The 2016 CAC baseball campaign figures to be another close battle for conference supremacy, as evidenced by the Preseason Coaches' Poll. Three CAC teams – Salisbury, Mary Washington and Frostburg State – each received multiple first-place votes in a preseason vote among the conference head coaches.
Salisbury was selected as a slight preseason favorite with four first-place votes and 74 points. Mary Washington was close behind in second place with four first-place nods and 72 points, just one point ahead of third-place Frostburg State (2 first-place votes; 71 points).
Christopher Newport (58 points), York (44 points) and Marymount (41 points) rounded out the top six vote getters. Wesley was picked to finish seventh with a total of 31 points, followed by Southern Virginia (23 points), St. Mary's (16 points) and Penn State Harrisburg (14 points).
The 2015 season was a historic one for CAC baseball, as two conference teams advanced to the Division III World Series, marking the first time ever that the CAC was represented by multiple teams in the final eight. Frostburg State earned an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason with its second CAC title in program history, while CAC runner-up Salisbury secured an at-large bid.
Both the Bobcats and Sea Gulls went on to capture their respective regional titles, making the CAC the only conference in the country with more than one team represented at the championship tournament in Appleton, Wisc.
Salisbury, Frostburg State and Mary Washington have each received recognition in the preseason national polls. The Sea Gulls are ranked No. 4 by both D3baseball.com and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. FSU is ranked No. 10 by D3baseball.com and No. 28 by CB Newspaper, while UMW enters the year at No. 29 in the CB Newspaper rankings and receiving votes in the D3baseball.com poll.
Below is a team-by-team breakdown of what to expect this season:
CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT graduated just three players, all relief pitchers, from last year's squad. Along with the majority of the roster, the Captains also welcome back All-Region outfielder Tommy Vitaletti and long-time assistant coach Andy Wissinger. In his 15th season at the helm, head coach John Harvell eclipsed 400 wins last season and is looking to get the Captains back to the CAC Tournament in 2016 for the third straight year. Along with Vitaletti, the CNU offense will feature a veteran core that includes six projected starters in their junior or senior year. The Captains also welcome back sophomores Brandon Ginch, who hit a team-high 5 HR, and Craig Johnson, who hit .394 last season. With 11 of their first 13 games at home, CNU will look to get off to a strong start before the always challenging CAC slate.
FROSTBURG STATE returns two All-Americans – one athletic and one academic – to the 2016 edition of the Bobcats. Sophomore ace Greg Schneider (9-1, 1.85 ERA, 98 strikeouts) and senior Zach Keeler (.327 batting average, 30 RBI) return to lead FSU back to the postseason after lifting the Bobcats to a school and CAC record 43 wins, both the conference regular season and tournament titles, the Mideast Regional crown and FSU's first-ever appearance at the DIII World Series.
MARY WASHINGTON enters the season with high hopes after a 27-7 season and the loss of just one player to graduation. The Eagles welcome back all-conference hitters in Mitch Moynihan, James Keller, and David Slupek, while on the mound, pitching aces Ryan Van Assche (a preseason All-American), as well as Nick McIntyre and closer Tyler Daig all return for coach Wayne Riser. UMW is ranked nationally in the ABCA poll. Van Assche, Keller, and Slupek gained all-region accolades last spring as well.
After a modestly successful 2015 season, MARYMOUNT is looking to take another positive step forward in 2016. Returnees include seven position starters, four starting pitchers and four key relief pitchers from last year's squad that finished fourth in the CAC standings. In addition, talent and depth have been added with newcomers, of which seven project to see substantial playing time. The Saints will once again play a nationally competitive schedule, commencing with a twin bill on Feb. 13 at Averett University.
PENN STATE HARRISBURG and fourth-year head coach Ryan Bown will look to bounce back from a tough season last spring. The Lions return several key pieces that gained valuable experience on the diamond in 2015. On the mound, Brian Goodling, Derek Slagle and Mark Artley all return as major cogs to the pitching rotation. Kevin Kremer, Chris Ioca, Tom Denniston and Josh Brubaker each saw meaningful playing time last season and will lead the contingent of returning field players for the Lions.
In 2016, ST. MARY'S is looking to post its first winning season since 2011. The Seahawks will be led at the plate by junior infielder Zach Rowe, who has hit above .250 in each of his first two seasons. Seniors Ben Goldsmith and Michael O'Neill and junior Nick Raimondo are the team's top returning pitchers. The trio of southpaws combined for over a third of St. Mary's total strikeouts last season.
No. 4 SALISBURY enters the 2016 season with its sights set on a return trip to the NCAA World Series, which would mark the program's sixth appearance in the final weekend. The Sea Gulls return a host of talent, beginning with two of the team's top offensive options from 2015. Pete Grassoand Alex Lipman finished last season with .346 and .340 batting averages, respectively. Homerun leader Tyler Hrycak (seven) also returns to the lineup.Ryan Daiss and Connor Shockley both will lead the pitching this season. The duo boasted six win seasons, each, in 2015, while Daiss led the team with 54 strikeouts and posted a 2.68 earned-run average.
SOUTHERN VIRGINIA is set to begin its third year in the CAC with hopes to improve their record for the second year in a row. With nine of last year's returners, including pitchers Colin Bigelow and Justin King the Knights look for their first CAC playoff bid.
WESLEY enters the 2016 season looking to improve on last year's campaign. The team returns all three of their primary starting pitchers, with Eric Willey, Connor Springsteen, and Sam Meck returning. The trio combined to throw 131.1 innings in 23 appearances. Cody Simet was a key reliever last season, appearing in 10 games for a total of 30.2 innings. He returns for the Wesley squad as well, bringing with him his team-leading 3.52 ERA. On offense the team will have to replace a handful of key bats, but will look to Eric Speidel (.319 BA, 35 R, 10 RBI) and Dre Jones (.250, 16, 22) to lead a young corps at the plate.
YORK looks to return to the upper echelon of the CAC standings after a disappointing 2015 season. The Spartans, who were the CAC Regular Season Champions in 2014, will need to count on a few key returners in addition to a stacked starting rotation for contention in this year's CAC. The starting rotation features 2014 CAC Rookie-of-the-Year Elliot Mortimer, who missed 2015 with an injury, junior Randy Frankenfield, senior Matt Goodman and sophomore Joel Kenney. Freshman Jeff Noss is a pitcher who could make a significant contribution on the mound. The everyday eight will be led by senior Sean Mohollen and junior centerfielder Logan Countryman while sophomore Seth Brosius returns behind the dish for York. Sophomore Christian Bilan, junior Scott Steffy and junior Mike Moore will likely man three of the four infield slots for the Spartans.
2016 CAC Baseball Preseason Poll
|1. Salisbury (4 first-place votes)||74 points|
|2. Mary Washington (4 first-place votes)||72 points|
|3. Frostburg State (2 first-place votes)||71 points|
|4. Christopher Newport||58 points|
|5. York||44 points|
|6. Marymount||41 points|
|7. Wesley||31 points|
|8. Southern Virginia||23 points|
|9. St. Mary's||16 points|
|10. Penn State Harrisburg||14 points|