College : : Story
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2013 NCAA Division II Preview

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Roger Crowley

Pennsylvania Boasts Defending Champ,
Top D-II Prospect, But Tampa Still No. 1

The NCAA Division II World Series was first contested in 1968, and it has been dominated through the years largely by Sun Belt teams, with Florida (16) and California (13) schools winning 29 championships between them.

But the 2012 series went very much against the grain as no Florida team even advanced to the eight-team series, and California’s entry (Chico State) went winless. And perhaps most noteworthy, a team from Pennsylvania won the event for the first time as West Chester (46-10) dominated from start to finish, beating Mississippi’s Delta State 9-0 in the final to go undefeated. The win marked Pennsylvania as the northern-most state ever to produce a D-II champion.

On the heels of that triumph, a Pennsylvania player, Seton Hill lefthander Alex Haines, stands an excellent chance of becoming the first Division II player to be selected in this year’s draft. Haines ranks No. 1 on the accompanying list of Top 25 Division II Prospects, as compiled by Perfect Game.

While Pennsylvania has been a stronghold of Division II baseball for years, it wasn’t until West Chester’s unexpected triumph a year ago that the state has begun to get its due national recognition.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Haines could only help to perpetuate the state’s growing reputation this spring if he can follow up on a strong season last summer in the New England Collegiate League, where he led one of the nation’s strongest summer leagues in both ERA (0.90, vs. 1.91 by his closest pursuer) and strikeouts (54), while going 5-2. In 40 innings, he allowed only 24 hits and six walks, and his .168 opponent batting average led the league by a wide margin. Predictably, he was selected that league’s top professional prospect.

With a fastball that sat at 90-95 mph, and peaked at 96 in a one-inning stint at the league all-star game, Haines’ velocity was the equal of any pitcher in the league. If he can maintain or even enhance that velocity this spring as a junior at Seton Hill while improving his secondary stuff, he could surge into the two 2-3 rounds in June.

That’s a far cry from three years ago, when the unknown Haines had no Division I teams courting his services and had little recourse but to hook on with Seton Hill, a somewhat obscure Division II college located little more than 15 miles from his home in Greensburg, Pa.

By his freshman year at Seton Hill, Haines had worked his velocity up to 91 mph, and was mainly at 92-93 as a sophomore, when he posted a 7-2, 4.24 record with 38 walks and 108 strikeouts in 70 innings. He took his game to yet another level on the summer.

While Haines should carry the torch for Pennsylvania’s D-II ranks this season, it might be a tall order for West Chester, with a depleted roster, to repeat its success of a year ago, or for any other team from Pennsylvania to contend again for a national title, although Seton Hill (46-11), Mercyhurst (39-17) and Shippensburg (32-21), in particular, should be among the contenders.

Five-time champion Tampa (38-10) ranks as a heavy early favorite to win the D-II World Series, especially after bolstering its roster with a number of Division I transfers while also bringing in several top players from Florida’s rich junior-college ranks. (See Top 10 Division II teams).

The Spartans, who haven’t had a losing season since their inaugural season in 1977 and went a combined 106-17 in winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, appeared to be sailing along to another championship a year ago after winning the highly-competitive Sunshine State Conference. But their season came to a crashing halt when they lost two straight one-run games in the South regional.

Among Tampa’s newcomers is 6-foot-5, 215-pound righthander Jon Keller, an 11
th-round pick of the Mariners in the 2011 draft who went 4-1, 5.37 a year ago at Nebraska. With a mid-90s fastball, he steps in as the No. 1 starter for the Spartans and ranks No. 3 on the accompanying list of the Top 25 Prospects in the D-II ranks.

Former Troy lefthander Jimmy Hodgskin (No. 4), ex-Auburn middle infielder Zach Alford (No. 15) and outfielder Michael Danner (No. 16), who hit .365-10-69 at Polk State (Fla.) Junior College a year ago, also cracked the list. All are new to the team.

They join holdovers like junior outfielder Zach Gawrych (.365-3-14), the team’s top hitter a year ago, former University of Miami catcher Shane Rowland (.247-1-11), returning starters Ben Brown (7-2, 2.67) and Eric Luksis (2-0, 3.55), and closer Preston Packrall (5-3, 2.53, 7 SV).

Tampa begins its 2013 season on Friday with the opener of a three-game series against Bentley (Mass.) College.

The D-II World Series returns to Cary, N.C., the home of USA Baseball’s national training center, for the fifth year. The eight-team tournament will run from May 25-June 1.

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