the team.  Payton Cooper from Nunez CC adds depth to the bullpen.

25. Science and Arts Drovers 
The Drovers finished second in the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season to Texas Wesleyan and were runner-up to Oklahoma City in the SAC tournament. The finishes earned them an invite to the NAIA Opening Round as they hoped to advance to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 2019. They did make it to Lewison, but only as far as the Opening Round where they were twice defeated by Concordia (MI). They ended the year 35-20 and hungry for more in 2024.

Much of last year’s offense is back, topped by senior slugger Peyton McDowall. McDowall hit .399 last season with 17 doubles, three triples and 15 home runs. Five other Drovers who hit well over .300 return. Christopher Martinez batted .380 with 11 home runs and Ben Lawson batted .359 with eight. Martinez’s numbers were especially impressive as he was only a freshman. Gunnar Hansen and Gavin Machado don’t hit for a lot of power, but they get on base with regularity and ease. Hansen hit .348 and Machado  batted .337. Both are experienced catchers. Ben Bach, a third baseman from Tiffin, has joined the team. He batted .319 for the Dragons. 

The pitching staff will make or break the team this spring. They had a very un-Droverlike last season with a team 5.84 ERA and was rebuilt for the new season. The starting rotation will have a completely new look with only one familiar face scheduled to start games. Sam Replogle has bounced around as a pitcher with previous stops at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Morehead State and Southern Illinois. He is penciled in for a starting role along with Brian Ereu, Jared Adams and Kyler Denton. Adams threw previously at Potomac State CC and Mississippi Valley. Denton had 76 strikeouts in 71 innings at Redlands CC. Ryan Cullinane from Saddleback College provides bullpen depth. Megumi Fukuda is a hard thrower back for USAO. He stuck out 34 batters in 33 innings and only allowed 20 hits, but he also issued 41 walks.