NCAA DIVISION II BASEBALL WEST REGIONAL: Cary or Bust

 

For more than three months Division II baseball teams in the West Region have been scratching and clawing to get to this point. Now, we are here. We know the six-team tournament field, as the best teams in the west converge on La Jolla to try to punch their tickets to Cary, North Carolina.

The field consists of four teams from the California Collegiate Athletic Association (UC San Diego, Chico State, Cal Poly Pomona and Sonoma State.) And, two teams from the Pacific West Conference (Cal Baptist University and Dixie State.) Let’s look at the six teams that will battle it out on Thursday for the West Region Championship.

#1  SEED UC SAN DIEGO TRITONS 

The top seed in the West Region and the tournament hosts are the UC San Diego Tritons from the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA.) The Tritons enter the regional on a roll having just won the CCAA post-season conference tournament in Stockton sweeping through the competition.

UCSD celebrates their CCAA Tournament Championship in Stockton on Saturday night.  PHOTO: Courtesy of UCSD Athletics
UCSD celebrates their CCAA Tournament Championship in Stockton on Saturday night.
PHOTO: Courtesy of UCSD Athletics

The Tritons won two games from Chico State and also knocked off Cal Poly Pomona to capture their sixth post-season tournament title, and fifth in the last six seasons.

The Tritons enter the regional with a 35-14 overall record and have won 9-of-10 and 14 out of their last 17 games. UC San Diego has a team batting average of .292 and has great balance throughout their line-up. Offensively they are led by senior catcher Nick La Face who hit .357 on the season with 2 HR’s and 47 RBI’s. La Face is one of the more feared hitters in the CCAA with an incredible .498 OBP. 27 of his 61 hits have been for extra bases. Teams might want to avoid him with runners on base.  Justin Rahn provides great protection for La Face in the line-up. The left-handed hitter drove in 41 runs while hitting .348 with on OBP of .466. Second baseman Erik Lewis is a  solid two-hole hitter with a .345 batting average and a .481 OBP.

(This base hit by Lewis broke a 7-all tie versus Chico State in the 7th inning of their CCAA Championship match-up last Saturday)

These three hitters for the Tritons are really the key to their offense. La Face has drawn 43 walks. Rahn has walked 32 times and Lewis has received 40 free passes. These three straight hitters for the Tritons are the toughest back-to-back-to-back hitters in the region. They make pitcher’s work, constantly fouling off tough two strike pitches and driving up pitch count. San Diego feeds off of their tough at-bats.

Troy Cruz hit .331 and drove in 38 runs. Lead-off hitter Brandon Shirley (.311)  has done a great job setting the table for heavy hitters in the middle of the order. Brett Levy is sizzling hot at the plate and had a strong CCAA Tourney going 6-for-12 in the tourney and driving 3 runs the final game against Chico State.

On the mound UC San Diego is no slouch. They have some power arms that keep them in games. The health of a few of their starters came into question during the CCAA Tournament. We don’t know whether these pitchers were being held back for rest, or whether they had some injuries. It will be interesting to see…..

At the top of their rotation is Justin Donatella. He did not start a game in the CCAA Tourney, but he did come out of the bullpen in the title game and displayed that velocity that made him an 8 game-winner this year. At 8-2 with an ERA of 2.35 the tall right-hander headlined a group that compiled a team ERA of 3.21. Donatella held hitters to a .219 batting average against. Blake Fassler was 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA, but had to leave his start in the CCAA Tournament after two innings, so there are questions marks surrounding Fassler.

Cruz not only is one of the Tritons best hitters but he also has been great for them on the mound this year. Cruz was 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA. He has pitched a team high 82 innings with opponents only hitting .256 against him. Left-hander Trevor Scott is 6-2 with an ERA of 4.00. Scott’s 74.1 innings this season is the second most on the staff. The Tritons are deep in their starting rotation. They will bring in some good arms out of the pen including their closer Scott Zeman (8 saves.) David Hart is a solid set-up man (2.17 ERA) and the Tritons can bring in Chad Rieser to match-up against lefties.

The UC San Diego Tritons are a deserving top seed. They are playing great baseball and are hot right now. They were good at home, but not dominant (15-7.) They are not a team that runs wild on the bases with only 23 swipes on the year. The Tritons get on base, work counts and hit well with runners in scoring position. They have a veteran team that has been through the tough battles in the always tough CCAA. To beat this top seed, teams will have to “out-tough” the Tritons on their home field. Not an easy task. Head Coach Erik Newman is a good coach and has to feel good about his squad entering the regional.

#2 SEED CHICO STATE WILDCATS

The walk-off win has been a specialty of the Chico State Wildcats during their 2014 campaign PHOTO courtesy of Chico State athletics
The walk-off win has been a specialty of the Chico State Wildcats during their 2014 campaign
PHOTO courtesy of Chico State athletics

(The Chico State Wildcats walk-off hits in 2014)

For the 15th time in the last 19 years the Chico State Wildcats will be in the Division II West Regional. While many may say this is old hat for the Wildcats, think again. This group  is really excited to have a shot at winning the school’s ninth West Region title.

Chico State garnered the number two seed by having a very good regular season going 39-13. They are the best defensive team in Division II baseball with a fielding percentage of .980 and are led defensively by Cody Slader. The Wildcats short-stop committed only six errors in 264 chances on the year. He dazzled Wildcat fans with sparkling defensive plays and was a big reason why the Wildcats earned run average hovered in the low 2’s all season long. Ask Chico State pitchers who the team’s most valuable player is, and Cody Slader is very high on all lists.

Pitching and defense were the prime ingredients for the Wildcats’ success. With a team ERA of 2.57 and the top-ranked fielding percentage, the Wildcats played well in close games. Nick Baker led the Wildcats on the mound. The senior is 9-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He was named the CCAA Pitcher of the Year. He is 31-8 all time in his four-year career. He would love to cap off his amazing career with a trip to Cary. Baker threw 98 innings with opponents only hitting .218 against him. Sophomore Brad Lohse is carrying on the family name. During one stretch of the regular season Lohse threw three straight complete game shut-outs. He finished the year with a record of 8-0 with a 1.46 ERA. Lohse walked only 9 hitters in 74 innings of work.

Marcos Lara has won 8 games for Chico State this year and is a critical piece as they head to the West Regional in La Jolla Photo courtesy of Chico State Athletics
Marcos Lara has won 8 games for Chico State this year and is a critical piece as they head to the West Regional in La Jolla
Photo courtesy of Chico State Athletics

 Marcos Lara has been a gem for Chico on the mound all year. The D-I transfer is 8-3 with a 2.56 ERA. This trio; Baker, Lohse, Lara have been the back-bone of the Cats staff all year.

Luke Barker anchors the bullpen. Barker saved 14 games on the year and is a gritty hard-nosed competitor on the mound. Barker will take the ball for one inning or five. His toughness will never be questioned by his mates as he took a line drive off the head against UC San Diego in the CCAA Tourney title game. Barker would stay in the game and pitch two more innings.

 Robert Hook received all-conference recognition for his great work out of the Chico State bullpen. Hook is 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA and can pitch multiple innings for Chico, He held leads and got the ball to Barker all season long. Chico will need Alex Mistuloff, Derek Sesma and Jesse Silva to perform at a high level to navigate through this regional. Mistuloff could serve as a starter, while Silva can eat innings.

The Chico State Wildcats offense has been a constant for CCAA Coach of the Year Dave Taylor. Despite losing twice to UC San Diego in the CCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are swinging the bats about as well as they have all season long. Lead-off hitter Ryne Clark is the table-setter. Clark leads the Cats in hits (69) and runs scored (34.) This converted San Diego State quarterback patrols center-field and has great speed, running balls down in the gaps with ease. Third baseman Ruben Padilla has started every game this year and has hit .330 while driving in 24 runs. Eric Angerer struggled for much of the year and has suddenly caught fire in the last month. Angerer was hitting .163 in late March but has gone 26-of-59 since. He is not only getting a lot of hits, he is getting big hits.

(This base hit broke a 6-all tie as Chico came back from six runs down to take a 7-6 lead on UCSD on Saturday night.)

(Dylan Garcia with a two-run double against UCSD as the Wildcats climb out of a 6-0 hole.)

Peter Miller was slated to be the back-up catcher to start the year, but when starter Jake Bailey went down, Miller stepped in and was voted an All-Conference selection. His bat was good (.326 BA 2 HR’s 28 RBI’s) but his defense was even better as he handled the Wildcat pitching staff and threw out nearly 50 percent of would-be base stealers. First baseman and DH Tyler Madrid is a power threat and leads the team with 3 home runs. Ryan McClellan has had a great year for Cats. The transfer from Valdosta State hit .306 and drove in 29 runs. He hit this big home run on April 13th in the bottom of the 9th against Dominguez Hills.

The Chico State program has always liked playing small ball, but this team loves it. Chico will bunt on any count, at any time, in any scenario. Head coach Dave Taylor loves to utilize the stolen base and the hit and run. Chico has stolen 66  bases on the year. They also are adept and taking extra bases on balls in the dirt.

Chico is swinging the bats well, but they will need to pitch and play defense to win this regional. They will need their front line starters to pitch deep into games, The Wildcat bullpen and middle relief has the opportunity to be difference makers. If Chico can get the ball to Barker in the 9th with a lead, they will be happy.

#3 SEED CAL BAPTIST LANCERS

It sure didn’t take long for the Cal Baptist Lancers to make some noise in the West Region. In their first year of eligibility the Lancers made the 6-team  field. Cal Baptist had a strong 2014 campaign going 37-13 in the Pacific West Conference.

During the year the Lancers had several good wins including an 8-1 record against teams from the CCAA. The Lancers enter the tournament as the best hitting team in the field. Cal Baptist hit .313 on the season and hit  20 home runs. The Lancers aren’t only boppers, though. Cal Baptist stole 66 bases and averaged more than 6 runs a game.

They are led offensively by Andy Crowley who hit .406 on the year while starting every game this season. Crowley scored a team high 47 runs and also had 35 RBI’s.  Andrew Montoya hit .350  while leading the team with 10 stolen bases. Nathan Antoun and Blair Moore provided pop for the Lancers. Antoun hit .317 with 6 HR’s and drove in a team high 39 runs, while Moore hit 3 HR’s and drove in 38. Antonio Chavarria (.285 BA 4 HR’s 28 RBI’s) Stephen Lohr (.299 BA 3 HR’s 31 RBI’s) and Mark Sanchez (.297 1 HR 29 RBI’s) give the Lancers offense great balance.

Trevor Oaks is 10-0 with 102 strikeouts for the Lancers.  PHOTO courtesy of Cal Baptist Athletics
Trevor Oaks is 10-0 with 102 strikeouts for the Lancers.
PHOTO courtesy of Cal Baptist Athletics

The Lancers also have the arms to compete for a West Region title. Cal Baptist’s undeniable ace is Trevor Oaks. He has been downright nasty all season long. Oaks is 10-0 with a 1.56 ERA. Oaks has struck out 102 hitters on the season and has thrown two complete game shut-outs. Opponents are only hitting .203 against Oaks and he has given up only 12 extra base hits all year, all doubles.

Adam Hofacket has started 12 games on the year and is 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA. Hofacket has thrown 74.2 innings and opponents are hitting .245 against him. Tyson Miller is 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA.

Out of the bullpen the Lancers will lean on closer Caleb Dirks. Dirks is 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA. Dirks has 7 saves and has struck out 45 hitters in 37 innings. David Herd  (5-5 4.45 ERA)has started eight games. Ethan Mack (1-0 4.20)  Josh Ferrell (2-2 4.34 ERA and Jonathan Davis (2-2 5.06 ERA)  are some important arms that the Lancers will bring out of their pen in the tournament.

The Lancers have proven all year they are one of the best teams in the west. Even though this is their first sojourn into this highly competitive Division II West Regional, they have to feel confident, especially in having success against CCAA teams. Their first round match-up pits them against the best hitting team in the CCAA and should be fun to watch.

#4 SEED CAL POLY POMONA

The Cal Poly Pomona Broncos were the top hitting team in the CCAA  and they did it with a line-up that is about as complete as any line-up in the field 1-thru-9. The Broncos went 32-15 on the year and finished fourth in the CCAA. The Broncos played well against fellow west region foes and swept regional participant, Dixie State, early in the season.

They are led by CCAA Player of the Year David Armendariz. The hard-hitting left-fielder hit 9 home runs and drove in 53. His bat speed is impressive and the ball jumps off his bat.

He runs well and is a fantastic all-around player. Joseph Eusebio hits behind Armendariz and hit .377 on the year driving in 28 runs. Eusebio was sizzling in the conference tournament banging out eight hits in three games. Clean-up hitter Bo Walter (.296 1 HR 26 RBI) Chris Carlson (.318 5 HR 33 RBI) and Nick Cooksey (.310 with 16 RBI’s) give the Broncos a formidable middle of the order. Steven Andrade was named the CCAA Freshman of the Year. Andrade had a solid rookie season driving in 22 runs.

Matt Munoz is the lead-off hitter and gets on base at a .396 clip.

Steven Farnworth is a workhorse for the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Farnworth is 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA PHOTO courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona Athletics
Steven Farnworth is a workhorse for the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos. Farnworth is 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA
PHOTO courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona Athletics

The Broncos have some power arms at the top of their rotation. Steven Farnworth is the headliner. Farnworth was 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA on the year. At one point in April he hadn’t allowed a run in 23 consecutive innings spanning three starts. Opponents are only hitting .241 against Farnworth. Cody Ponce is another top performer in the Broncos rotation. Ponce is 4-4 with a 2.48 ERA. Ponce has given up only 8 extra base hits in 72 innings of work. Max Bethell (7-4 3.58 ERA) is a lefty who can be a tough match-up.

The Broncos bullpen is solid with closer J.J. Franklin headlining some right-handed power arms. Franklin is 2-2 with a 1.75 ERA and 8 saves. Austin Boyle (4-0 1.84 ERA and 3 saves) complement’s Franklin. Andy Amaro (3-1 2.34 ERA)  has had a good year and along with Chris Powell (1-0 2.03 ERA and RJ Shanks (3-0 2.45 ERA) give the Broncos options out of their pen.

Pomona is a scary team because of their offensive prowess. If all those bats  get hot they can do some damage. They also have the arms that can carry them deep into this regional with a chance to win it. They open against Cal Baptist at 11am on Thursday morning from Triton Ballpark in La Jolla.

#5 SEED DIXIE STATE RED STORM

The Red Storm are back in the regional after hosting the tournament last season. When you consider the Red Storm started the season 0-7, it’s pretty amazing they find themselves in this spot. Dixie State finished the season 35-15 and turned it on after their rough start. Head coach Chris Pfatenhauer’s team would win 8-of-10, and at one point rattled off 13 straight wins. Dixie State won the Pac-West regular season title by going 26-6 against Pac-West teams.

The Dixie State Red Storm went 35-8 over the final 10 weeks of the season. PHOTO courtesy Dixie State Athletics
The Dixie State Red Storm went 35-8 over the final 10 weeks of the season.
PHOTO courtesy Dixie State Athletics

Dixie hit .308 as a team this year with a tournament high 37 home runs. Dixie has four starters that are hitting over .350 and will bring a high-powered offense into this regional. Tyler Blair hit .351 with 18 doubles, 11 home runs and 45 RBIs. Austin Bartleson leads the Red Storm with a .380 batting average, with an incredible .504 OBP. Returner Kevin Kline hit .325 with 20 doubles, 7 home runs and 54 RBI’s. Trey Kamachi is hitting .354 with 1 HR and 32 RBI’s. Dixie State scores over 6 runs a game and has one of the more potent offenses in this regional.

John Conquy led Dixie on the mound this year with an 8-1 record and a 2.04 ERA. Opponents only hit .245 against Conquy. Chance Abrath has a 7-1 record and made 12 starts for Dixie. While both Kort and Kody Christoffersen have seen significant time on the mound this year. Kort Christoffersen (3-2)  has made 10 starts on the year. Kody Christoffersen is 6-3 with a 4.20 ERA and has made 11 starts.

When the Red Storm go to their bullpen they look to their lights-out closer Evan Parker. Parker is 1-0 with a 1.25 ERA. Parker has 12 saves in 20 appearances and has given up only 3 earned runs all year. Matt Hill is a real good arm out of their pen. Hill is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA. Hill has given up only five earned runs in 28.1 innings of work. Bronson Anderson (2-2 3.63 ERA), Kevin Dorantes (4-1 4.32 ERA) and Bubba Blau (1-1 2.92 ERA) provide more relief out of the Red Storm bullpen.

Dixie State lost a lot of key players from last year’s team that got to host the regional, but they are primed and ready for this return trip and have played great baseball since late February. They dug themselves a hole, but went an amazing 35-8 over the final 10 weeks of the season. The Red Storm open regional play against fifth seeded Chico State on Thursday at 3pm pacific time. Last year Dixie was eliminated from the regional by Chico State in a 1-0 nail-biter on the second day of the tournament.

#6 SEED SONOMA STATE

The Sonoma State Seawolves had to have some frayed nerves as they waited to hear their name called on Sunday night. On one hand you would figure the Seawolves were shoe-in for the tournament, they were the regular season champions of the tough CCAA and won 27 games. But, when digging deep into their resume it was tough to find a great number of quality wins as they had series against Cal Poly Pomona and UC San Diego rained out earlier this year. The Seawolves helped their cause by splitting a four game series with Chico State to wrap up the regular season and that probably got them in the regional.

The Seawolves are in the regional for the sixth time in the last eight years and for the 13th time since 1990.

Sonoma State was near the top of the CCAA in pitching all season long and have a true bona-fide ace in George Asmus. Asmus was 6-1 with a 1.06 ERA. Asmus gave up only 8 earned runs in 68 innings of work. He also held opponents to a .208 batting average. Asmus was slated to start the Seawolves CCAA Tournament opener against Pomona last weekend but walked off the mound after throwing only a few warm-up pitches. Word was it was only soreness. Sonoma needs Asmus, he is a legitimate front line starter and a healthy Asmus is a big factor for the Seawolves.

Hayden Turpin and Jon Richards have been good pitchers for Sonoma all season long. Turpin is 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA while the left-hander Richards is 5-2 with a 3.35 ERA.

Sonoma brings a full dose of arms out of their pen. They have some quality arms that can put zeroes on the board. Jayson Richards pitched 6.1 innings of shut-out baseball against Pomona at the CCAA Tournament last week. He is 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA and can come in for long relief or to shut down a rally. Left-handers Devin Alexander and Aaron Gillis have been solid out of the pen as well. Alexander is 1-3 with a 2.86 ERA while Gillis is 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA. Right hander Cody Lane has been good out of the pen with a 2-1 record and a 3.24 ERA.

Offensively the Seawolves have a solid line-up that relies on the table-setters to get on base and have the big boys in the middle of the order bring them in.

Eric Ehlow is the home run and RBI leader for the Sonoma State Seawolves. PHOTO courtesy of Sonoma State Athletics
Eric Ehlow is the home run and RBI leader for the Sonoma State Seawolves.
PHOTO courtesy of Sonoma State Athletics

Eric Ehlow is the home run and RBI leader for Sonoma (4 HR’s 29 RBI’s.)  First baseman Alex Crosby is a run producer hitting in the five hole and has driven in 23 runs.

(Alex Crosby hit this three run home run against Chico State two weeks ago give Sonoma the regular season CCAA title.)

Lead-off hitter Jourdan Weiks is critical to Sonoma’s success. He hit .328 with a .411 OBP and is a tough out at the top of the order. If he gets on base, he can create chaos with 13 stolen bases.  Weiks scored a team high 34 runs. Jackson Stogner is a key returner and hits in the three-hole. Stogner hit .280 with 1 home run and 28 ribbies. Stogner seems to always be right in the middle of Sonoma rallies. Justin Serrao hits near the bottom of the order, but is a clutch performer. He has a penchant for getting the big hit when the game is hanging in the balance.

(This Justin Serrao hit broke a 2-all tie against Chico State and give Sonoma a 4-2 win)

The Sonoma offensive numbers are not imposing but they feel they can win any game that they can keep close. They are deep in their bullpen, have a true ace at the top of their rotation and have some key players with experience. They may be also playing with a chip on their shoulder after feeling they had to scramble just to get in the regional despite their regular season CCAA title.

Sonoma opens regional play against the host school UC San Diego on Thursday at 7pm.

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