Region Preview: West

Texas-Tyler will not be able to defend their 2018 title in 2019.
Playing their last year in D-III before moving to D-II they are
ineligible for the 2019 NCAA playoffs.

Photo by Larry Radloff,

by Ralph Turner

West Region fans believe that they have the strongest and most balanced region in D-III as teams from the region has won the last three World Series titles and four of the last six. In 2018 it was Texas-Tyler from the ASC who was the last Pool C off the board on their way to the Championship. In 2017 it was Cal Lutheran from the SCIAC. In 2016, Trinity (Texas) from the SCAC took the walnut and bronze with Linfield from the Northwest Conference earning one in 2013.

Last season Texas-Tyler was sent to the Central Regional Tournament where they bested a field of Aurora, Franklin, Webster, UW-Whitewater and Rhodes in Sauget Ill., winning twice in the final day to advance. The Patriots won their pool and defeated the West Regional champion Texas Lutheran for the D-III Crown. The playoff moves to the Super Regional format in 2019, so say goodbye to the regional champions. Instead we could see a west coast and a southwest mini-regional with three or four teams in each.

Trinity (Texas), Texas Lutheran, Concordia-Texas, Texas-Dallas, Redlands, Chapman, La Verne, Willamette, Linfield, and Pacific Lutheran are the favorites from the four western conferences. These top teams need to be aware of the mid-pack teams. What has become commonplace is that a team from the middle of the conference gets on a hot streak in late season and makes a run deep into the playoffs. The 2018 National Champion, Texas-Tyler, is moving to D-II in 2020 and will not be in this season’s postseason round.

New Faces

Erik Grafton, University of Dallas: Grafton will be the 20th head coach for the Crusader program. Grafton arrives after spending the previous six seasons as the assistant coach for the Texas-Tyler Patriots. Grafton lettered for three years at Hendrix as a catcher and an infielder, earning All-Academic Team honors for the SCAC. In 2011, Grafton finished his Master's degree at the University of Central Arkansas and was a volunteer assistant with the UCA baseball team. Prior to Texas-Tyler, Grafton was an assistant coach with University of Central Arkansas and Conway High School, Arkansas.

Sean McSheffery, Hendrix: McSheffery, a former coach in the San Diego Padres organization who has also served as an assistant coach for the Warriors for the past two seasons, will enter his first season as the head coach for the Hendrix Warriors. "Having been in our department as the assistant coach for the last two years, Sean has impressed everyone he has interacted with on our campus and shown his unselfishness and team-first mentality in everything he has done," Director of Athletics Amy Weaver went on to say. "Coach McSheffery separated himself from the rest of the very impressive applicant pool by his knowledge of the game, experience at several different levels, as well as his energy and passion for recruiting and we are excited to have him leading our Baseball program."

Kevin Whitehead, Cal Tech: Whitehead brings energy and enthusiasm to a program in one of the toughest conferences in the country. "Becoming the head coach of a college baseball program has been a life-long dream," Whitehead said at his introduction at the Cal Tech program. "I've had that dream ever since high school and it may differ for some but I always knew I wanted to turn to coaching and remain in college."  He will be coming off a two-year stint as a graduate assistant at Whittier. As a player, Whitehead caught for the Texas Tech Red Raiders for four years, captained the team for his final two years.

Trinity (Texas) will open their season hosting a three game series
with No. 8 Cortland.

Trinity (Texas) athletics photo

Games to Watch in 2019

Tucson Tournament (February 7-10): The Tucson Tournament will be an early test for a number of teams with playoff potential as Pacific Lutheran, Redlands, La Verne, Texas-Dallas and #20 Chapman meet in a round robin format.

No. 8 Cortland at No. 4 Trinity (Texas) (February 9-10): A three game series between the 2015 champion (Cortland) and the 2016 champion (Trinity) will take place in San Antonio, Texas.

No. 3 Texas Lutheran at Cal Lutheran, No. 20 Chapman (March 1-2): Key regional contests for three of the top programs in the west.

Willamette at Linfield (March 9-10): The Bearcats travel to McMinville, Ore. for a key three-game series in the NWC.

No. 3 Texas Lutheran at No. 4 Trinity (Texas) (March 22-23): The team that comes out on top will have the inside track for the SCAC crown.

Redlands at Chapman (March 22-23): A rematch of the 2018 SCIAC tournament final where Chapman came from a 10-1 deficit after six innings to win 20-12 and earn a pass into the playoffs.

Texas-Dallas at Concordia-Texas (March 29-30): The ASC title will be on the line as the Comets and Tornados meet late in the conference season.

Conference Previews

American Southwest Conference: Texas-Tyler has announced its move to D-II and so is ineligible for post-season play, Concordia-Texas and Texas-Dallas are expected to contend for the automatic qualifier to be awarded to the winner on May 11 following the three day ASC tournament.

Concordia-Texas (29-18) will be led by Preseason All-America Honorable Mention senior second baseman Carson Cox. Cox was a First Team All-Region selection by both and ABCA/Rawlings in 2018, as well as the American Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year. He hit .394 with 30 runs, 67 hits, 11 doubles, four home runs and 44 runs batted in for the Tornados, who went 29-18 last season and won the ASC regular season title last year and earned a Pool C bid to the 2018 West Regional.

Texas-Dallas (32-17) earned a Pool A bid to the 2018 West Regional in Spokane as the ASC champions. The Comets hope to repeat in 2019 and will be led by 2018 West All-Region selections second baseman Ryan Burciaga (.315, 57 R, 62 H, 14 2B, 4 HR, 36 RBI) and designated hitter Thomas Craig (.341, 32 R, 44 H, 9 2B, 3 HR, 30 RBI). East Texas Baptist (21-21) returns 11 starters and 33 lettermen. They will be led by All-ASC catcher Casey Combs (.296, 42 H, 26 RBI, 11-12 SB, .990 FA).

LeTourneau's last NCAA playoff appearance was in 2014.
LeTourneau athletics photo

LeTourneau (23-19) returns nine starters and 23 lettermen including three starting pitchers, Bryce Brueggemeyer (4-5, 61 IP, 5.45 ERA), Luke Ludwig (5-3, 61.2 IP, 5.84 ERA, 53 K) and Andrew Harlan (3-5, 56.2 IP, 6.04 ERA). McMurry (13-25) returns to active status after completing re-classification from its attempt to move to D-II. Coach John Byington will have 2018 Freshman of the Year first baseman and pitcher Nick Hamel (.362, 21 R, 46 H; 1-1, 7.20 ERA) to lead the War Hawks.

Belhaven (12-27) will have something to play for in 2019. Longtime head coach Hill Denson has announced that 2019 will be his final season of coaching. His retirement will cap a career that has spanned 33 years. Denson is in his 19th season and his team would like nothing more than to send him out a winner. Belhaven is in its last year of provisional status.

Team to beat: Concordia-Texas

Northwest Conference: Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick was the 2018 West Region Coach of the Year, taking the Bearcats to a 31-19 season and the Northwest Conference title. He is counting on All-West outfielder Connor Bailey (.339, 48 R, 12 2B, 15 HR, 55 RBI) and 2017 Team All-NWC pitcher Matt Steindorf (11-3, 3 CG, 2.87 ERA, 67 K) to lead Willamette in 2019.

Stan Manley begins his second season at Linfield (24-18), a team that won the 2013 D-III World Series under Scott Brosius, and last appeared in the West Regional in 2017 under Scott Carnahan. The Wildcats lost 7 of 9 starters. The 2019 team will be led by senior outfielder Cameron Fox (.308, 40 H, 11 2B).

Pacific Lutheran (25-17) was the 2018 regular season champion and last made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They are counting on Jacob Bockelie (.389, 8 HR, 49 RBI) and Alex Gregory (5-2; 5 SV, 55.2 IP, ERA 2.59) in the 2019 season. Puget Sound (17-23) will have West Region Rookie of the Year second baseman Kyle Strash returning for the Loggers. Strash’s numbers in 2018 were .395, 28 BB, 14 K and OBA .524.

Team to beat: Willamette

Cal Lutheran corner infielder Ryne Yamashiro.
Cal Lutheran photo by Dave Donovan.

Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: No conference is more balanced than the SCIAC. In the last 10 seasons, five SCIAC teams have made the NCAA’s, with Cal Lutheran winning it all in 2017. Such balance also makes it hard for a team to repeat, season after season, but that is what Redlands (33-13) wants to do, led by Honorable Mention shortstop Aaron Singh (.355, 48 R, 61 H, 21 2B, 33 RBI, 2018 D-III Gold Glove). The Bulldogs have talent but inexperience as shown by returning only three starters and fifteen lettermen.

Chapman (35-13) earned the 2018 SCIAC Pool A for its first appearance in the NCAAs since its 2011 trip. The Panthers lost some big bats in the middle of the lineup, but seem to have restored the depth and development that were hallmarks of the teams when they were independent. Key players for Coach Scott Laverty include outfielder Tristan Kevitch (.382, 41 R, 7 HR, 38 RBI) and starting pitcher Tyler Peck (7-2, 2.63 ERA, 2 CG, 98 K). Matt Mogollon (8-7, 2.67, ERA, 4 CG, 89 K) graduated and has gone to California Baptist University.

Cal Lutheran (22-18) may be ready to return to the West Regional. The Kingsmen have nine starters and 20 lettermen from the rebuilding season in 2018. Key players for Coach Marty Slimak include infielder Ryne Yamashiro (.387, 55 H, 28 R, 12 2B) and right-handed pitcher Troy Frazier (6-2, 62.1 IP, 51 K, 4.04 ERA).

Team to beat: Chapman

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: Two 2 teams in the Top 4? Yes, the 201 finalist Texas Lutheran and the 2016 Champion Trinity (Texas) polled #3 and #4 respectively in the Top 25. That makes for an interesting season. The TLU Bulldogs (42-12) will be led by First-Team All-American pitcher Nathan Malinovsky (12-2, 1.38 ERA, 6 CG, 108 K) and Second-Team All-American Tyler Cauley (.371, 45 R, 20 2B, 66 RBI). On six days rest, Malinosky is virtually unhittable but come playoff time, this could be a concern when rest days are in short supply. Head coach Greg Burnett has holes to fill around the six returning starters.

Trinity (Texas) Coach Tim Scannell has rebuilt the Tigers since their National Championship season in 2016. Those who followed the 2016 season saw how Coach Scannell used the entire season to build the depth on the team for a playoff run. The Tigers (33-9) have seven starters back, as opposed to 2018 when nearly every starter was new. Key players to follow include outfielder Rafe Chaumette (.392, 44 R, 13 2B, SB 13) and starting pitcher James Nittoli (5-2, 2.78 ERA, 45.1 IP, 49 K, .226 OBA). The schedule also works to the Tigers favor. They play 32 of 40 games including against No. 3 TLU, No. 8 Cortland, No. 17 Babson and SCAC foes Centenary (La.) and Southwestern at home. The remaining eight games on the road are against teams with a combined 018 record of 53-104.

In his inaugural season at Southwestern, Coach J. C. Bunch led the Pirates (18-24) to the SCAC postseason tournament, only to lose to Centenary in the third game of the four-team tourney.  The Pirates have eight starters among the 17 returnees from the 2018 team. Centenary (26-16) was the 2018 regular season champs in the SCAC, but lost heavily from the 2018 team. Coach Mike Diaz has Second-Team All-West Region pitcher Michale DeVillier (6-3, 1.91 ERA, 75.1 IP, 65 K) and outfielder Cameron Guin (.298, 45 H, 21 RBI) returning for the Gents.

Team to beat: Trinity (Texas)