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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 NCAA Division III Preview

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Marietta College

Ohio’s Marietta College has won more championships (5) than any school in NCAA Division III history, perhaps none more impressively than a year ago when the Pioneers won 33 of 34 games entering the final day of the D-III World Series and concluded the season at 47-4.

Not only did the four losses set a school record, but the Pioneers left little doubt that they were the nation’s most-dominant team as they posted a collective 1.74 ERA—nearly a full run better than their closest pursuer.

Marietta begins the 2012 season as an overwhelming favorite to repeat as D-III champions, and has a shot to be even more dominant than a year ago with the return of nearly its entire pitching staff, along with the top prospect in the D-III ranks in senior shortstop Tim Saunders.

Among the arms back for another kick at the can are senior righthanders Brian Gasser (14-1, 1.05) and Austin Blaski (12-2, 1.62), the nation’s two winningest pitchers returning for the 2012 season. Moreover, the Pioneers also welcome back closer Kyle Lindquist, whose 12 saves in 2011 not only broke his own school record but are the most for any returning reliever.

Dominant pitching has been a hallmark in the long, successful baseball history of the Pioneers, who have made 11 appearances in the Division III World Series championship game in the last 34 years.

Marietta pitchers hold D-III records for single-season (Dave Bradley, 1999, 18 wins) and career wins (Matt DeSalvo, 1999-2003, 53 wins), and also for single-season (DeSalvo, 2001, 205 K’s) and career strikeouts (DeSalvo, 603). Moreover, Marietta pitchers hold the top three spots on the D-III season wins list, though Gasser’s 14 wins a year ago fell three short of inclusion.

The Pioneers must replace their leading hitter, outfielder John Snyder (.453-4-63), but Saunders is back and may have been the team’s most valuable player with his stellar play at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He hit .385-3-53 with 27 stolen bases for the Pioneers.

Saunders went undrafted last June, but rejection is nothing new for the slick-fielding shortstop, who went unrecruited out of an Ohio high-school in 2008 as a slight 6-foot, 150-pounder. With the addition of 20-25 pounds, he has developed into a premium player at the small-college level.

If that wasn’t evident last spring, then Saunders underscored the point during the summer, when he narrowly missed leading another team, the Edenton Steamers of the Coastal Plain League, to another national title, of sorts. The Steamers were ranked No. 1 nationally most of the summer, only to lose twice on the final night of the CPL playoffs with a national title in their grasp.

Just like he did in leading Marietta to a national title in the spring, Saunders displayed the same kind of skills in the summer and may have significantly raised his chances in the process of being drafted following his senior year at Marietta. Saunders hit .306-2-16 with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts for Edenton, and scouts took special note of his polished play in the field along with his 6.65 speed in the 60.

While most of the national focus at the D-III level will be squarely on Marietta (and Saunders) again this spring, the team the Pioneers beat in the national final to win their second championship in six years, California’s Chapman College, should provide their stiffest challenge again as it returns a dominant pitcher of its own in junior righthander Bobby Rauh, who went 11-0, 1.74 with a national-high 133 strikeouts in 114 innings in 2011.

Marietta and Chapman both kick off their 2012 seasons on Friday, each with an eye towards meeting in the national final again in Appleton, Wis. This year’s D-III World Series is scheduled for May 25-29.

NCAA Division III Top 5 Teams

RK School ST 2011 Record Top Prospect (2011 Statistics)
1 Marietta OH 47-4 Tim Saunders, ss (.385-3-53, 27 SB)
2 Chapman CA 37-13 Brian Rauh, rhp (11-0, 1.74, 114 IP/133 SO)
3 Kean NJ 42-11 Mike Russo, rhp (10-2, 1.93, 89 IP/65 SO)
4 Linfield OR 33-11 Tim Wilson, 2b (.490-5-31, 19 SB)
5 Cortland State NY 36-10 Aaron Schuldt, rhp (7-1, 2.70, 67 IP/81 SO)

NCAA Division III Top 10 Prospects

RK Player POS. YR B-T HT WT School Hometown ST Last Drafted
1 Tim Saunders SS JR R-R 6-0 205 Marietta (Ohio) Alliance OH Never drafted
2 Ben Klimesh RHP SR B-R 6-3 220 Trinity (Texas) Wilmette IL Never drafted
3 Nick Skala C SR R-R 6-1 250 Concordia (Ill.) Long Grove IL Orioles '11 (37)
4 Brian Rauh RHP JR R-R 6-1 195 Chapman (Calif.) Laguna Beach CA Never drafted
5 Kevin Heller OF SR R-R 6-1 205 Amherst (Mass.) Brooklyn NY Never drafted
6 Mike Russo RHP SR R-R 6-6 200 Kean (N.J.) Hamilton Square NJ Phillies '08 (49)
7 Aaron Schuldt RHP SR R-R 6-1 195 Cortland State (N.Y.) Liverpool NY Never drafted
8 Alex Eliopoulos RHP SR R-R 6-6 210 Johns Hopkins (Md.) Arlington VA Never drafted
9 Bruce Maxwell 1B JR L-R 6-2 185 Birmingham-Southern (Ala.) Toney AL Never drafted
10 Max Beatty RHP JR R-R 6-2 180 Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) Vancouver WA Never drafted

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