Top stories of the era

Marietta's repeat was the first since Rowan (then Glassboro State) did it in the 1970s. file photo 

Once upon a time, “Your No. 1 source for Division III baseball information” was underground, cool and sparse. Only a small community of D-III baseball fans with a dial-up connection knew about the pages of archived numbers and names housed on an athletic conference server. Those nascent pages contained the seeds of what is now – no longer underground but shades cooler and denser.

It seems like it should be older, but turned 6 this year. And how this little toddler of a site has grown over the years. Among other updated bells and whistles like a barely adequate weekly columnist, it now wears fancy PrestoSports clothing and has a postseason awards program.

If Hollywood can get dressed up and give each other awards once a year, should be able to give a self-congratulatory pat on the back and reminisce once every six years. The wild assumption in that theory is that you get more out of this site than you got from Argo. After brief contemplation, it’s not that wild.

Several of our 6-year-old’s stories have been proudly affixed to the refrigerator because they’re more important or special than others. A small panel of the site’s inner sanctum has voted. Here are our top 12 stories of the era.

12. Support for Division IV wanes

If you didn’t know for sure, Division IV is probably what you think it is. Projected growth in Division III had 480 members by 2020. As we ponder that in 2013, the estimate seems unlikely. But there was a movement to create another NCAA division that would include a subdivision of D-III. That movement subsided in 2008, when a solid, formal proposal failed to materialize.

11. College Baseball Foundation creates Hall of Fame category for small schools

Admit it, most of you didn’t know baseball icon and Ohio Wesleyan player/coach Branch Rickey had such strong ties to Division III. The more surprising part is that there was a baseball hall of fame that hadn’t inducted Rickey. That changed in 2009, when the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas, opened its ballots to include room for D-III and other small schools and Rickey and Gordie Gillespie were chosen. Gillespie was the head coach at Ripon from 1996-2005 and holds the college record for coaching wins during his 50+ year career. UW-Oshkosh shortstop Tim Jorgensen was inducted to the CBF in 2012.

10. Landmark starts conference shuffle, 17 teams change conferences

Fans of most NCAA sports and divisions are used to changes in conference affiliations. There are seemingly weekly headlines declaring Team X is moving to Conference Y in Sport Z. Division III still has considerable ongoing movement, from the formation of new conferences to institutions finding better peer matches. But the dominoes really fell when 17 athletic programs swapped affiliations with the formation of the Landmark Conference. Baseball teams from seven conferences and two regions played musical chairs as a direct result of the Landmark’s inaugural baseball season in 2008. And the process may be starting all over again, as just this week the conference announced Elizabethtown would join in 2014-15.

9. Winner’s bracket bye at the World Series goes bye-bye

From 2005-08 the team that went 3-0 to start the championship tournament received a full day of rest as a reward. That meant the winner’s bracket survivor played two fewer games than the team it would play for the national championship. It still doesn’t make much sense after writing those sentences five years later. No changes have been made to the championship schedule since the winner’s bracket bye was eliminated for the 2009 tournament. However, there is a proposal currently under consideration that would, among other things, create two four-team brackets and erase the “throw-away game.”

8. UW-La Crosse program goes from chopping block to playoffs in 3 years

In 2009, UW-La Crosse had a $400,000 shortfall in its budget. Chancellor Joe Gow’s plan to alleviate some of the burden was to eliminate Eagles baseball and men’s tennis. Those cuts would have saved the university $60,000. UW-La Crosse baseball was saved in large part through a fund-raising website started by Zach Thiel, who had two cousins on the UWL baseball team. Not only did UWL continue playing baseball in 2010 and beyond, but the Eagles won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season and conference titles in 2012 and set a program record with 34 wins.

7. NCAA baseball begins Year 1 of BBCOR bat standard

BBCOR stands for batted ball coefficient of restitution and it became the new NCAA bat standard in 2011, replacing the ball exit speed ratio (BESR) standard. What that means in a literal sense is that bats had to conform to a different evaluation test. What BBCOR meant in baseball terms was a drastic offensive reduction across Division III. Around the Nation’s research sample showed a nearly 40-percent drop in home runs in 2011 from the three-year average from 2008-10, and team scoring was down more than one run per game. The BBCOR standard received positive reviews from D-III coaches.

6. Marietta becomes first program to repeat since Glassboro State

The 2012 Pioneers were the first D-III baseball repeat champions in 32 years, which was by far the longest such streak in an NCAA team sport. Marietta returned virtually its entire pitching staff that won the 2011 title and went 47-4 with a D-III record-tying 14 shutouts, so the pressure was on as the overwhelming favorite to repeat. Marietta lost its second game at Appleton but won two games on the final, chilly day of a championship that was pushed back a day due to rain over the weekend. The 2013 Pioneers could become the first D-III baseball team to win three consecutive titles.

5. Metrodome roof collapse sends Midwest D-III teams scrambling

On Dec. 12, 2010, accumulated snow caused the Metrodome roof to collapse. The dome plays host to hundreds of collegiate baseball games each season, dozens of which feature D-III teams from Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and others. With the dome out of commission, several Midwest and Central region teams searched for playable fields, looking as far as from Duluth, Minn., to Missouri to find a diamond. That problem seems quaint in comparison to: The Minnesota Vikings plan to raze the dome in early 2014 and build a new stadium on the grounds, raising concerns about a viable indoor replacement.

4. Illinois Wesleyan wins improbable national title

The 2010 Titans were 19-19 heading into their conference tournament. They ended the season as national champions with a 31-21 record. Third baseman Jeff Grodecki went 5-for-5 with two homers and starting pitcher Jason Pankau had nine strikeouts in the title game, a 17-5 romp over Cortland St. “I tell everybody,” IWU head coach Dennis Martel told Around the Nation last season, “it was 19 days from the first game of the conference tournament to the national championship game, and everything we did was right. Everything we touched turned into gold. It was just a magical run that we went on.”

3. Trinity (Conn.) goes undefeated until final day, wins title at 45-1

The 2008 Bantams were on their way to becoming the first undefeated champion in D-III baseball history. Then they lost to Johns Hopkins, setting up a winner-take-all title game. Trailing 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Trinity scratched a run across to set the backyard-dream scenario for a senior tri-captain who was seeing his first Appleton action as a defensive replacement in the ninth. The bases were loaded with two outs. After six straight foul balls and 12 total pitches in the at-bat, Guy Gogliettino took high for ball four and Trinity literally walked off with the Walnut and Bronze with a 45-1 record.

2. Jim Dixon takes from an ODAC server to D3sports network

Everyone likes a humble origin story, right? Here goes. Jim Dixon, the visionary baseball nerd historian and managing editor, curated pages of archived D-III baseball records, champions, feats and minutia. Brad Bankston, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference commissioner, agreed to house Dixon’s pages on an ODAC server. Fast forward more than a decade. In 2007 executive editor Pat Coleman brought those original ODAC pages to his network of sites. The end ... and new beginning of the tale.

1. Bluffton charter bus topples off highway ramp, 7 dead

Photo by David Rich for

Without a doubt the saddest, most tragic D-III baseball news of the past six years, but it’s also the top story. Early on March 2, 2007, a one-vehicle crash off of a ramp near Atlanta claimed the lives of five Bluffton student-athletes, the bus driver and the driver’s wife. The campus baseball facility is now named Bluffton University Memorial Field and features a “Circle of Remembrance” adjacent to right field that memorializes former Beavers Zachary Arend, David Betts, Scott Harmon, Cody Holp and Tyler Williams. With the blessing of the deceased players’ parents, Bluffton unanimously voted to play its 2007 season.

Honorable mention headlines

• St. Thomas’s Dennis Denning wins 2009 title, retires
• Ripon’s Jordan Baitinger tosses second-ever regional no-hitter
• Bridgewater State records 44 hits, 20 walks in 57-1, seven-inning win
• UW-Oshkosh shortstop Tim Jorgensen elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame
• Methodist’s Tom Austin, Wooster’s Tim Pettorini become 7th, 8th D-III head coaches to win 1,000 games
• Anderson’s Don Brandon retires after 38 years, 1,100 wins
• Merchant Marine’s David May hits homers in record 5 consecutive at-bats, ties record with 4 in one game
• UW-Whitewater hits 5 consecutive home runs
• releases All-Decade team
• New Jersey gambling laws prevent NCAA championships in state
• 54 weeks after debut, reaches 1 million viewers, debuts Daily Scoreboard
• Cortland State tops’s first poll, which saw 70 teams receive votes
• Alvernia’s Zach Lutz, Cortland St.’s Jimmy Dougher lead’s inaugural All-America team
• 22 D-III players chosen in 2010 MLB first-year draft
• Former TCNJ head coach Rick Dell throws first pitch at Olympics
• WIAC alumni Jordan Zimmermann (No. 1), Jarrod Washburn (No. 100) earn milestone wins in same week
• Otterbein’s Brian Hiscox hits home runs in record 8 consecutive games
• Misericordia’s Mike Murphy ties D-III game record with 9 at-bats (since broken), sets record with 8 hits

That’s a lot of good stuff packed into six short seasons. Thank you for walking down memory lane with us. They are not always fantastic memories, but they have helped shape what has become.

My top 5 games of the week (April 3-9):
April 3: Adrian vs. Hope Top 2 in MIAA preseason poll; HC hasn’t won a season series over AC since 2003; HC never trailed in a doubleheader sweep over AC last week.

April 5: No. 12 Keystone vs. Neumann Top 2 in CSAC preseason poll; both made regionals last season; KC is 16-1 all-time against NU – the loss was in 2011.

April 5: No. 13 UT-Tyler vs. Centenary (La.) 1st of 3-game series; CC went 4-1 against Trinity (Texas); UTT is 11-1 against non-Texas teams.

April 6: No. 15 Webster vs. Washington (Mo.) Both crosstown rivals made regionals in 2012; middle set of 4-game season series; WashU won in February, 3-2, in 10 innings.

April 6: Southern Maine vs. Eastern Connecticut St. Top 2 in LEC preseason poll; USM is batting .334, scoring 9.2 runs per game; ECSU has 2.52 ERA.

My 2013 Week 6 ballot ( rank)
Stats, musings and folly valid through March 31
1 (5). Ramapo – Tell me why not; a rare late-inning meltdown from undefeated.
2 (2). Linfield – Suffered 1st home loss to a D-III team; ERA swelled to 2.10.
3 (1). Cortland State – Allowed 13 runs during its current 7-game winning streak.
4 (7). St. Thomas – Bats finally came alive with 45 runs during 3-0 week.
5 (6). Kean – Began NJAC schedule with a road split; now just 4-4 on the road.
6 (15). Webster – Ugly 3-5 start behind them with current 10-game winning streak.
7 (3). Marietta – Pitchers headlined title runs; this year it’s the 9.4 runs per game.
8 (11). Johns Hopkins – Responsible for every Haverford and UW-Oshkosh loss.
9 (14). UW-Whitewater – Defense still iffy – 6 unearned runs in Southern Maine loss.
10 (10). Wheaton (Mass.) – Swept 3 from Babson after losing 2 of 3 in 2012.
The rest of my ballot: Manchester; Western New England; Salisbury; St. Scholastica; Cal Lutheran; Bridgewater (Va.); Benedictine; UW-Stevens Point; Christopher Newport; Southern Maine; Ithaca; Trinity (Texas); Suffolk; Haverford; Rowan.

In closing, we had one person answer the following trivia question regarding last week's column about the names of D-III baseball: I estimate there are about 10,000 D-III baseball players this season, give or take a couple thousand. That estimate represents an average of about 27 players per team. Besides an interesting name, what is unique – to the best of my knowledge – about one of the players mentioned in the column? Hint: Unique in D-III (I think) and rare in collegiate baseball overall. 

Shawn Spence, a Grand Forks, N.D., resident, military veteran, and 1990s-era Marietta College alum, replied with the first correct answer: Maine-Presque Isle sophomore utility Ghazaleh (pronounced OZ-ah-lay) Sailors is the only woman playing D-III varsity baseball in 2013. Sailors played at UMPI last year as well.

Next week: Where are they now?