College : : Story
Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013 NCAA Division III Preview

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Robert Lyle

Wheaton Hopes To Turn Tables
On Defending Champ Marietta

Massachusetts’ Wheaton College is hoping that third time’s the charm as it seeks its first NCAA Division III baseball title.

The Lyons are ranked No. 1 by Perfect Game to begin the 2013 season, but in the end will probably have to topple their old nemesis, Ohio’s Marietta College, to achieve the breakthrough needed to reach their elusive goal.

Marietta defeated Wheaton 7-2 in last year’s D-III championship game, and in a remarkable case of déjà vu beat the Lyons by the same score in the deciding contest of the 2006 tournament.

Those are the only two occasions that Wheaton has reached the Division III World Series, while mighty Marietta has won the last two championships and six overall through the years.

Marietta (48-8) was victorious a year ago mainly on the strength of the best pitching staff in the Division III ranks (2.35 team ERA), and Wheaton hopes to use the same formula this season to push it over the top.

The Lyons (41-11) return the two winningest pitchers in the school’s 15-year baseball history, righthanders Frank Holbrook (10-0, 1.38) and Alec Palioca (9-1, 1.88), along with ace closer Ryan Grant (0-1, 2.36, 13 SV). Palioca’s only loss a year ago came in the final against Marietta.

Wheaton won’t be dependent solely on pitching as it also returns four of its top five hitters, including outfielder Sean Ryan (.384-3-37, 30 SB, school record 86 hits), first baseman Apolinar de la Cruz (.376-2-50) and shortstop Eric Jensen (.305-0-32, 25 SB).

Marietta, meanwhile, may be hard pressed to keep pace with Wheaton as it must replace its top three starting pitchers, along with star shortstop Tim Saunders (.441-5-48, 41 SB), though returns six of its top eight hitters overall. The Pioneers begin the season at No. 3.

St. Thomas (Minn.), the 2002 and 2009 D-III champion, may provide Wheaton its stiffest challenge as it returns a nice blend of hitting and pitching from a team that finished third at last year’s championship tournament. The Tommies (41-10) welcome back righthanders Steve Maher (13-2, 2.77) and Dylan Thomas (8-2, 2.25), and Thomas will also be a key contributor at the plate (.358-6-33).

While several D-III teams in traditional Sun Belt states will kick off their season this weekend, both Wheaton and Marietta aren’t scheduled to play their 2013 openers until March 2.

This year’s D-III World Series is scheduled for May 24-28 in its traditional home of Appleton, Wis.

Unlike 2012, when Birmingham-Southern slugging first baseman Bruce Maxwell, the D-III player of the year, was taken in the second round, there are no obvious candidates in the Division III ranks who might crack the first 10 rounds of this year’s draft. Two players who starred last summer in the Valley League, Kean (N.J.) righthander Kevin Herget and Huntingdon (Ala.) catcher Joseph Odom, rank 1-2 on the accompanying list of the Top 10 Prospects in D-III, as compiled by Perfect Game.

After posting a 7-5, 2.30 record with 113 strikeouts (fifth most in D-III) in 98 innings as a junior at Kean and going undrafted, Herget flashed overpowering stuff last summer with a fastball that topped out at 96 mph and a 12-6 curve with excellent depth. He topped the Valley League with 77 strikeouts in 51 innings, but his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame continues to be an obstacle to his making more headway as a prospect.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Odom hit a robust .350-17-46 on the summer and led the Valley League in home runs after hitting .325-8-44 as a sophomore at Huntingdon. Though he has legitimate power in the eyes of scouts, Odom’s receiving and blocking skills behind the plate lag in comparison, and he may end up at first base in the long run.

A total of 12 Division III players were drafted in 2012.

NCAA Division III Top 5 Teams

RK School State 2012 Record
1 *Wheaton
MA 41-11
2 *St. Thomas MN 41-10
3 *Marietta OH 47-4
4 *Cortland State
NY 41-9
5 Birmingham-Southern
AL 38-9

*Participated in 2012 NCAA Division III World Series

NCAA Division III Top 10 Prospects

RK Player POS. YR B-T HT WT College Hometown ST Last Drafted
1 Joseph Odom C/1B JR R-R 6-3 205 Huntingdon (Ala.) Birmingham AL Never drafted
2 Kevin Herget RHP SR L-R 5-11 185 Kean (N.J.) Park Ridge NJ Never drafted
3 Rob Rogers RHP JR R-R 6-1 210 Keystone (Pa.) Islip NY Never drafted
4 Jackson Baker RHP SR R-R 5-11 180 Rhodes (Tenn.) Houston TX Never drafted
5 Patrick Robinson RHP JR R-R 6-2 225 Keystone (Pa.) Goshen NZ Never drafted
6 Joel Effertz RHP SR R-R 6-3 240 Wisconsin-La Crosse Ladysmith WI White Sox '11 (43)
7 Eric Jensen SS JR R-R 6-3 200 Wheaton (Mass.) Gorham NH Never drafted
8 Alex Palioca RHP JR R-R 6-2 180 Wheaton (Mass.)
Wrentham MA Never drafted
9 Steve Maher RHP JR R-R 6-1 190 St. Thomas (Minn.) Richfield MN Never drafted
10 Conor Bierfeldt OF JR R-R 6-2 195 Western Connecticut Torrington CT Never drafted

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