Harold Coggins: Arkansas Tech Hosts NCAA Tourney Action


Starting tomorrow in Russellville, an Arkansas college has a fairly good shot at advancing to the NCAA Division II College World Series. A 50 percent chance, at least. Three Great American Conference schools will begin play in the D2 Central Regional Tournament, hosted by Arkansas Tech. There’s the old-timer, Southern Arkansas—making its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA postseason—and a couple of newcomers, Tech and Arkansas-Monticello.
Here’s a look at all six teams, first-round matchups and predictions:

Arkansas Tech (42-10, 25-5 GAC); No. 1 seed in Central Regional Tournament

The only team to win a regular season or conference tournament title other than SAU in the three-year history of the GAC, the Wonder Boys finished in the nation’s elite in all four final polls ranking D2 baseball teams: They were No. 3 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 30; No. 6 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Top 30; No. 10 in the D2BaseballNews.com Top 30; and No. 12 in the Perfect Game Division II Top 25 (formerly the College Baseball Lineup).

Arkansas Tech is in the midst of perhaps the best season in school history. The Wonder Boys have set new program standards in wins, shattered the previous school record with a 22-game winning streak and achieved the program’s highest-ever national and regional rankings en route to the first outright conference championship since the 1992 season.

Arkansas Tech Head coach Dave Dawson earned GAC Coach of the Year honors, while nine Wonder Boys players earned all-conference honors. Ryan Taylor,Arkansas tech logo Randy Vallejo, Patrick Castleberry and Sage Boehner were on the first team, Mason Reynolds, Mike Kattula and Kris Ayers earned second-team selections while Jake Bell and James Sharp earned honorable mention picks. And Sharp was selected to the all-tournament team at the recent GAC tournament.

Vallejo leads all of Division II in saves with 17. Kattula is second in the conference batting race with a .371 average and Boehner is sixth at .356; as a team, Tech is second in the GAC in team batting at .295. Reynolds has turned in a 3.41 earned run average to rank ninth among GAC pitchers, leading the Wonder Boys to a team ERA of 3.82, which ranks fourth.

Individually, Boehner leads Tech in runs batted in (68); Kattula, Castleberry and Zac Johnson are tied for the team lead in home runs (6 each); Castleberry leads in doubles (17); and Boehner and Sharp lead in triples (3 each) and stolen bases (12 each). Pitching wise, Reynolds leads in victories (8); Trent Armstrong leads in ERA among those who have started games (2.47); and Taylor leads the team in strikeouts (79) and innings pitched (80.2). Another thing that bodes well for Tech is that the Wonder Boys are 23-5 at Tech Field, where the Central Regional will be held.

Southern Arkansas (38-17, 18-12 GAC); No. 2 seed in Central Regional Tournament

One of two GAC schools to earn at-large bids to the NCAA postseason, the Muleriders are without a doubt the most experienced of the three Arkansas schools in postseason action.

SAU has won all three GAC tournament championships and, until Tech and UAM both bested the Muleriders this season, had won the league’s regular-season titles as well.

Statistically, SAU is hitting .300 as a team—which leads the GAC—and have six starters hitting .300 or better. Jon Phillips currently leads the team in average at .354 (69-for-195). Tyler Cameron is tied for the team lead in home runs with eight and leads the team in RBIs with 50. In terms of pitching, SAU has a 3.75 team ERA and four of its regular starters have ERAs below 4.00. Dylan Lynn leads the staff with 10 wins. Janson Carr currently leads the team in ERA with a 2.23 in 11 appearances and seven starts. Preston Gray has been the Muleriders’ closer and he has 10 saves on the year.

Phillips ranks eighth in the GAC in batting and Lynn’s 2.94 ERA ranks seventh among GAC pitchers with a minimum of one inning pitched per team game. Cameron (.339), Trevor Rucker (.331), William Townsend (.317), Josh Rodriguez (.316) and Carver Rademacher (.308) join Phillips as the six starters hitting above .300. Rademacher’s 18 doubles leads SAU and currently ranks second on GAC statistical charts; Townsend has hit four triples to lead the team; and Rucker’s 32 stolen bases leads the Muleriders and ranks second in the GAC.

Lynn, Phillips and Cameron represented the Muleriders on the All-GAC first team, while Rucker, Townsend and Timothy Buchanan were on the second team. Carr, Rademacher and Jackson McCurdy received honorable mention.

SAU finished 2014 ranked No. 8 in the CBN Top 30; No. 17 in the Perfect Game Division II Top 25 and No. 19 in the D2BaseballNews.com Top 30. The Muleriders also received votes in the NCBWA poll.

Minnesota State-Mankato (41-9, 28-4 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference); No. 3 seed in Central Regional Tournament

Last year’s national runner-up in the NCAA Division II College World Series to Tampa University, MSU-Mankato entered the NSIC postseason tournament as the top seed but lost two of its first three games (both 2-1) and received an at-large bid to the NCAA postseason. The Mavericks finished as No. 1 in the Central Region final rankings but, because of their conference tournament showing, were denied an opportunity to host the regional tourney. Beginning the season as the preseason No. 32 team in the country, MSU-Mankato finished the spring ranked third in both the D2BaseballNews.com and Perfect Game polls and fourth in both the CBN and NCBWA rankings. The Mavericks are gunning for their third straight NCAA Division II Central Region title and fourth in the last five seasons. The only regional opponent MSU-Mankato has not beaten in its 74-year baseball history is Emporia State, the Mavericks’ first-round opponent. MSU-Mankato is 52-14 all-time against fellow NSIC member Augustana (S.D.), 6-4 against Tech, 1-0 against SAU and 1-1 against UAM, but 0-3 against Emporia. In the NCAA Division II postseason for the ninth consecutive season, 2014 will mark MSU-Mankato’s 33rd NCAA tournament appearance, ranking only behind Florida Southern’s 40 trips to the national tournament. The Mavericks stand 54-51 all-time in NCAA regional play and has won seven regional titles—1971, 1979, 1980, 1986, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Statistically, MSU-Mankato is led by Nolan Johnson’s .386 batting average and Jason Hoppe’s 10-2 mound record and 2.23 ERA. Stetson Olson leads the Mavericks in home runs (12) and RBI (51), while Johnson’s 20 doubles leads the team. Johnson and Eric Peterson are tops in triples (3 each), and Peterson’s 18 stolen bases lead the Mavericks. Pitching wise, Hoppe leads the team in innings pitched (80.2), strikeouts (90) and starts (12).

Emporia State (40-17, 26-14 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association); No. 4 seed in Central Regional Tournament

The only postseason representative of the baseball-rich MIAA, the Hornets are making their tenth trip to the NCAA postseason. Emporia State battled its way through the losers’ bracket to capture the MIAA tournament title and automatic bid by sweeping Missouri Western. The Hornets finished the spring ranked No. 21 by CBN and received votes in the NCBWA poll. They have won 21 of their last 24 games since starting the season 19-14. Emporia State is batting .296 as a team, with a 3.99 ERA and a .965 team fielding percentage. Emporia State pitchers lead the MIAA and are ranked in fifth nationally in strikes-to-walks ratio. At the plate, the Hornets are fifth in the nation in home runs (51) and stolen bases (133). Nine Hornets were named All-MIAA with Shawn Talkington, Brenton Higgins and Levi Parker earning first-team honors. Price Jacobs leads eight ESU starters batting more than .300 with a .362 average. Dean Long’s 14 long balls and 60 RBI lead the Hornets statistically, while Toby Cornejo leads in doubles (19), Justin Harris and Aaron Gile are tied for the team lead in triples (four each), and Harris’ 42 stolen bases not only leads ESU but ranks him sixth nationally. Among starting pitchers, Jarrod Miller leads the team in ERA at 2.99 and his 75 strikeouts are tops among the Hornets. Brenton Higgins has made 27 appearances this season and leads the Hornets with 12 saves.

Arkansas-Monticello (36-15, 22-8 GAC); No. 5 seed in Central Regional Tournament

Making their first postseason appearance since the school joined the NCAA Division II in 1996, the Boll Weevils have seen a year of firsts. The 36 wins recorded by UAM so far during the 2014 season has set a new single-season record for the program, which was previously held by the 2005 squad that finished 34-25 overall. The 2013 squad finished two wins shy of that record at 32-20. The 2013 and 2014 teams have become the first in program history to reach the 30-win plateau in back-to-back seasons. The 2014 Boll Weevils broke last year’s record for conference wins in a single season.

The 2013 squad posted 17 Great American Conference victories, broken this year with a finish of 22-8 throughout the season. UAM won eight of its 10 GAC series this season, including four consecutive three-game sweeps. The only two series losses this season were to Ouachita Baptist and Tech, both on the road. UAM picked up a 2-1 series win over Southern Arkansas during the last weekend of the regular season, the first time the Weevils have beat the Muleriders in a series since 2001.

UAM has broken its own record for all-conference selections in each of the past two seasons. The 2013 squad earned a total of six honorees, before the 2014 picked up seven selections. The 2014 roster features nine players who have earned at least one all-conference honor over the past two seasons, including seniors Ben Agredano, D’Marco Poindexter and Alex Lang, who have all earned back-to-back All-GAC selections. And for 14 consecutive weeks during the 2014 season, UAM has been included in at least one of the four Division II national rankings outlets, reaching as high as No. 11 by D2BaseballNews.com on March 2. The Weevils are currently ranked No. 18 by Perfect Game, No. 23 by the NCBWA and No. 29 by D2BaseballNews.com. Also, UAM received votes in the final CBN poll of the 2014 season.

From a regional perspective, the Weevils were in the top four of each of the first three NCAA Division II Central Region Rankings, including spending two weeks at the No. 3 spot. UAM reached new program highs in both national and regional rankings this season. Offensively, the Weevils are led by Agredano, the GAC leader in hitting (.377 average) and hits (77). Ray Johnson leads UAM in home runs (eight), and Agredano in both doubles (15) and triples (two—the only triples recorded by any UAM batter in 2014). On the mound, the Weevils are led by Karde Garlington’s nine wins and 81.2 innings pitched, Zach McKnight’s 53 strikeouts and Jeff Harvil’s UAM single-season and career record 10 saves. Among pitchers who have started at least once, McKnight’s 2.75 ERA is tops. As a team, UAM currently ranks second in ERA in the GAC (3.54) and third in batting (.286).

Augustana, S.D. (40-14, 25-8 NSIC); No. 6 seed in Central Regional Tournament

The beneficiary of MSU-Mankato’s conference tournament collapse, the Vikings won the NSIC tournament and received an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason. Augustana finished 2014 ranked No. 23 by Perfect Game and No. 30 by CBN. Augustana makes its second-ever appearance in the NCAA baseball postseason, and the Vikings made program history in winning their first NSIC tournament title—ripping through their competition 4-0 during the double-elimination tournament. Augustana is hitting .343 on the year, first in the NSIC and fourth in the NCAA Division II. The Vikings are averaging 7.70 runs per game this season, second in the NSIC and 10th nationally, and has 376 RBI this year, first in the NSIC by more than 40 RBI. Augustana’s 109 stolen bases as a team lead the NSIC and ranks 18th in the country. Augustana holds a .513 slugging percentage as a team, first in the NSIC by more than 44 points, and sixth in the NCAA, and the Vikings lead the NSIC in runs scored with 415, seventh in the nation.

Its 590 hits as a team lead the NSIC, as well as its 133 doubles. In terms of the long ball, Augustana ranks first in the NSIC in homers with 41, which is good for 14th in the NCAA. Individually, Tony Viger’s .721 slugging percentage ranks second in the NSIC; Viger is also third in batting at .423–both Augustana highs. Viger leads the NSIC and the NCAA with 28 doubles, and is first in the NSIC in runs scored with 63. The senior infielder also leads the NSIC in hits with 88, third most in the NCAA, and the trio of Viger (61 RBI, first), Alex Fink (54 RBI, third, and Jack Goihl (53 RBI, fourth) are among the top five in the NSIC in runs batted in. Pitching wise, Kyle Winter has been the top Augustana pitcher so far this year, going 8-0 with a 3.75 ERA. Michael Letkewicz is second in the league with 84 strikeouts on the season and the right-handed sophomore is eighth in the NSIC in opposing batting average with a .219 mark.

The first-round matchups have MSU-Mankato and Emporia State starting things off at noon, SAU and UAM going at it at 3:30 p.m. and Tech taking on Augustana at 7 p.m. There will be at least one Arkansas school to advance to Saturday’s winners’ bracket, and the prediction is two schools. The host Wonder Boys should handle Augustana and UAM should even the season series against SAU, if the Muleriders’ Yumezo Densaki isn’t on the mound for SAU. Densaki improved to 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA in three starts against the Weevils in the GAC tournament championship game. After surrendering runs in the first and fourth innings, he retired 16 of the last 19 innings, including a strikeout of Agredano to clinch the victory for the Muleriders. In the other game, MSU-Mankato should forge its first-ever win against Emporia State. The tournament continues with three games on Friday and concludes with Sunday’s championship.


2014_Baseball_Regional hosted at Arkansas Tech


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