DII Baseball Finals Preview
Action begins Saturday with two games starting at 1 p.m. ET
Three of the four teams that begin play in the NCAA Division II national Finals on Saturday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. are ranked in the top 10, including Millersville, which is ranked 10th in the nation and coming off of its first regional title since 1998.
The Marauders (43-10) pride themselves on pitching and defense, and Marauders head coach Jon Shehan understands his team will have to excel at both to contend for the national championship this week in North Carolina.
Millersville has five pitchers with six or more wins, including staff leader Brooks Rothschild (10-1), who led the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in wins this season. The Marauders have a team ERA of 3.13 and have committed only 37 errors.
"You aren't always going to be able to hit the ball well but if you pitch well and play good defense, you are going to give yourself a chance to win games," Shehan said. "Both of those things have to be there for us this week."
Rothschild has a 2.50 ERA and has 52 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings of work. He has allowed 25 runs and has walked 28 batters.
Junior Mike McMonagle owns an 8-1 record and a 1.98 ERA. He has 49 strikeouts this season for the Marauders, who are hoping to become the first PSAC team to win a national title. Freshman Tad Barton is 6-0 with a 3.15 ERA and 34 strikeouts.
The offense hasn't been bad either. The 10th-ranked Marauders are paced at the plate by Mike August, who is batting .384 with 43 RBI. The junior has smacked 20 doubles.
Redshirt freshman Zach Stone, a walk-on at Millersville, is hitting .358 and has crushed four home runs while driving in 45 runs. Senior Derek Kline owns a .337 average, belting seven homers and tallying 17 doubles. Kline has knocked in 43 runs as well. The Marauders are hitting .306 as a a team.
Millersville really showcased its offense in a 14-3 win against Mercyhurst in the regional final and Shehan hopes the momentum carries over to nationals.
"It definitely got our confidence going," Shehan said. "We have been swinging the bats well lately and we have found different ways to execute at the plate."
Millersville opens against No. 2 Mount Olive (45-8) and this trip to the national tournament is extra special for fifth-year seniors Corey Phelan (.257) and Scott Stevens (.231). As freshmen, they suffered through a 9-37 season but have won 113 games since that time.
"They know what it is like to be on the losing side of things, but they learned from those 37 losses," Shehan said. "Those two have contributed in different ways and have been leaders for us this year. It's great to see them have this experience."
At the beginning of the season, Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster wondered if his team was good enough to make a run at the national championship.
The Trojans answered those questions in resounding fashion. winning 45 games and losing only eight. They enter the tourney in North Carolina as the No. 2 team in the nation and in the hunt for their first title since 2008.
"Early on, I wasn't sure how good this team was going to be," Lancaster said. "I'm proud of what we have accomplished. Our guys bought into the system and have had a phenomenal season."
Speaking of phenomenal, one only needs to look at the play of sophomore pitcher Carter Capps. Capps has been unreal, going 14-0 with a 1.37 ERA. He has struck out 124 batters and has walked 16. Capps is 24-0 in his career.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Lancaster said. "He has taken his game to another level and he has carried us all year. Scouts have been watching him all season and he definitely has a future in this game. His will to be the best really stands out."
Junior Pete Levitt doesn't get the attention that Capps attracts, but he has certainly played a key role for the Trojans. He is 9-2 with a 3.07 ERA and has 85 strikeouts.
The offense took a hit when junior Michael Knox broke his hand earlier this month, however, there is a chance he will play in the tourney. Knox is batting .367 and has blasted 22 home runs.
Junior Jacob Rogers has knocked in 51 runs and is hitting .427 on the season. Rogers has hit 24 doubles while senior Jason Simone has tallied 22 doubles and is hitting .420.
Mount Olive has won its last six games and is confident heading into the national tournament. The fact that it has played under the weight of high expectations all season has prepared it for this moment as well.
"There is a lot of pressure on us, but our guys have handled it well," Lancaster said. "Our team is battle-tested and we're looking forward to seeing what we can do."
It's tough to ignore the strength of Central Missouri's offense. The fourth-ranked Mules (49-8) lead the nation in runs scored (459) and feature an offense that is hitting .326 and has racked up 400 RBI.
It's why the Mules will be in the hunt for a national title in what is their 16th trip to the national Finals.
"We haven't made many mistakes on offense," head coach Tom Myers said. Our guys have done what we have asked of them and have sold out everything for the good of the team."
Nick DiBiasse has fueled the offense. One of the top players in the country, the senior is batting .460 with nine home runs and 57 RBI. DiBiasse has also hit 21 doubles. His batting average is the second best in the nation.
Senior Tyler Anthony is hitting .377 and has knocked in 32 runs while Tyler Ruch owns a .345 average and has driven in 46 runs. The senior has scored 66 times as well.
Matt Curtis has been solid on the mound. The senior is 11-0 with a 3.19 ERA and has 53 strikeouts on the year. Senior Don Lisi is 9-2 and has thrown four complete games. Lisi has recorded 64 strikeouts and has a 3.43 ERA.
"Our pitching was very solid in the regional, and we know that has to continue if we want to win games here," Myers said. "We have been very locked in to pitching well and we have to keep it going to stay in the winner's bracket."
Central Missouri is gunning for its third national title in program history. It would be its first since 2003. And while the Mules have been one of the best in the country all year, they know records mean nothing at this point.
"You can throw them out the window," Myers said. "Every team wants the same thing and we just have to focus on what we can control. We have been preparing for this opportunity since day one and we will be ready to play."
Sure, Winona State (39-17) comes into the national Finals with the most losses of any team in the field, but the Warriors lost nine of those games by two runs or less and are not about to go down without a fight in North Carolina.
"We've played in a lot of close games and we are playing well right now," Warriors head coach Kyle Poock said. "We played in a tough regional and found a way to get through it and we'll be ready to go."
Winona State, which battles Central Missouri on Saturday in its opening round game, has building for this moment for quite some time.
"I really thought we had a chance to get here. I could see everything falling into place last season and with our experience back, we knew we had the potential to have a great season."
The Warriors are in the national Finals for the first time in school history, at least at the D-II level. They played in six national tournaments as an NAIA team before joining D-II in 1995.
Tony Mueller leads the offense with his .385 average. The junior has knocked in 29 runs and has scored 46 times.
Senior Joe Kley is batting .355 and has hit 12 doubles and smashed 11 home runs en route to driving in 64 runs. Sophomore Derek Wojcik comes in with a .347 average and has also hit 12 doubles.
The Warriors are hitting .315 as a team and have made strides throughout the year. They have converted on 73 of their 89 stolen base attempts.
"Our execution has improved," Poock said. "We've done a better job of getting big hits when we need them and have done a good job on the bases"
On the mound, junior Kodey Simon has been strong, fashioning a 1.78 ERA. He has thrown five complete games and has recorded 60 strikeouts. Senior Andrew DeSousa (6-1, 3.15 ERA) and sophomore Aaron Hoverson (6-1, 4.19 ERA) have stepped up as well for the Warriors.