February 12, 2018

Midwest Regional Preview

More news about: Concordia-Chicago | St. Scholastica | St. Thomas | UW-Whitewater
The Cougars of Concordia-Chicago will be looking for a second straight appearance in the D-III World Series.
Concordia-Chicago athletivs photo

by Austin Walther
for D3baseball.com

After years of dominance by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference during Regional action, Concordia-Chicago finally came on top last season. Both WIAC teams, UW-Whitewater and UW-La Crosse made it to the Midwest playoffs last year along with CUC. The Eagles of La Crosse didn’t finish with as good of a record as they’re used to, but still made it to the finals. That’s where the Cougars ultimately made it over the hump, defeated UWL and got to Appleton.

Whitewater landed the number one seed in last year’s playoffs and they will look to do that again. CUC is the defending champions of this region, but the Warhawks have a ton of pitching returning. Concordia will have to rely on the next crop of upperclassmen to make a statement in the playoffs along with a few new guys.

One team not to sleep on is St. Thomas. The usual athletic school from Minnesota is poised for its biggest run in the region this season. The Tommies fell to La Crosse in the semi-finals of the Midwest Regional a year ago, but they’ll be ready this season. St. Scholastica was the No. 4 seed last season they’re expecting to be right back there again this season. The rest of the Midwest is up for grabs as new teams are making pushes each year.

New Faces

Ryan Doheny's sixth year as a Crown coach
will be his first as head coach.

Crown athletics photo

Ryan Doheny, Crown: The Crown Storm haven’t won more than seven UMAC games in over eight years and after finishing 5-10 a season ago, the baseball team hired a new head coach. Doheny has five years of experience as an assistant for the Crown baseball team. He comes to Crown from working as the Director of Operations at Prospectr Marketing. Doheny has the respect of the players and the rest of the coaching already as the athletic department is excited about this hire. He played ball at Bethel University. As a senior in 2010, he started and played outfield, while batting a .361. He has experience coaching at the high school level, with the Minnesota Twins Youth Camps, Bethel and as the head coach of the Anoka Bucs town team.

Games to Watch in 2018

March 6: If the UW-La Crosse Eagles want to get back on top of the Region, an opening series split against the St. Thomas Tommies would certainly help. It’ll be hard to sweep the Tommies, but any sort of win will put the Eagles back near the top. This matchup will carry a lot of weight later in the season.
March 18: The Concordia-Chicago Cougars play the St. Thomas Tommies in a double header in the Middle of March. The Cougars won the Regional a year ago and the Tommies have been consistently atop of the MIAC standings while making the playoffs on a regular basis.
March 24: After the Cougars-Tommies doubleheader, Concordia-Chicago has UW-La Crosse. The Eagles made back-to-back appearances at the World Series before Concordia made their trip a season ago. UWL is looking to bounce back after struggling in the WIAC while Concordia had their best season yet.
March 31: Bethel and St. Thomas tied for the top spot in the MIAC last season and the Tommies ultimately made the playoffs after having a stronger showing in the conference tournament. This is an early matchup, but a lot will be on the line as the Royals will look to be near the top again while the Tommies are poised for breakout.
April 14-15: As long as the UW-La Crosse Eagles and UW-Whitewater Warhawks produce 30-win season and make the playoffs, they will be the teams to beat in the WIAC. Whitewater has four straight over a two day span in La Crosse. Both WIAC heavy weights will be doing battle for what is expected to be the matchup for the conference again.
May 5: The Bethany Lutheran Vikings were the most improved team in the Midwest Region a year ago and they meet St, Scholastica in a late UMAC doubleheader. It’s been a very long time since the St. Scholastica Saints have not a UMAC title. The Vikings are riding a 12-win increase from 2016 to 2017 so the next thing they will have their eyes set on is challenging St. Scholastica for the conference.

Conference Previews

St. Thomas' Sam Cobbs hit a team-best .372 in
his first
season as a starter. He finished in the
top two in the
conference in RBI (38), total
bases (97), hits (61), doubles (17) and
extra-base hits (24).

d3photography.com photo by Ryan Coleman

Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Since at least 2010, this conference has only seen two regular season champions. St. Thomas seems to always be near the top as they have only missed the playoffs twice in the past 11 seasons. Bethel is the other team as the Royals won the regular season conference crown in 2015. Both them and the Tommies tied with a 16-4 record last year, but the regular season may not be that close again this year.

The Tommies of St. Thomas finished third in the Midwest Regional after sharing a spot for first place in the MIAC. No teams in this conference found a spot in the top-25 last season, but Bethel and St. Thomas received votes. This year, however, St. Thomas is 19th in one poll and 8th in another. They’re poised to get over 30 wins and compete for not only a MIAC Championship, but also make it to the Regional Championship.

The Bethel Royals will certainly have something to say about that as they did last year. There are 22 guys returning from a first place finish in the MIAC. They will be led by John Horner who broke out last season as he hit .330 and didn’t commit an error. The Royals will looked to be led by their pitching staff. Michael Bohlke went 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA, Jake Marsh converted 7 saves and Noah Luedtke went 5-0 while turning in a 2.86 ERA.

Two teams that will have something to say about the Tommies and Royals are St. John’s and Macalester. The Johnnies finished third in the conference last season, but had a bad showing in the Tournament which forced them to miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. St. John’s will have a tough time rebounding as they only return 12 guys and will have 24 new players. The Johnnies will certainly have some star power. Wyatt Ulrich was the MIAC MVP as he led DIII in batting last season. Head coach Haugen is 13 wins away from 800. Then senior Max Jackson is two hits away from becoming the 28th Johnnie to reach 100.

The Scots of Macalester surprised everyone in the MIAC Tournament by defeating Bethel twice and St. Thomas to claim the crown. This is a team that is receiving votes in one poll to start the season and will have 25 players returning. Nick McMullen headlines the team has he displays tremendous power, speed and defensive ability. Alex Baretta hit .392 last season and catcher/first basemen Collin Brantner batted .338. Pitcher Matthew Plisko went 7-3 last season with a 2.26 ERA. Although St. Thomas believes they’ll be on top of the standings, the MIAC has a few teams who will have something to say about it.

TEAM TO BEAT: St. Thomas

Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference: The presumptive favorite who wins the conference every year finally got over the hump of Regionals and made it to the World Series. Concordia-Chicago will once again be the favorite in the NACC as they got a taste of what the World Series is like. They won the conference by three game last season and with experience from a successful season, things should remain the same for the Cougars in 2018.

Obviously, there will be team’s giving CUC competition though. Concordia-Chicago will be equipped with guys ready to defend their conference title and the Midwest Region. 21 players are coming back from the Appleton team which includes six position starters and four pitchers. Three key hitters are gone, but Bryan VanDuser and Andrew Massey return as .400 hitters for the Cougars. Brian Musielak is their top starting pitching and Mike Formella headlines their bullpen. Jose Mercado transfers in from Laney CC where he led his league in stolen bases a season ago.

Curtis Engelbrecht led all regulars in batting
average (.323) in 2017 for Wisconsin Lutheran.
Wisconsin Lutheran athletics photo by Bari Vredeveld

One of those teams that’s going to be up there again this season is Concordia-Wisconsin. The Falcons finished two games back from the Cougars in 2017 as they held second place in the NACC by two games also. The Flacons also placed second in the Tournament, but failed to make the postseason. CUW gets 28 guys back from last year’s squad so they will be ready for another top half finish in the NACC. Their bullpen is led by Scott Plachinski who converted nine saves last year. Catcher Kyle Hilliard returns after earning a spot on the 2016 ABCA All-Region team and All-NACC Team.

The last two seasons the top-four has been rounded out by Aurora and Benedictine. The Spartans of Aurora have 21 players returning from a team that finished third in conference last season in both regular season and tournament. They also have a lot of new guys coming in as they got 20. Senior RHP Jacob Stockman has all the queitites for a senior pitcher who is primed to have a great season. Jeff Mayes is a junior and will lead the bats as he hit .376 last season.

The Eagles of Benedictine completes the four teams who will be competing to dethrone Concordia-Chicago. They finished fourth in the regular season and fifth in the tournament. Benedictine should be right back up there in the top-four, but the climb will be tough. Frank Greco is someone to keep an eye on as he was an All-NACC player with an 8-2 record, 2.32 ERA in 66 innings. The coach is excited for the recruiting class, but they’re facing a tough schedule as usual.

TEAM TO BEAT: Concordia-Chicago

Upper Midwest Athletic Conference: Here’s another conference that has been dominated by just one team. St. Scholastica has won countless regular season titles and continue to sweep through the tournament and make the playoffs. They have only lost five regular season conference games since 2010. It’s never usually the same teams that are in the top half either. For a couple seasons it was Northwestern, but they only won five games last year. Bethany Lutheran was a nice surprise last season as they went from nine overall wins in 2016 to 21 in 2017 for a third-place finish.

The Saints of St. Scholastica went undefeated 16-0 last year. St. Scholastica had a nice showing in non-conference around their region last season. They were able to win five out of six to the top three teams in the WIAC. They also picked up a win over St. Thomas near the end of the season. They went 2-2 in last year’s Regional with their two losses coming to UW-La Crosse and St. Thomas.

St. Scholastica's Steven Neutzling was one of
six Midwest Region players to make the 2018
D3baseball.com Preseason All-America Team.

St. Scholastica athletics photo

St. Scholastica is hoping to do what CUC did and get over the hump. They will have 32 guys coming back and 18 newcomers. Hitters are led by Steven Neutzling who batted .341 with four home runs and 13 doubles. Joe Gonrowski is their top reliever who had a 0.27 ERA last season with a 4-0 record. Grant Rindal headlines their rotation as he went 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA. It will be their largest roster in program history as they seek a Regional Title.

Minnesota-Morris finished second by a half game last season and will hoping to be right back up there again. It will be a long haul as they return five starters with 18 total players and 10 new guys. The offense is led by a star player in four-year starter, two-time all-conference player Jackson Gessell who hit .345 with 3 home runs and 21 RBI. Coach believes that the team will be back in the conference tournament.

A few other teams coaches believe will be near the top are Bethany and Northland. The Vikings of Bethany Lutheran finished 11-4 last season with a 21-19 record. The Jacks of Northland finish 8-8 and 13-21 overall. From there, the conference saw a big drop off.

TEAM TO BEAT: St. Scholastica

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: This conference has been the staple of the Midwest Regional for many years and to make it this year, it will be with a Pool B bid after the conference automatic bid was pulled as the WIAC has fewer then the minimum teams (seven) required for a Pool A bid. UW-Whitewater has made 10 playoff appearances in the past 11 years. UW-La Crosse has been to Appleton twice in the last three seasons. UW-Stevens Point has eight appearances since 2007 and UW-Oshkosh is ready to breakout any season. Last year was the first in a while that neither made it to the World Series, but that will more than likely not last long.

The UW-Whitewater Warhawks finished 15th last season and is starting this year at 4th. Last year, they went 1-2 in the playoffs and failed to make the World Series. Obviously Whitewater will be right back up there again this season. This team returns 21 players and has 11 new guys coming in. The pitching staff will be its strongest suite. Andrew Jones had a 1.91 ERA last season and Heath Rentz posted a 1.96 ERA and will both be back. The hitters aren’t going to slack as Daytona Bryden, Brett Krause and Cal Aldridge will all be swinging for the Warhawks.

Last season, UW-Stevens Point finished in second, 5.5 games back. They haven’t won more than 30 games since 2015 which is the last time they were in the playoffs. UW Oshkosh finished a half game back from Point last season and hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2008. The Titans have had high expectations each year, but haven’t cracked the playoffs yet. UW-La Crosse made it to the World Series in 2015 and 2016, but failed to get back last season. The Eagles didn’t do is good last season, but they landed the five seed in the playoffs, made it to the Championship where they lost to Concordia-Chicago.

Two other teams in the conference who will be itching at making the next step are Stout and Platteville. UW-Stout is returning 25 guys from last season and have eight new players. One hitter for the Blue Devils to keep an eye on is Matt Emmer who hit .371 last season. The UW-Platteville Pioneers will be led by Josh Moses who batted .354 last year with 16 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs and 30 RBI.

TEAM TO BEAT: UW-Whitewater