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2024 NC State Baseball Preview - Part IV: Non-Conference Opponents

A first look at the 2024 Wolfpack baseball season

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 25 ACC Championship - Miami v NC State Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2024 college baseball season will be here before you know it, and so we’re all properly prepared, let’s take a look at the group that will be the 2024 Wolfpack Baseball team. Here’s how we’ll try to do this:

Let’s go!

Non-Conference Opponents

(For a look at the complete schedule, head on over to GoPack.com)


VCU

Conference: Atlantic 10

Game Dates: February 16, 17, 18 (home)

2023 Record: 25-30 (11-13) | 2023 RPI: 221

Brief Outlook:

For the lineup, the good news is that SR 3B Brandon Elke (.346/.395/.610, 8.0 BB%, 14.8 K%, 6-6 SB), rSR OF Cooper Benzin (.303/.366/.395, 7.4 BB%, 21.1 K%, 3-7 SB), and SR SS William Bean (.241/.428/.426, 18.6 BB%, 22.0 K%, 0-0 SB) return. The bad news is that everything else is a major question mark. There are only two D1 transfers added to the mix, and neither appear to be instant-impact players. Grad transfer OF Ethan Iannuzzi from D3 Randolph-Macon is an intriguing pickup, though. He mashed last year (.386/.467/.656, 13.1 BB%, 9.2 K%, 22-28 SB) in earning 2nd Team D3 All-American honors, but you never know how the bat will translate with a jump up two levels. Four JUCO transfers also enter the mix, with JR Casey Kleinman, who started off his career at Santa Clara, looking like the best bet to impact the lineup. The freshman class isn’t likely to factor into the mix much in 2024.

Pitching was the real weak link of the squad last year, with the staff posting a combined 7.61 ERA with almost as many walks (279) and HBP (78) as strikeouts (388). There are some reasons for optimism here as SO RHP Zachary Peters (3-5, 6.53 ERA, 60.2 IP, 11.8 BB%, 14.7 K%) returns after a promising freshman year as a weekend starter, plus the return of SR LHP Christian Gordon (2-2, 5.58 ERA, 30.2 IP, 14.6 BB%, 21.5 K%), whose 2023 campaign was cut short due to injury. Gordon was a 38th round pick of Pittsburgh out of high school in 2019. The pitching staff could also get a boost if SR LHP Campbell Ellis (5-5, 8.41 ERA, 55.2 IP, 10.4 BB%, 15.6 K%) returns to his 2022 form (5-4, 3.27 ERA, 74.1 IP, 6.5 BB%, 19.3 K%). SO RHP Brian Curley (2-3, 5.52 ERA, 29.1 IP, 9.6 BB%, 24.0 K%) is well worth watching as a potential breakout arm among the returnees. High Point transfer JR RHP Everett Vaughn (1-1, 6.27 ERA, 18.2 IP, 18.9 BB%, 15.8 K%) looks like the most likely impact transfer arm if he can regain his 2022 form (3-3, 5 SV, 3.60 ERA, 50.0 IP, 8.6 BB%, 14.4 K%). Louisburg transfer Phil Forbes looks like the most impactful newcomer on the bump after he put up some bonkers numbers in JUCO ball last year (5-2, 1 SV, 2.57 ERA, 21.0 IP, 14.6 BB%, 48.3 K%).

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No


Hawaii

Conference: Big West

Game Dates: February 23, 24, 25 (away)

2023 Record: 29-20 (18-12) | 2023 RPI: 76

Brief Outlook:

The Rainbow Warriors are going to be strong in 2024. They lose just two regulars from a lineup that finished a hair outside of the Top 75 in RPI last year. Those returners are rSR 1B/3B Kyson Donahue (.294/.357/.487, 7.4 BB%, 30.1 K%, 0-0 SB), SR C Dallas Duarte (.266/.400/.422, 10.7 BB%, 8.6 K%, 4-7 SB), JR 1B Ben Zeigler-Namoa (.301/.419/.451, 16.0 BB%, 14.9 K%, 2-3 SB), SR 2B Stone Miyao (.297/.404/.399, 13.4 BB%, 17.3 K%, 2-5 SB), JR INF Jordan Donahue (.246/.369/.276, 11.5 BB%, 18.1 K%, 3-6 SB), and rJR OF Jared Quandt (.299/.430/.480, 12.0 BB%, 25.2 K%3-5 SB). The Donahue cousins, Kyson and Jordan, are former Arizona and Oregon State transfers, respectively. SO OF Matthew Miura (.222/.327/.289, 13.0 BB%, 20.4 K%, 4-5 SB) also showed some promise as a freshman a year ago. Six transfers and two freshman were added to the mix. The transfers are a nice infusion of talent, with JR INF D.J. Akiyama (JUCO) a switch-hitting speedster, JR OF Kamana Nahaku (JUCO) another speedy contact-oriented option, former Portland Pilot SR INF Jake Tsukada (.301/.390/.361, 10.3 BB, 11.7 K%, 7-8 SB) a versatile option, and St. John’s transfer Austin Machado (.303/.495/.455, 23.3 BB%, 9.5 K%, 2-2 SB) someone who could push Duarte out of the starting catcher gig. The recruiting class took a big hit when incoming freshman OF Devin Saltiban was drafted in the 3rd round by the Phillies, but keep your eye on FR INF/OF Elijah Ickes who was a 19th round pick of the Rangers last year and showed well in the West Coast summer league just after finishing high school.

Hawaii lost staff ace LHP Harry Gustin, a draft-eligible sophomore last year who cashed in a $150k signing bonus from his 18th round selection by the Pirates, but they return their other top four pitchers in SR LHP Randy Abshier (6-3, 4.29 ERA, 71.1 IP, 7.5 BB%, 22.4 K%), SO LHP Harrison Bodendorf (5-2, 5 SV, 3.45 ERA, 57.1 IP, 10.4 BB%, 25.4 K%), JR RHP Alex Giroux (4-2, 2 SV, 2.83 ERA, 57.1 IP, 5.7 BB%, 21.1 K%), and JR LHP Connor Harrison (1-5, 7 SV, 2.70 ERA, 53.1 IP, 6.1 BB%, 18.7 K%). Abshier is a former Arizona transfer and will be the ace of the staff, but those other three provide starting options. Bullpen depth is going to be the question as there’s nothing proven behind them. Five JUCO arms were brought in with that goal in mind. JR RHP Danny Veloz (LA Valley) and JR RHP Kyle Dobyns (Grossmont) provide starting experience from that level with solid success. JR RHP Rylen Bayne is an interesting option. He was a two-way player at Bellevue with much more success as a hitter, but he’s only listed as a pitcher. The staff must see something in him on the mound. If this team finds reliable bullpen arms, it’s an NCAA Regional caliber squad.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Maybe


Queens

Conference: ASUN

Game Dates: February 28 (home)

2023 Record: 17-38 (9-21) | 2023 RPI: 248

Brief Outlook:

Queens is still in heavy build mode entering their second year of D1 play. They return nine of the 15 players who had 50+ PA last year, although they lose two of their top hitters. SR OF J.J. Sousa (.322/.404/.454, 11.2 BB%, 15.2 K%, 3-9 SB), SR INF Tyler Peters (.262/.410/.333, 18.6 BB%, 24.2 K%, 2-4 SB), and JR OF Andrew McDermott (.283/.425/.462, 18.0 BB%, 20.9 K%, 1-1 SB) lead the list of returnees. Five transfers were added to the mix, with JR INF Caleb Stewart (Georgia State) and OF Josh Algarin (Ohlone JUCO) the most intriguing. Nine freshman will also look to break into the glut of options.

The Royals lose five of their top six arms in terms of innings pitched from a year ago. That may be a good thing, though, as it gives the team a chance to reset from a pitching staff that posted an 8.61 ERA. Of the five returning arms, only JR RHP Marshall Pile (1-0, 3.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 18.5 BB%, 22.2 K%) had more strikeouts than walks last year. He was also the only pitcher to have an ERA lower than 5.99 on the season. Three transfers were brought in to try and fix it, with SO RHP Landry Jurecka (Kansas State; 2022: 1-1, 7.27 ERA, 8.2 IP, 5.4 BB%, 27.0 K%) looking the most promising even though he didn’t play in 2023. Six true freshman will get an opportunity to contribute, with RHP Tanner Cullen looking like a promising option.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No


Towson

Conference: CAA

Game Dates: March 1, 2 (DH), 3 (home)

2023 Record: 19-37 (7-23) | 2023 RPI: 231

Brief Outlook:

Towson should hit well enough in 2024 to improve from last year. The lineup has a solid core to build around in rSO SS Casey Bishop (.325/.396/.469, 8.0 BB%, 15.6 K%, 22-23 SB), rSR UT Bryce Frederick (.299/.380/.550, 10.2 BB%, 13.2 K%, 8-9 SB), rSR OF/1B Elijah Dickerson (.313/.374/.429, 7.3 BB%, 11.7 K%, 1-3 SB), and SR OF Jeremy Wagner (.282/.349/.382, 8.6 BB%, 19.6 K%, 2-4 SB). Transfers JR C Chris Akers (JUCO), rJR OF/1B Devan Barnett (VCU), rFR INF Taye Robinson (Charleston), and JR INF Ryan Williamson (JUCO) add options to the lineup, with Williamson in particular looking like an instant impact bat. The freshman class is small with just four position players and is mostly a developmental group, but does include OF Brady Nathison from Fuquay-Varina.

The pitching staff returns six of their top seven in terms of innings pitched from a year ago, but will need to find more depth and consistency. That one loss from the aforementioned group just happened to be a 6th round pick in last year’s draft (RHP Ethan Pecko). Of the group returning, JR RHP Max Simpson (1-2, 2 SV, 4.40 ERA, 59.1 IP, 5.9 BB%, 18.2 K%), SR RHP Justin Rebok (2-2, 6.52 ERA, 59.1 IP, 9.8 BB%, 14.1 K%), and rSR RHP Nate Nabholz (3-1, 3.46 ERA, 54.2 IP, 9.7 BB%, 25.1 K%) lead the way and could very well end up being the Tigers’ weekend rotation. Four transfers and four freshman enter the mix, but it’s a former transfer who didn’t pitch last year that’s the true wildcard. Redshirt-senior LHP Avery Heiple missed the 2023 injury due to injury, but put up some crazy, though erratic, numbers in JUCO ball: 57.0 IP, 23 H, 45 BB, 112 K. The season will go with the pitching staff.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No


Winthrop

Conference: Big South

Game Dates: March 5 (home)

2023 Record: 28-28 (15-12) | 2023 RPI: 155

Brief Outlook:

The Eagles have a major rebuild of the lineup in 2024 as they lose 6 of their top 7 bats from last year. The most experienced returnee is contact-oriented rJR OF Ricky Teel (.315/.359/.365, 4.0 BB%, 7.0 K%, 4-5 SB), although the team does return all three of their catchers in JR C/1B Nate Chronis (.212/.362/.295, 16.2 BB%, 19.3 K%, 1-2 SB), SR C Ty Hooks (.286/.348/.333, 9.1 BB%, 12.6 K%, 0-0 SB), and SO C Nicholas Badillo (.360/.453/.540, 11.0 BB%, 22.9 K%, 1-1 SB). Badillo was named preseason All-Big South. Among the other returnees, SO Harrison Wilson (.261/.364/.478, 14.6 BB%, 25.5 K%, 0-0 SB) put up numbers indicative of being able to make a jump in production this year. Five transfers were brought in and it’s a solid group with at least a couple instant starters. Among that group, the standout is grad transfer SR INF Colin Lombardo who was a two-time D3 All-American at William Paterson, including putting up an absurd .449/.590/.677 line a year ago with a 17.4 BB%, 7.0 K%, and went 11-13 on stolen bases. Five freshmen enter the fold with INFs Jaylen Hernandez and Chazz Grossington looking promising.

The pitching staff returns seven arms who tossed over 20 innings last year led by rJR RHP Alex Logusch (1-3, 6.63 ERA, 58.1 IP, 14.8 BB%, 25.6 K%), SR RHP Brady Houston (1-1, 5.56 ERA, 45.1 IP, 7.0 BB%, 14.4 K%), SR LHP Parker Whittle (8-2, 1 SV, 6.70 ERA, 43.0 IP, 9.8 BB%, 21.5 K%), and SO RHP Zan Rose (3-1, 6 SV, 3.41 ERA, 34.1 IP, 16.7 BB%, 25.0 K%). Transfers JR RHP Cole Gursky (JUCO) and SR Connor Harris (George Washington) provide prior starting experience, while five other transfer arms will provide depth along with two freshmen and two redshirt freshmen. Among those freshman arms, RHP Owen Sarna was the South Carolina AAAA Player of the Year last year. There are a lot of options in the pitching staff, but not a lot of proven entities.

Between the roster turnover and unknowns on the mound, there’s a wide span of outcomes for this team ranging from Big South champion to bottom of the league.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No


UNCG

Conference: SoCon

Game Dates: March 12 (home), 26 (away)

2023 Record: 25-34 (9-12) | 2023 RPI: 139

Brief Outlook:

The Spartans must replace six starters from last year including stud OF Kennedy Jones who transferred to South Carolina. The cupboard is not bare with rSR C Mitchell Smith (.271/.350/.422, 8.6 BB%, 21.8 K%, 6-6 SB), SR INF G.C. Jarman (.284/.389/.321, 11.3 BB%, 15.2 K%, 11-14 SB), SR INF Caleb Cozart (.267/.384/.514, 12.0 BB%, 23.2 K%, 3-4 SB), and rSO UT Luke Jenkins (.303/.383/.374, 12.0 BB%, 20.5 K%, 3-3 SB) returning as well as the addition of six transfers, all of whom can mash. It wouldn’t surprise me to see five of the six transfers land starting gigs. Included in that group is former Wolfpack player Trey Truitt who, although he never officially played for State, is expected to step in immediately as a key piece of the UNCG lineup this year. Seven freshman also enter the fray, but between the returnees that the group of transfers, I wouldn’t expect many to factor in this year. It is worth keeping an eye on FR INF Hunter Atkins, the top rated freshman on the roster, as well as Brantley Truitt, Trey’s little brother, who was a two-time All-State selection.

The pitching staff is going to need to pick up the slack this year if UNCG is to exceed expectations, and the Spartans brought in former MLB pitcher, FSU assistant, and ECU alum Seth Maness as Pitching Coach to do so. Returning are SO RHP Jay Miller (2-8, 5.76 ERA, 75.0 IP, 8.3 BB%, 12.5 K%), SO RHP Luke Thomas (4-4, 3 SV, 5.69 ERA, 55.1 IP, 8.0 BB%, 20.0 K%), SO RHP Julien Peissel (2-4, 4.67 ERA, 54.0 IP, 5.8 BB%, 12.4 K%), JR Rob Ready (2-0, 5.44 ERA, 41.1 IP, 10.0 BB%, 11.3 K%), and SR RHP Matt Kemp (4-3, 1 SV, 7.64 ERA, 33.0 IP, 18.7 BB%, 15.3 K%). The team should get a boost by the return of SR RHP Sam Murchison who missed all of the 2023 season but led the team in innings in 2022. The five transfer arms are exciting, led by Akron grad transfer SR LHP Sammy Tortorella (4-5, 4.60 ERA, 86.0 IP, 7.3 BB%, 18.0 K%). There’s plenty of starting experience in that group in addition to Tortorella, including UNC-Pembroke transfer JR RHP Evan McLean. NC State transfer SO RHP Brandon Hudson will also look to carve out a role for the Spartans, as will seven true freshman hurlers.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No


Coastal Carolina

Conference: Sun Belt

Game Dates: March 19 (home)

2023 Record: 42-21 (23-7) | 2023 RPI: 19

Brief Outlook:

Coastal was supposed to use 2023 to build towards a huge 2024, but last year’s squad was likely the best one for the Chanticleers since their 2016 National Championship squad. This year could be even better.

The lineup is looking stacked with SO C Caden Bodine (.367/.456/.609, 13.1 BB%, 8.1 K%, 1-1 SB), SR OF Graham Brown (.278/.377/.573, 9.6 BB%, 24.1 K%, 8-8 SB), JR C/IF Derek Bender (.341/.399/.635, 5.7 BB%, 14.8 K%, 2-3 SB), JR SS Ty Dooley (.281/.350/.416, 5.7 BB%, 19.9 K%, 3-4 SB), JR OF Chad Born (.297/.406/.459, 11.3 BB%, 17.8 K%, 2-3 SB), SR 1B Zach Beach (.321/.458/.613, 17.6 BB%, 28.2 K%, 3-3 SB), and SO 3B/2B Blake Barthol (.308/.424/.572, 12.9 BB%, 26.9 K%, 4-6 SB) all returning. The biggest loss from the lineup is speed, as Payton Eeeles and Nick Lucky took 61 of the teams 91 stolen bases with them. Add to that above group a transfer class that ranked 15th in the country, which is headlined by JUCO transfer INF Sam Antonacci who put up video game numbers last year (.515/.618/.903, 17.8 BB%, 8.2 K%, 33-34 SB), and you have an offense that’s going to put up runs in bunches. Also in that transfer group is SR CF Corey Zientek from D3 Scranton (.405/.535/.620, 16.7 BB%, 12.5 K%, 39-44 SB) and another pair of talented JUCO bats in rJR OF Sebastian Alexander and JR INF Bobby Atkinson, Antonacci’s teammate at Heartland CC. There are some freshman there, too - including INF Walker Mitchell, a dude who just looks like a Coastal player - but those guys are all most likely heading for light reserve roles or redshirts given the depth.

Pitching is going to be what determines if this is another Omaha club for Gary Gilmore. After all, it was the pitching depth that resulted in Coastal falling to Duke in the Conway Regional last year. There’s talent and 36 games worth of 2023 starting experience returning led by JR RHP Darin Horn (3-2, 1 SV, 5.60 ERA, 64.1 IP, 9.8 BB%, 28.8 K%), SO RHP Jacob Morrison (6-1, 6.55 ERA, 57.2 IP, 8.0 BB%, 26.0 K%), SR LHP Bryce Shaffer (5-1, 1 SV, 6.27 ERA, 51.2 IP, 13.1 BB%, 22.8 K%), JR RHP Matthew Potok (3-3, 6.75 ERA, 44.0 IP, 7.0 BB%, 24.5 K%), and rJR RHP Riley Eikhoff (3-1, 4.43 ERA, 42.2 IP, 5.6 BB%, 21.9 K%). Unfortunately, Morrison and Potok will miss 2024 due to injuries carrying over from last year. Therefore the coaches brought in seven transfer arms with a nice blend of starter and reliever profiles. JR RHP Alexander Meckley (JUCO), who is built like a defensive end, is one of those starter profile guys, as are Stony Brook transfer SR RHP Josh O’Neill (6-5, 1 SV, 5.30 ERA, 74.2 IP, 8.6 BB%, 20.9 K%), Cal State Fullerton transfer rSR RHP Trevor Hinkel (1-5, 2 SV, 8.17 ERA, 54.0 IP, 10.5 BB%, 18.4 K%), and JUCO transfer JR RHP Ryan Lynch. There are also eight freshman arms contending for innings, led by Top 150 recruit RHP Cameron Flukey and RHP Chase Stryker. Though not a lot is set in stone, I actually like this group better than last year’s from a talent perspective; the pieces just have to fall into place.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Yes


East Carolina

Conference: American

Game Dates: April 2 (home), 23 (away)

2023 Record: 47-19 (18-6) | 2023 RPI: 26

Brief Outlook:

For the Pirates, it’s an experienced lineup returning with SR 2B Jacob Starling (.311/.436/.50614. BB%, 16.7 K%, 19-20 SB), SR C Justin Wilcoxen (.318/.384/.538, 7.9 BB%, 19.4 K%, 1-1 SB), SR SS Joey Berini (.318/.391/.416, 9.2 BB%, 10.4 K%, 3-3 SB), JR OF Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (.294/.354/.491, 7.5 BB%, 17.1 K%, 2-3 SB), SR 1B/OF Carter Cunningham (.317/.429/.522, 13.9 BB%, 19.8 K%, 5-5 SB), and JR OF Luke Nowak (.288/.398/.370, 14.5 BB%, 18.5 K%, 20-25 SB) all back. ECU also returns four more players who played in 30+ games on the year, so depth and experience are a plus for the Pirates. Cliff Godwin still has a more old school developmental mentality about roster building and that’s reflected by ECU bringing in just one transfer to the lineup mix, that being SR INF Chaz Myers from Pacific (.244/.355/.442, 7.8 BB%, 15.6 K%, 8-11 SB), but he’s a depth piece and not expected to start. With the lack of transfers, the freshman class is expectedly deep with nine position players, although only stud Top 100 freshman OF Bristol Carter is looking like an impact player in 2024. FR INF Colby Wallace and C Walker Barron are also promising but more likely 2025 impact players with the bat.

The pitching staff is where ECU will have the most work as they have to replace four impact arms including two members of the weekend rotation. Have a projected first round pick in JR RHP Trey Yesavage (7-1, 1 SV, 2.61 ERA, 76.0 IP, 7.4 BB%, 33.9 K%) is a nice place to start, though. Also back are SO LHP Zach Root (3-3, 1 SV, 5.53 ERA, 53.2 IP, 11.0 BB%, 22.0 K%), SR RHP Danny Beal (6-2, 3 SV, 2.70 ERA, 53.1 IP, 5.6 BB%, 30.1 K%), JR RHP Wyatt Lunsford-Shenkman (4-2, 2 SV, 4.24 ERA, 51.0 IP, 6.0 BB%, 22.7 K%), and JR RHP Jake Hunter (4-2, 1 SV, 4.71 ERA, 42.0 IP, 7.3 BB%, 28.8 K%). Root and Hunter are expected to take over roles in the weekend rotation behind Yesavage this year after the two combined for 17 starts last year. SO LHP Erik Ritchie (2-2, 5.01 ERA, 23.1 IP, 14.8 BB%, 29.6 K%) and SO RHP Jaden Winter (0-0, 1 SV, 8.10 ERA, 10.0 IP, 15.2 BB%, 32.6 K%) also flashed potential last year and could and should have larger roles in 2024. Pitching always requires arms, so the recruiting philosophy is a bit different than with the position players and ECU brought in four transfer arms. Among those, George Washington transfer SR RHP Chris Kahler (4-3, 3.57 ERA, 85.2 IP, 7.1 BB%, 22.4 K%) was a 2nd Team All-A10 honoree last year and could factor into the Pirates rotation plans, as could D3 Chicago transfer SR RHP Drew Bryan (7-2, 2.43 ERA, 59.1 IP, 8.2 BB%, 38.5 K%). Among the seven freshman arms, LHP Ethan Norby has stood out early on and is expected to see meaningful innings early, while RHP Parker Thomas looked good in the fall.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Yes


UNCW

Conference: CAA

Game Dates: April 9 (away), 30 (home)

2023 Record: 34-23 (20-8) | 2023 RPI: 43

Brief Outlook:

Seven Seahawks starters return to form a potent lineup. Those are SO 2B/OF Brock Wills (.286/.357/.403, 7.5 BB%, 19.4 K%, 5-7 SB), SO 1B Tanner Thach (.289/.356/.544, 8.1 BB%, 17.6 K%, 1-1 SB), rSR 3B Jac Croom (.361/.427/.521, 9.5 BB%, 8.7 K%, 7-11 SB), rSR CF Trevor Marsh (.319/.388/.556, 8.3 BB%, 20.3 K%, 3-5 SB), rSO OF Alec DeMartino (.308/.422/.508, 14.7 BB%, 22.2 K%, 2-3 SB), JR OF John Newton (.304/.437/.519, 13.6 BB%, 21.1 K%, 0-1 SB), and JR C Bryan Arendt (.261/.359/.420, 6.9 BB%, 17.4 K%, 5-5 SB). Finding a new starting shortstop will be the key defensively, with newcomer and Rolesville native Kevin Jones looking like the likely option after coming over from JUCO ball last year (.353/.466/.558, 14.1 BB%, 18.4 K%, 17-20 SB). D3 Stockton transfer rSO INF Kevin Novobilsky (.380/.443/.614, 8.8 BB%, 11.9 K%, 6-9 SB) is an interesting addition, while JUCO transfer JR C/1B Martin Zelenka (.375/.484/.805, 12.1 BB%, 17.2 K%, 0-2 SB) has a bat that demands more than just a depth role. Second base is wide open and provides the greatest opportunity for one of the newcomers to play, whether that’s Novobilsky or one of five freshman infielders.

The pitching staff starts with a solid 1-2 rotation combo of JR RHP Zane Taylor (7-3, 3.72 ERA, 87.0 IP, 5.4 BB%, 16.2 K%) and SR RHP Jacob Shafer (7-5, 4.62 ERA, 87.2 IP, 8.1 BB%, 14.3 K%). The return of JR RHP R.J. Sales (6-1, 3.52 ERA, 76.2 IP, 10.9 BB%, 17.4 K% in 2022) could provide the best rotation in the CAA, and a return to form for JR LHP Cyle Phelan (0-1, 1 SV, 15.30 ERA, 18.8 BB%, 15.6 K% last year; 2-3, 4.55 ERA, 59.1 IP, 13.9 BB%, 19.7 K% in 2022) would provide immensely valuable starting depth for the staff. SO RHP Connor Kane (4-1, 2 SV, 4.76 ERA, 45.1 IP, 7.5 BB%, 22.5 K%), SR LHP Luke Craig (3-1, 7.65 ERA, 37.2 IP, 12.0 BB%, 20.2 K%), SR RHP Matt Gaither (3-2, 5.15 ERA, 36.2 IP, 16.4 BB%, 16.4 K%), and SR RHP Ryan Calvert (0-0, 4.35 ERA, 20.2 IP, 7.9 BB%, 16.9 K%) also return to form a solid base to the bullpen. A trio of JUCO transfers add to the mix, with SO RHP Trace Baker (7-3, 4.40 ERA, 57.1 IP, 12.6 BB%, 23.8 K%) looking like an instant impact relief arm. Seven freshman arms add to the mix, and as usual for UNCW, they all bring talent. RHPs Cooper Allen, Connor Mashburn, and Bromley Thornton look like early contributors among that group.

Between the potent lineup and the pitching depth, this could be a Top 25 RPI group and a Super Regional squad when all is said and done.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Yes


Campbell

Conference: CAA

Game Dates: April 16 (home)

2023 Record: 46-15 (22-5) | 2023 RPI: 13

Brief Outlook:

The Camels have to replace five of their top bats from last year’s program-best team. A solid core in rSR OF Lawson Harrill (.371/.475/.761, 11.7 BB%, 23.9 K%, 6-6 SB), rJR C Grant Knipp (.278/.414/.572, 12.9 BB%, 20.6 K%, 9-9 SB), SR INF Chandler Riley (.309/.493/.441, 22.8 BB%, 19.9 K%, 8-10 SB), and SR OF Max Weller (.331/.471/.504, 16.7 BB%, 21.2 K%, 9-11 SB) return to ensure a complete drop off won’t occur, but expecting similar levels of production is too much. Expect SR OF Payton Howard (.271/.429/.357, 17.4 BB%, 18.5 K%, 18-19 SB) and SR INF Trenton Harris (.242/.405/.442, 12.5 BB%, 28.1 K%, 4-6 SB) to step into much larger roles after productive first year’s in Buies Creek a year ago. This is Campbell, so of course there were JUCO transfers brought in and both JR OF Joe Simpson and JR 1B Reed Stallman look like potential day one starters. Youngstown State grad transfer 3B Braeden O’Shaughnessy (.288/.349/.486, 7.23 BB%, 18.5 K%, 7-9 SB) is another potential transfer starter. There are only three freshman position players, but all three have size and major upside. They are INFs Charlie Meglio and Richard Collazo and OF Peyton Bonds, Barry’s nephew and grandson of Bobby.

Two-thirds of the starting rotation is back, but rSR RHP Chance Daquila (9-1, 4.85 ERA, 68.2 IP, 8.1 BB%, 14.1 K%) provides a nice starting piece. The nearly unhittable SO RHP Jackson Roberts (2-0, 1 SV, 2.16 ERA, 33.1 IP, 14.6 BB%, 25.5 K%), he of the .108 batting average against, is back as the central piece of the bullpen, and rSR RHP Jake Murray (4-0, 3.18 ERA, 22.2 IP, 9.3 BB%, 23.7 K%) also returns, but the other top four relievers from a year ago must be replaced. This is going to be an almost completely remade pitching staff due to defections from the MLB Draft, graduation, and transfers. Again... Campbell Baseball... so there are seven transfer arms including six JUCOs. The non-JUCO arm is probably the most interesting in JR RHP Cole Peschl (9-2, 3 SV, 2.35 ERA, 53.2 IP, 6.4 BB%, 35.5 K%) from D2 University of Charleston (WV). Also intriguing is JUCO JR RHP Derek Vartanian (9-1, 2 SV, 3.08 ERA, 76.0 IP, 3.0 BB%, 25.6 K%), who I’d bank on a starting gig. Nine freshman enter the wide open pitching competition with RHPs Simon Bargo, Nate Brittain, Cooper Clark, and Ethan Snyder impressing in the fall.

There’s plenty of talent still on the Campbell roster, but a lot of question marks as to whether this team is going extend the Camels’ streak of regional appearances to six. A conference move to the much more competitive CAA (five Top 100 RPI teams last year vs two for the Big South) will also be challenging.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Maybe


Ball State

Conference: MAC

Game Dates: April 26, 27, 28 (home)

2023 Record: 36-23 (19-11) | 2023 RPI: 101

Brief Outlook:

Ball State has finished in the top two of the MAC standings four straight seasons. SR OF/1B Decker Scheffler (.378/.453/.597, 9.9 BB%, 9.9 K%, 5-6 SB) is an absolute stud and will anchor the lineup in 2024. Other returning starters are SR OF Nick Gregory (.261/.422/.358, 19.7 BB%, 14.1 K%, 6-7 SB), SO 1B Blake Bevis (.273/.333/.536, 2.8 BB%, 22.0 K%, 0-0 SB), and JR C Hunter Dobbins (.209/.313/.395, 12.0 BB%, 23.1 K%, 0-0 SB). Seven transfers will boost the lineup, and there are a few exciting ones in there including D2 transfer JR INF Mike Hallquist (.406/.520/.883, 16.2 BB%, 22.1 K%, 8-10 SB) from Minnesota-Crookston, as well as JUCO OFs Korbin Griffin (.341/.400/.659, 9.0 BB%, 13.6 K%, 13-17 SB) and Houston King (.347/.453/.479, 15.8 BB%, 21.7 K%, 12-14 SB). Speed is the big loss from last year’s lineup, so the transfers will help reinforce there. The freshman class took a hit with SS Josh Adamczewski being drafted by Milwaukee, but there are still some high potential guys in the mix, including C Max Kalk, INF Connor Hutchinson, and two-way player Keegan Johnson.

The Cardinals lose four of their top seven arms from a year ago - three of those via the MLB Draft - including the entire weekend rotation. JR RHP Owen Schulfer (3-2, 1 SV, 8.10 ERA, 46.2 IP, 17.6 BB%, 25.8 K%), SR RHP Sam Klein (7-2, 2 SV, 5.67 ERA, 39.2 IP, 13.6 BB%, 23.7 K%), JR RHP Jacob Hartlaub (4-2, 1 SV, 7.09 ERA, 26.2 IP, 8.7 BB%, 24.6 K%), and SR RHP Tanner Knapp (2-2, 7.10 ERA, 52.0 IP, 12.4 BB%, 19.1 K%) are all back to build the basis for the pitching staff. Transfers will loom large, including former ECU LHP JR Merritt Beeker (1-0, 3.60 ERA, 5.0 IP, 20.0 BB%, 28.0 K%) and NAIA transfers JR RHPs Nate Blain (9-1, 3.59 ERA, 82.2 IP, 9.4 BB%, 23.6 K%) and Lucas Letsinger (7-3, 2.28 ERA, 86.2 IP, 5.4 BB%, 26.1 K%). All three provide starter capabilities. Among the six freshman arms, expect LHP Keegan Johnson and RHP Zach Kwasny to see significant innings.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: Maybe


Norfolk State

Conference: Northeast

Game Dates: May 7 (home)

2023 Record: 9-42 (6-24) | 2023 RPI: 302

Brief Outlook:

The Spartans lost their top weapon from an already poor lineup, so a complete rebuild is necessary. Returnees include SR C Manny Jackson (.333/.364/.486, 2.7 BB%, 12.6 K%, 3-3 SB), SO 3B Justin Journette (.254/.348/.457, 111.4 BB%, 37.3 K%, 4-5 SB), SR 2B Raphy Rodriguez (.242/.348/.360, 12.8 BB%, 36.0 K%, 6-8 SB), and SO 1B Cam Mazell (.253/.324/.373, 8.7 BB%, 27.0 K%, 0-1 SB). SR OF Jamal Ritter (.345/.468/.568, 16.4 BB%, 12.9 K%, 36-41 SB), a transfer from D3 SUNY Old Westbury, should provide some immediate help. The hope is that a few of the freshmen are ready to step into prominent roles. Among them is Southern Lee High alum OF Jalan Jones. FR INF Yasseel Samboy is a player to watch.

SR LHP Dalton Barham (1-7, 9.68 ERA, 61.1 IP, 13.3 BB%, 17.5 K%), SO RHP Donovan Whitfield (0-3, 5.87 ERA, 38.1 IP, 15.3 BB%, 17.5 K%), SR RHP Nolan Manzer (1-3, 1 SV, 5.19 ERA, 34.2 IP, 6.4 BB%, 16.9 K%), and SR RHP John Horton (0-4, 1 SV, 8.47 ERA, 34.0 IP, 15.8 BB%, 14.7 K%) are the top returners to the staff. SO LHP Mac Yarbrough (1-2, 1 SV, 11.45 ERA, 30.2 IP, 28.1 BB%, 23.8 K%) is a big body with a big arm but also big control issues. If - if - he can locate, he could be brilliant for the Spartans. SR LHP Nate Varnier (1-1, 2 SV, 5.33 ERA, 27.0 IP, 15.4 BB%, 25.2 K%) is a grad transfer from William Peace University in Raleigh. There are only three freshman thrown into the mix, but they each look promising: RHPs Ethan Blakeney, Parker Hampton, and Kydese Queen. Samboy is not listed as a pitcher, but it may behoove the staff to give him a look considering he struck out 105 batters in 44.1 innings last year in high school.

NCAA Tournament Bound?: No