Central Regional Preview

No. 9 North Central is the top ranked team in the
Central Region.
North Central athletics photo by Steve Woltman.

by Mike Stickann
for D3baseball.com

On baseball diamonds across Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, the Central Region had a memorable year in 2017. In the SLIAC, left handed pitcher Josh Fleming was drafted in the 5th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

In the CCIW, North Central (Ill.) of Naperville, Ill. finished their season ranked 5th in the nation at the D-III level. In the IIAC, Wartburg won the IIAC tournament title for the first time since 2013, winning 33 of 47 games. The Midwest Conference saw eight players earn All Central Region honors for the 2017 season. 2018 promises to be equally exciting in all four competitively balanced conferences with no clear favorite to make the trip to the final D-III World Series in Appleton.

New Faces

Jerry Rashid, Eureka: Eureka found their new head coach in the high school ranks. Rashid, an icon throughout the central Illinois baseball community, has won more than 800 games in 39 seasons at the high school level and is a member of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “I am very excited to take on this new challenge in my career,” Rashid said. “I look forward to being a part of a great institution and an excellent athletic department at Eureka College.”

Blake Beaber, Iowa Wesleyan: When Iowa Wesleyan takes to the field in 2018, the Tigers will be under the guidance of a familiar face. Beaber, who served as the team's assistant coach this past season, was elevated to head coach over the summer. "I'm very excited about this next chapter in my coaching career and I cannot wait to get things started," said Beaber who takes over for Derek Zander. Beaber joined Iowa Wesleyan last year as an assistant baseball coach. Previously, he served as an assistant baseball coach at William Penn University and Carl Sandburg College.

Games to Watch in 2018

March 12: Webster gets an early test vs. two time National Division 3 Champion Southern Maine.
March 23: Buena Vista and Luther tangle in a contest that could determine which team gets a IIAC playoff berth.
March 30-31: Augustana and Wheaton (Ill.) kick off the CCIW season with a three game series
April 6: Key SLIAC matchup between Greenville and Spalding.
April 17: No 9 North Central played No. 6 Concordia-Chicago in top 10 Matchup in River Forest Ill.
April 20-22: Round Robin MWC tournament in Mauston, Wisc. Look for Grinnell as they take on Beloit on the 21st.
May 1: A final chance for both St. Nobert and No. 3 UW-Whitewater to impress the committee as they prepare the Regional Rankings.

Conference Previews

Senior right fielder Carter Amundsen returns in
2018 after earning
first team All-CCIW and
All-Region and second  team Academic

All-America honors last year.
Augustana athletics photo

College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin: North Central (31-18) will look to defend its conference title and its national ranking led by IF/OF, junior All American Michael Mateja. The Vikings of Augustana (30-14) will counter with 1st team All Central Region RF, senior Carter Amundsen. Wheaton (Ill.) (24-18) returns their team MVP and number one starting pitcher, junior Michael McCraith. McCraith will be aided by fellow pitcher Nick Johnson, senior, and a pair of upperclassmen outfielders in senior Johnny Peltz and junior Nick Mailman. Coach Husted also expects contributions from two of his new Thunder players, freshmen Joel Pierce, IF/OF, and IF/P Jesse Welch.

The Titans of Illinois Wesleyan (21-20) expect contributions on the mound from juniors Nick Brune and Braden Miller and sophomore Jim O’Brien. Coach Martel should see production from his Division 1 transfer, sophomore shortstop Brandon Skopick, as well as sophomore centerfielder Nick Figus, who earned 1st team All Conference honors as a freshman in 2017. The Elmhurst Blue Jays (21-18) will have three right handers battling for the team’s number one rotation spot: juniors Nicholas Drago, Austin MacMillan, and Daryl Rivera. Sophomore Trevor Horwath is the new starting shortstop and junior Trey Compton will be expected to perform at second base and in the grass in 2018. 1st team All Conference selection, senior Kevin Tibor, is back on the hill for Carthage (20-18) and will look to help the team improve from its .500 record in conference play last season.

Coach Townsend will send juniors Logan Talkington and Connor Gross to the mound this year for The Blue of Millikin (22-18), while offensively they will be led by 2017 team MVP, RF Devin Crews. Seniors Mason Bruce, CF, and Jake Drada, LF, will round out Townsend’s veteran outfield. North Park (15-25) will try to overcome the loss of senior leader Anthony Bragg, who batted .381 and was errorless at first base in 388 chances and Brent Kessinger (81 innings pitched last year), who did not return for this senior season. Coach Johnson will have two hurlers competing to be the team’s number one starter: Sophomore Matt Pizur (56 Ks in 68 innings pitched in 2017), and Division 2 transfer, sophomore Justin Woolbright. To score runs, the Vikings will depend on senior SS/C Seth Dvorak, who scored 44 runs, drove in 36, and hit 14 doubles last season for North Park. Carroll (13-27) will rely heavily on senior AJ Johnson, a 2017 1st team All Central Region honoree, to drive in runs for Coach Rear’s Pioneers.

TEAM TO BEAT: North Central

Dubuque starting pitcher Nathan Schneiderman
was a named a 2018 D3baseball.com preseason
Dubuque athletics photo

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Wartburg (33-14) returns four All Central Region players, all juniors, to a 33 win squad: 2nd team honorees Austin Bolling and Eric Willis and 3rd team recipients Cody Hyler and Blake Mahoney. Dubuque (23-17), two games behind Wartburg in conference play in 2017, will counter with 2nd team preseason All American selection, junior LHP Nathan Schneiderman, starting pitcher Chase Kueter, junior, and starting pitcher Doug Van Dyke, senior. Senior 3B Dalton Garst and junior 1B Thomas Kempf will help the Spartans score runs. Coach Nikkel of Luther (27-17) will have a difficult time replacing third baseman Joe Silversmith, who led The Norse in batting average, runs batted in, triples, home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage, and stolen bases. Coach Nikkel expects juniors Joey Cardamon and Colin Coffey to lead the rotation, while juniors Jake Vogt, CF, Jake Halverson, SS, and Bryce Hingst, 1B, will be expected to pick up the slack for the loss of Silversmith.

Buena Vista (16-17) will look to recover from a season ending loss to Coe College in the IIAC tournament, and senior shortstop Noah Paper, a .340 hitter in 2017, will lead the charge. Coe (24-18) will return 6 starting position players and look to dramatically improve their 13-11 conference mark from a year ago. The Dutch of Central College (20-22) will turn to senior starting pitcher Dylan Diveney to get above the .500 mark in conference play in 2018. He had a 1.66 ERA and a .195 batting average against last year, and he will lead the starting rotation. Offensively, juniors Ryan Bouwman, 1B, and Garrett Saunders, SS, are expected to be catalysts, while Coach Schirm expects sophomore OF/P Tanner Wood to take his game to the next level.

In order to revitalize the program, Loras (14-25) will depend on junior Austin Konagel, who will be moving to second base from third base in 2018. He batted .346, with a .444 on base percentage, and 20 runs batted in in 2017. The success of senior hurlers Robert Hovey and Brad Schwind will go a long way to deciding the Duhawks’ fate in conference play. Nebraska Wesleyan’s (13-27) Owen Gubbels led all IIAC shortstops last season with a .975 fielding percentage and earned 2nd team All Conference honors as a sophomore. Second year coach Nathan Roling of Simpson (7-29) will need to replace honorable mention All Conference selection Hunter Hillygus and his .336 average in order to jump start The Storm in 2018.

TEAM TO BEAT: Wartburg

Midwest Conference: Senior P/OF Jason Malkowski earned 2nd team All Central Region honors for St. Norbert (30-13) in 2017, and he will be depended upon again to lead the Green Knights to another North Division title. Sophomore P Danny Belling will be Beloit’s (19-19-1) number one starter, while position players, SS Mark Christine and C Jeremy Dutton, both seniors, will be counted on both offensively and defensively. 2017 team MVP and All Conference selection, 1B Josh Oswald, senior, and starting pitcher Drew Slade, senior, will aim to improve Ripon’s (8-26) conference standing in 2018. All Conference selection, senior first baseman Matt Holliday, will need to produce again this coming season in order to improve on Lawrence’s (5-29-1) subpar conference record.

Andrew Shults batted .403 with 17 stolen bases
in 36  games for the Pioneers.

Grinnell athletics photo

In the South Division, catcher Sam Galanek and outfielder Brad Weaver, both seniors, will be counted on to lead a Grinnell (20-16) team that finished with the second most wins in conference play in 2017. Third-team All Central Region award winner Andrew Shults will help Weaver out in the grass, while pitchers Andrew Mack, senior, and Sam LaMotte, sophomore, fight for the number one spot on the hill. First baseman and All Central Region first team honoree Walker Beard, senior, will lead the charge for the Cornell College Rams (19-20). Coach Wing will also depend on two sophomores in 3B/C Cale Jamesson and C Alex Schwartz. Two juniors, Caleb Wichman and Zachary Greenwald, will be the top choices to walk to the mound on opening day. Knox (16-17) will look to improve on a 9-11 conference record, and senior IF/OF Matt McCaffrey will be counted on to help with the fix. Fellow 9-11 Monmouth (16-19) will count on two juniors on the bump, Tyler McDonald and Connor McDonald, and two position player seniors, Grant Myers, outfield, and Bryson Sheppard, first base. Coach Eckhouse of Illinois College (11-23) expects senior and 2017 All Conference selection, pitcher Dylan Jones, to be his #1 in 2018. Aside from Jones, Eckhouse is looking to a triumvirate of youngsters to get the Blueboys going: sophomores Austin Gusewelle, CF, Mason Durdel, LF, and Dillon Hallemann, P.

TEAM TO BEAT: St. Norbert

St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Webster (29-15) won 18 of 22 conference games in 2017, and seniors CJ Lee, #1 starting pitcher, and outfielder Conner Wardlaw are expected to keep the momentum going in 2018. Coach Kurich expects sophomore P Matt Mulhearn to step up in a big way as well. In order to surpass Greenville (30-17), who had an identical 16-6 conference record in 2017, Spalding (26-16) will rely on 1st team ABCA All American pitcher Jimi Keating in his final year as a Golden Eagle. After graduating five senior starters in 2017, Coach Downs will look to juniors Matt Harper, IF/P, and Dillon Sievert, C/UT to lead in 2018.

Westminster (Mo.) (21-13) has SLIAC Newcomer of the Year Sam Huesgen, a sophomore pitcher from Wentzville, Missouri, to help keep them competitive in 2018. Senior second baseman Michael Golich, a 3rd team All Central Region selection, will be counted on to help Fontbonne (18-21) surpass 18 overall wins this coming season. MacMurray (20-19) athletic director/head coach Justin Fuhrer feels he has two aces in seniors Ryan Meddows and Cory Steinhart. Shortstop Nick Balkenbusch and outfielder Brett Mammenga, both seniors, are the position players Coach Fuhrer needs to produce both offensively and defensively for the Highlanders.

Senior left handed pitcher Austin Christian will take the ball on day one for Coach Beaber and the Iowa Wesleyan Tigers (15-22). Sophomore Steve Larson and freshman Cody Brown will be key components of the pitching staff as well. On offense, junior Chazz Brown hit four bombs last year and they’ll need his stick again to compete in the SLIAC. Alex Stamos, who threw 61.2 innings in 2017 to lead the staff, will be the pitcher to watch for Principia (17-19) in 2018. Coach Marston needs IF/LHP Will Adler, sophomore, to step up if Principia is to compete in conference play. Team MVP, senior Tyler Durand, will be needed if Blackburn (7-31) is to improve on its four conference wins from a year ago. He batted .319 with 4 home runs in 2017. Eureka (6-29) will need another fine season from senior outfielder Ray Vogel, a 3rd team All Conference selection a year ago.

TEAM TO BEAT: Greenville

Independent: Marantha Baptist of Watertown, Wisconsin played to a 7-27 record in 2017. One of the team highlights of last season was a victory over NAIA Trinity International. In 2018, the Sabercats are led by head coach Rob Thompson and senior pitchers Jordan Garrison and Micah Shepard.

According to the University of Chicago website, the U of C will be an affiliate member of the Midwest Conference in 2018-19. In 2017, coach John Fitzgerald led the Maroons to a 22-15 record. Despite the losses, the Maroons scored 11 runs in a loss to Division 1, Ivy League Dartmouth and played #5 ranked North Central College to within a run in an 11-10 thriller. They are led this season by sophomore pitcher Jacob Petersen. The 6-5, 210 pounder went 5-1 last season with a 3.93 earned run average.