Showdown Looms Between Defending
Tennessee Wesleyan, No. 1-Ranked Lee
16 championships in the 27-year period from 1981 to 2008, the NAIA
World Series has long been the bastion of Idaho’s Lewis-Clark State
College. But the balance of power has swung in recent years to
Tennessee and its rich assortment of NAIA teams.
Wesleyan College won the NAIA national title a year ago, following in
the footsteps of Cumberland University in 2010 (and 2004). But the
real power of NAIA baseball in the Volunteer State may well be Lee
University, which is in search of its first championship but has made
six straight appearances to Lewiston, Idaho, the permanent home of
the NAIA World Series.
Flames finished second in both 2008 and 2010, and pulled up short
again in 2012 by finishing fourth. But this may be their year as they
return several key players from a 56-11 team, and have a
distinguished crop of newcomers, led by righthander Myles Smith, who
ranks No. 1 in Perfect Game’s list of the Top 25 Prospects in the
Lee holds the same No. 1 distinction in PG’s pre-season ranking of
the nation’s Top 10 NAIA Teams. The Flames open their 2013 season
on Friday with a three-game set against Northwestern Ohio.
“I really like this year’s team,” said Mark Brew, who took over the head coaching duties at Lee effective with the 2007 season and has won 50-plus games every season. “We feel we will be balanced in the three big areas (pitching, defense and offense). We have had some quality teams in the past, but I really think what sets this one apart is the depth on the pitching mound and in the lineup.”
a 16th-round pick of the Mets in the 2012 draft,
transferred to Lee for his junior year after going 8-2, 2.78 at
Miami-Dade Community College. With a fastball that ranges from 90-94
mph, an excellent changeup and improving slider, Smith will move in
as the No. 1 starter in the Lee rotation, replacing righthander Kris
Hall, who went 12-0, 1.71 a year ago on his way to being drafted in
the eighth round by the Athletics.
was one of four Flames pitchers drafted in 2012, but 6-foot-7,
235-pound righthander Andy Hillis elected not to sign after being
taken in the 29th round by the Cardinals and returns to
his closer role. He went 5-1, 2.73 with seven saves as a
draft-eligible sophomore and ranks as the hardest thrower on the Lee
staff with a fastball that tops out at 95 mph.
with the loss of Hall and their two other primary starters, the
Flames may have an even more prolific staff this season as Smith will
be joined in the rotation by senior righthander Jose Samayoa (8-0,
2.70), junior lefthander Chris Terry (7-2, 1.21 at California’s
College of San Mateo), a 36th-round pick of the Giants in
last year’s draft; and junior righthander Keegan Yuhl (11-2, 2.08
at California’s Orange Coast College, the nation’s No. 1-ranked
junior college team most of 2012).
Flames also return four regulars in the field, including senior
outfielder Corey Davis (.345-11-61, 31 SB), a 15th-round
pick of the Nationals in 2009, and have added the likes of senior
catcher Danny Canela, who was the leading hitter at North Carolina
State in 2012 (.348-6-46); junior shortstop Alex Silver, the leading
hitter for California state junior-college champion Cosumnes River
(.335-1-30), and first baseman Derrick Pitts, the leading home-run
hitter for the College of Western Nevada (.286-9-51).
“Our team on paper looks really good, but we can’t play the game on paper,” Brew said. “We have to go out and execute all areas of the game we speak with our guys about. If we do those things, then I like our chances to be in the mix at the end.”
order to win their first national title, Lee may well have to go
through Tennessee Wesleyan again, as the defending champion Bulldogs
(53-12) return a senior-dominated team that includes third baseman
Jake Stone (.407-13-78), DH Drew Levi (.326-12-58), outfielder Travis
Burnside (.284-1-32, 26 SB), righthander Corey Rhoney (10-0, 2.31)
and lefthander Josh Culler (10-2, 3.02). The Bulldogs have also
brought aboard several key junior-college transfers.
to be overlooked, Cumberland (32-26), Bryan (41-18) and
Freed-Hardeman (36-23) are other Tennessee NAIA schools that could
make their presence felt in 2013, and it’s not out of the question
that the NAIA World Series could feature as many as three teams from
the state—much like occurred in 2010, when Cumberland defeated Lee
in the championship game, and Tennessee Wesleyan also made an
appearance in the tournament.
any of the Tennessee teams falter this spring, Oklahoma City
University, which won the NAIA World Series in 2005 and has appeared
in the last five tournaments, will be lurking. The No. 2-ranked Stars
(48-12) return established players like catcher Kale Gaden
(.327-11-51), shortstop Chris Munoz (.388-11-44), lefthander Ryan
Gibson (4-0, 1.63), and righthanders Cody Crabaugh (10-2, 2.29) and
Pat Goelz (1.70 ERA, 8 SV).
second Oklahoma team, Rogers State, moved into the title picture last
year by finishing second to Tennessee Wesleyan, and begins this
season at No. 4.
it’s been five years since Lewis-Clark State last won an NAIA
title, the Warriors (42-14, 1-2 in last year’s tournament) can
never be overlooked, especially since the World Series has been
played on their campus field every year since 2000 (and from 1984-91
prior to that).
Warriors, ranked No. 5, have a new coach this year in Jeremiah
Robbins (former coach at Division II Western Oregon State), and
return senior 1B Eric Peterson (.329-3-34), junior outfielder Kyle
Knigge (.355-4-32), and two senior starters, lefthander Anthony
Armanino (10-1, 1.99) and righthander Mike Noteware (9-3, 2.23).
57th annual NAIA World Series, a 10-team affair, will be played in
Lewiston from May 24-31.
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