A decisive favorite by virtue of eight first-place votes, Kentucky Wesleyan enters the spring at the top of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll presented by Under Armor which was released on Tuesday.
With part of the spring of 2020, including the national tournament and the majority of the conference schedule, finally canceled due to COVID, there is a strong desire for Great Midwest baseball programs to return to the field and compete.
Of course, the ultimate goal for these student athletes is the memorable experience at PRASCO Park in Mason, Ohio, home to the 2014 Conference Championships.
At the time of release, five teams had already completed at least one game in the schedule, while several are ready to debut with the weather permitting this weekend. Findlay and the Ohio Dominican have already seen games at PRASCO Park, and Malone is about to make his debut here this afternoon.
A few different changes to the baseball landscape are in order, including the elimination of the East and West divisions. The eight best teams in the general standings will still qualify for the conference tournament, and the league is also waiting for the official contribution to Ashland, which is nationally ranked in a few media surveys already this year.
Eleven teams compete for the coveted eight playoff spots, and tournaments will in some cases look very different from the incomplete 2020 season.
The Panthers of KWC have plenty of experience at PRASCO and have invented the formula to create a deep tournament run in the double elimination bracket. Coached by Todd Lillpop, the Panthers have some very famous names, including Great Midwest Pitcher of the Year Devin Smith, All-Time Conference Homecoming King Joseph Burke (43 HR) and one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters on the dish, CF Cody Bridges.
Kentucky Wesleyan completed the shortened 2020 season with a 7-6 record and collected a total of 98 points in the poll. The Panthers also have a strong contingent of returning position beginners who make their selection of the most balanced at the conference.
Only one other team received first-place votes in the pre-season training survey, and that was Walsh’s program led by head coach Tim Mead. The Cavaliers were picked by three coaches to win the league after setting a 6-4 record in non-conference play last year.
A big stick anchors the slogan in the form of the Great Midwest Player of the Year, NCAA All-Region Athlete and NCAA All-American, Andrew Czech.
Picked third is Tiffin, still defined as the defending conference champion after the 2019 race. The Dragons also exceeded expectations that year at the NCAA Midwest Regional and were finalists against future member Ashland.
Alum Cody Orr was signed by the Houston Astros after the renewed MLB Draft format and was a main piece in the puzzle as a leader hit and on the mound as a pitcher.
Malone is always a factor with a deep weapon stability, and the pioneers were seen to finish in the top level of fourth with 67 points. Trevecca Nazarene has several conference titles under his belt and will look to transfer the tradition with Chase Sain as the new manager this spring, and take over for Ryan Schmalz. The Trojans were named fifth in the poll after Malone with just one point with 66.
Going forward, the 2018 North Division champion and 2019 season number two, the Ohio Dominican, certainly has the track record of being higher than sixth. The Panthers have really put together some strong season tournaments since joining the conference, and a deep run is really the last piece of the puzzle for a talented program.
Hillsdale also has a conference championship under its belt, and the Chargers want to regain the 2018 form. Hillsdale was picked seventh with 55 points. Findlay was seen as a qualifier after the season, and Lake Erie, now trained by former UIndy skipper Gary Vaught, will no doubt be in contention for a playoff spot. Cedarville and Ohio Valley were selected to round out the pre-season training survey, respectively, which enters spring.
The conference schedule is officially set to begin. The teams will play a series of 4 games, and this week’s first selection of players and molds will be announced later this afternoon. Due to planning and potential overlapping events, selected games will be available and streamed on the Great Midwest Digital Network.
2021 Great Midwest Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll, presented by Under Armor
|1. Kentucky Wesleyan (8 first place votes)||98|
|2. Walsh (3 first place votes)||84|
|5. Trevecca Nazarene||66|
|6. Dominican Ohio||57|
|9. Lake Erie||31|
|11. Ohio Valley||11|
This is a press release from the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.