NJCAA DII World Series: Preview


By Andy Sroka
Illinois and Wisconsin Assistant Director

The 2021 NJCAA World Series is upon us, as we’re days away from its first pitches across all three divisions. Here on the PBR JUCO Wire, we’ll be previewing the Division I and Division II brackets ahead of the tournament’s first day of action on May 29.

The DI World Series is set for May 29 through June 4/5 in Grand Junction, Colo., where the top four seeds are as follows: No. 1 Crowder, No. 2 Walters State, No. 3 San Jacinto-North, No. 4 McLennan.

The DII World Series is set for May 29 through June 2 in Enid, Okla., where the top four seeds are as follows: No. 1 LSU Eunice, No. 2 Lincoln Land, No. 3 Western Oklahoma State, and No. 4 Kellogg.

DIVISION II

NO. 10 LACKAWANNA VS. NO. 7 PATRICK HENRY

+ No. 10 Lackawanna (PA) (30-14; East Champion): For the fourth time in program history, the Falcons are headed to the NJCAA World Series, after notching three straight wins in the Region XIX Tournament – one over Sussex County CC and two over Delaware Tech CC. They outscored those two opponents 32-12 in those three wins, a working theme throughout the 2021 season, in which they hit .323 as a team, with 53 home runs as a club. C Brandon Ernst (Spring-Ford, PA; sophomore) hit .513 this season with 16 doubles, eight homers, and tallied 50 RBIs as the team’s primary run-producer, while freshman teammate INF Quinn Hanafin (Sayre Area, PA) hit .356 in his first season at Lackawanna with nine homers and 39 RBIs. 

The Falcons have also leaned heavily on their one-two punch on staff, RHP Kyle Scott (Manchester Valley, MD; freshman) and RHP Zach Klapak (Delaware Valley, PA; sophomore), who’ve made 24 starts for the program combined this year. Scott’s struck out 105 batters in 61.1 innings, while maintaining an ERA of 2.93 thus far and a lowly .178 batting average against.

As for Klapak, he’s set to join the Williamsport Crosscutters inside the MLB Draft League’s inaugural season after Lackawanna’s season ends sooner or later. He earned the invitation by striking out 89 in 59 innings; he transferred in from Pitt, and he’s been transitioning from catcher since, successfully. Freshman reliever LHP Matthew Stam (S.S. Seward, NY) is an important bullpen arm to know here as well. The depth within the lineup is what helped separate Lackawanna as East champions. OF Jake Kelchner (Arch Bishop Carroll, PA; sophomore), INF Raymond Voorhees (Wapakoneta, PA; sophomore), DH/OF George Castro (Frankford, PA; freshman), INF Jesnel Soto (Trinity-Pawling, NY; freshman) each pull their weight offensively and/or defensively.

+ No. 7 Patrick Henry (VA) (40-15; South Atlantic Champion): Resiliency sums up the Patriots’ season, as Patrick Henry CC was on the ropes, facing elimination, five separate times this spring and this group won all five of those games, ultimately landing themselves a place in the DII World Series as a No. 7 seed. They powered themselves through the daunting Region X loser’s bracket to win the tournament with a 6-1 record, and they needed two wins over Pitt CC in the South Atlantic tourney in order to do so, and two dramatic wins later, here they are. PHCC hit .291 as a team with 33 homers and 96 doubles, but it was their baserunning abilities that gave them an extra edge. The Pats led the nation with 254 steals as a team, caught just 41 times comparatively, and that helped them to a 21-6 conference record, 40-15 overall.

RHP Magnus Ellerts (Woodbridge, VA; freshman) was named the Region X Pitcher of the Year after earning a 9-1 record in 14 starts while grooming a 2.69 ERA with 125 Ks in 73.2 innings – that’s 15.3 K/9.

Staffmate RHP Spencer Rife (Mills Godwin, VA; freshman) is headed into the tourney with a 3.95 ERA, limiting opponents to under seven hits per nine innings pitched. 1B Max Harper (Spotsylvania, PA; sophomore) clubbed 15 homers this season, and was 31-for-35 in stolen base attempts this year. OF Tristan McAllister (Stafford, VA; freshman) hit .350 with eight doubles, and he got the most out of his singles, as he stole 47 bases in 53 attempts. Five Patriots earned 20 or more steals in 2021.

WINNER OF NO. 7/10 VS. NO. 2 LINCOLN LAND

+ No. 2 Lincoln Land (IL) (44-10; Central Champion): The Loggers await the winner of the No. 7 Patrick Henry CC and No. 10 Lackawanna matchup for a Sunday showdown, after earning the No. 2 seed in the DII tournament. This team started the season 0-5, and then won 44 of its next 49 games to head into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the landscape. They won 21 straight, at one point, and won their three Region XXIV games to claim their tourney spot. Four of their players earned All Mid-West First Team honors, all of whom are freshmen: RHP Gavin Wahlbrink (Glenwood, IL), INF Jake Curtis (Glenwood, IL), INF Jayden Myren (Rochester, IL), and C Jalen Ping (Glenwood, IL). Curtis was also named the conference’s player of the year, with his .450 batting average in 51 games, while reaching base at a .595 clip with 12 homers, 15 doubles, and two triples collected along the way. Myren was similarly impressive, and certainly in the running for the same honor, as he slugged .816 with 14 homers and 67 RBIs, while hitting .405. Ping drove in 47 runs with the help of eight homers as an additional key contributor; INF Kyle Werries, yet another freshman from Glenwood HS, was named to the MWAC Second Team after recording a team-high 69 RBIs, hitting .396 this season, and third on the team in extra-base hits (28).

Go-to starter Wahlbrink deservedly earned accolades following the regular season, leading the team in most categories, like strikeouts (79), innings pitched (70.2), and ERA (2.67), among others. It’s a young, talented group that could certainly come away from Enid hoisting hardware.

NO. 6 KIRKWOOD VS. NO. 3 WESTERN OKLAHOMA STATE

+ No. 6 Kirkwood (IA) (42-20; North Plains Champion): After an 0-6 start, much like aforementioned No. 2 seed Lincoln Land, Kirkwood went 34-7 from early March on. That slow start may have had a factor in them rallying back through the loser’s bracket of their Region tourney, coming back and beating Iowa Central twice, the team that sent them there. Their District wins over Miles CC is what ultimately landed them a spot in the World Series as well.

These Eagles are one of the most potent offenses in Enid, having scored 575 runs in 62 games this season, generating a team batting average of .328 and a club slugging percentage of .556, powered by 96 team homers. True freshman INF Alex Pendergast (Des Moines Roosevelt, IA) earned the honor of being named the Region XI Player of the Year after slashing .415/.526/.736 this season, aided by 16 doubles and homers each, helping him drive in 84 runs this year. Pendergast is one cog in an offensive machine, as he’s joined by C/OF Joel Vaske (Beckman Catholic, IA; sophomore), OF Josh Fitzgerald (Newman Catholic, IA; sophomore), and OF Chase Moseley (North Scott, IA; freshman), who each slugged double-digit home run totals in 2021.

From the mound, Kirkwood’s led by a pair of true freshmen: RHP Reece Beuter (Dike-New Hartford, IA) and RHP Tyler Tscherter (Gladbrook-Reinbeck, IA). Beuter struck out 78 batters in his 59.2 innings pitched this spring, while Tscherter used his low slot arm action to dodge barrels and force weak, on-the-ground contact that limited opponents to 11 runs in 44 innings. Kirkwood has plenty more in the arsenal on staff, too, whose experience should play a key role in the tourney. Additionally, seven members of this Kirkwood roster participated at the PBR Future Games as part of Team IA-MN-NE.

+ No. 3 Western Oklahoma State (OK) (41-12; Plains Champion): The DII tourney’s No. 3 seed has been steadily one of the nation’s best all year, with a 24-4 conference record, 41-12 overall. They hit .329 as a unit with 78 team homers and 431 runs in their 52 games. The Pioneers battled through their Region II loser’s bracket to force their way to Enid, winning their final two against UA Rich Mountain to earn their eighth trip to the World Series in program history. This year’s edition of WOSC is headlined by the Region II Player of the Year, RHP Juan Pimentel (NY). Pimentel’s pitched seven complete games in his nine starts this year, and he’s been highly effective and efficient in order to do so, producing an ERA of just 1.74, with 83 Ks in those 62 innings. But Pimentel is just a part of WOSC’s weaponized pitching staff, filled with strikeout artists. LHP Jose Torrealba (Venezuela) has struck out a team-high 103 batters in 69 innings this year, with an ERA of 3.39. LHP Carter Campbell (Keller, TX; sophomore) and RHP Pablo Jacques (Dominican Republic) each struck out 68 and 71 batters in 2021, while maintaining sub-3.75 ERAs.

Offensively, WOSC is led by Jhonny Felix’s (MA) .707 slugging percentage that led to a team-high 52 RBIs, aided by 12 homers. 1B/OF Chayce Bryant (Redan, GA; sophomore) mashed a team-high 13 homers in 34 games.

NO. 9 FREDERICK VS. NO. 8 PHOENIX

+ No. 9 Frederick (MD) (20-9; Mid-Atlantic Champion): Due to the program’s own COVID policies, Frederick was only able to play 26 in-state games, but they made the most of them and have been streaking since the start of this month, winners of nine in a row and counting, winning all three of their District/Region XX games to gain entry to the tournament. Both freshman INF Justin Acal (Tuscarora, VA) and sophomore OF Brodey Neveker (New Oxford, PA) were named to the Maryland JUCO conference’s first team for their work offensively, primarily. Acal hit .420 this spring with 10 doubles and five homers, with an OBP of .536 which led the team. Neveker led his team with seven homers and 39 RBIs, as one of the squad’s run producers. INF Nicco German (Falls Church, VA; sophomore) earned second-team honors by hitting .348 with six homers, and he struck out just eight times in 89 at-bats this year. RHP A.J. Cieslinski (New Oxford, PA; sophomore) is the Cougars’ go-to arm, pitching in the team’s biggest games, with 40 Ks in 45 innings this season. Sophomore RHP Max Proctor (Oakdale, MD) has a 3.27 ERA in eight appearances this season with 35 Ks. RHP David Gingras (Loudan Valley, VA; freshman) is this team’s high-leverage arm, and he’s earned four saves this spring with 24 strikeouts on the year, with a 1.14 ERA to go along with it.

+ No. 8 Phoenix (AZ) (25-21; West Champion): Don’t be fooled by the Bears’ 25-21 overall record, as Phoenix calls one of the country’s toughest JUCO conferences home. And they’re getting hot at the right time, too, winners of eight of their last 10. Phoenix started to gain steam this season at the start of April when they handed Central Arizona, one of the top JUCO teams in the country, its first loss of the season. Wins over Paradise Valley, Chandler-Gilbert, and two of three Glendale is what earned them this trip to Enid where they’ll play Maryland’s Frederick on Saturday.

Sophomore INF Evan Rice (Palo Verde, CA) has clearly been the team’s most productive player, leading the program in most offensive categories, like homers (6), triples (5), average (.384), and slugging (.629), while tied for the team-high with his 36 RBIs. Freshman INF Darren Macias (Cathedral, CA), OF Gino Caperon (St. Mary’s, AZ; sophomore) and UTL Carter Paine (Maricopa, AZ; sophomore) are a few more offensive generators for this team to know ahead of time. Sophomore RHP Adrian Santa Cruz (Phoenix Christian, AZ) has been the team’s most effective starter of late, and his season ERA is at 2.20 headed into the tourney.

WINNER OF NO. 8/9 VS. NO. 1 LSU EUNICE

+ No. 1 LSU Eunice (LA) (46-6; Gulf Champion): The top-seeded team in the DII tournament, LSU Eunice have coped with a hectic spring that has nothing to do with their own program. The Bengals have dealt with not just the pandemic, but two hurricanes and an historic Southern Louisiana freeze to persevere to 46 wins in 52 games en route to a Region XXIII championship and their 10th World Series appearance in program history.

In the Region tournament, LSU Eunice was a win away from clinching their Enid trip early when opponents East Central CC exploded late offensively to force a winner-take-all on May 22 with the season on the line. Four hits from INF Brady Herbert (Catholic-Baton Rouge, LA; sophomore) and three from OF Scott Jones (Sulphur, LA; freshman) powered them in the Region title game, while sophomore RHP Jacob Hammond (Ouachita, LA) earned his eighth save of the season with 2.2 scoreless innings to halt another budding ECCC comeback. Herbert, Jones, and captain INF Jack Merrifield (Dutchtown, LA; sophomore) frequently jump start the Bengals’ offense, as each will enter the tourney with .400-plus batting averages while slugging .600 or more. Jones, a Charleston Southern commit, was particularly critical down the stretch for this team, as he collected eight hits during Regional play with four big RBIs; he also led the team with 30 steals this season. Merrifield is one of the most productive JUCO players in the country. The LSU commit led the Bengals in average (.420), OBP (.532), and RBIs (64), and he struck out just 12 times in 169 at-bats this season.

OF Jarrett McDonald (Sterlington, LA; sophomore) is another useful member of this lineup to know, leading LSUE in slugging (.701), tied with freshman C Ayden Makarus (Foothills Composite, AB, Canada) for the team-lead in homers with 11. LSU Eunice is full of firepower as the favorite to win the 2021 DII World Series, and their seventh since 2006.

On the mound, LSU Eunice is led by another Charleston Southern commit, sophomore RHP Jerry Couch (Airline, LA), who is 10-1 this season as a three-pitch command-type. He’s headed to Enid with a 3.69 ERA as the team’s top starter. Freshman RHP Drew Lasseigne (Central, LA) has seen 56.1 innings this spring, and he’s K’d 60 over that span. The Bengals lean on effective bullpen arms heavily, like the aforementioned Hammond and sophomore LHP Austin Andrishok (Catholic-Baton Rouge, LA) to bridge the gap to its victories. Hammond, committed to Louisiana, has allowed only three runs all year in 33.1 innings, and he’s punched out 48, against 12 walks. Andrishok leads the team in appearances and has a 3.23 ERA, with 35 Ks in 39 innings.

NO. 5 MADISON VS. NO. 4 KELLOGG

+ No. 5 Madison (WI) (43-12 Midwest Champion): The Wolfpack have built something of a powerhouse as Wisconsin’s top JUCO program, and one of the best in a competitive Midwest scene. Since splitting their series with McHenry County JC – another strong midwestern DII program – at the start of the month, Madison has won 10 straight to capture the Region IV title, their third straight, and they’re now headed to the World Series for the 10th time in program history.

Madison is powered offensively by INF Zach Storbakken (Hamilton, WI; freshman), who’s slugging a tick over .700 this season, with 26 extra-base hits, including eight homers and 46 RBIs, both team highs. He also leads the team with a .409 batting average and he’s stolen 14-of-15 bases successfully this season. Fellow freshman 1B/OF Gunnar Doyle (Oak Creek, WI) has shown a knack for the barrel and an awareness of the strike zone in his first season at the program, as he’s hitting .347 with 11 doubles that has helped earn him 43 RBIs while reaching base in nearly half of his plate appearances. Brady Jurgella (Menasha, WI) is a versatile freshman who can play multiple positions, and he creates a spark offensively from the left-handed batter’s box, with eight doubles, three triples, and four homers this spring.

The depth of arms on staff is the team’s no-doubt strength, however, as the Wolfpack have groomed a team ERA of just 3.52 this year, one of the lowest in the nation, and the same can be said about their batting average against (.230). It’s a team effort from the bump, too, as three pitchers have logged 50-plus innings this spring and another three have pitched 28 or more. LHP Reagan Klawiter (Verona Area, WI; freshman) has been the team’s most effective, however, leading the squad in innings pitched (55) with 60 Ks in 11 appearances, limiting opponents to a .232 batting average against while attacking the zone, and he’s Enid-bound with a 1.47 ERA. Fellow freshmen lefties Jacob Wilde (Waukesha West, WI) and Alex Redman (Marquette University, WI) are the two others with over 50 innings pitched; Wilde leads the team with 67 Ks this spring, and both have ERAs hovering right around 3.00. Freshman RHP Luke Hansel (Union Grove, WI) is another frequent starter, registering a 3.10 ERA in 49.1 innings this season. Their 6-foot-6 freshman RHP Jett Thielke (Bay Port, WI) has been the team’s most effective high-leverage arm of late, too, leading the team with eight saves.

+ No. 4 Kellogg (MI) (35-11; Great Lakes Champion): Kellogg has won back-to-back Region XII titles for the first time in program history, making way for their eighth trip to the DII World Series as an unlikely underdog repping the Great Lakes region. In order to punch their ticket to Enid, the Bruins needed to get past the top-ranked DII program in the country after Week 10, Lansing CC, which was 46-1 overall at the time, riding a 37-game win streak. Lansing upped it to 38 straight in game one of their best of three with Kellogg, but KCC didn’t allow for a 39th straight. Kellogg walked off Lansing in the bottom of the seventh to snap the win streak, but they needed another win to clinch the World Series trip and Region crown. The winner-take-all game was a full nine innings, and a good thing for the Bruins, as they trailed 9-5 in the top of the ninth when they erupted for nine runs to take a 14-9 lead that stood there permanently.

Freshman OF Tate Peterson (Grandville, MI) recorded six key hits, including two homers, in that best-of-three series, which helped him keep up an excellent season offensively for Kellogg. Peterson is the team leader in hits (71), steals (22), average (.447), OBP (.534), and slugging (.698), tied for the team lead in homers (9) with another freshman, OF Kyle Van Liere (Mattawan, MI). Van Liere slugged nearly .700 himself in his 44 games this season, and he led the team with 42 RBIs. Sophomore C/OF Caleb Anspaugh (Schoolcraft, MI) appeared in 27 games this spring, but was still among the most productive hitters in that span with 30 RBIs, but it was his eight-RBI game three performance against Lansing that energized the Bruins to victory. Sophomore INF Connor Hnilo (Caledonia, MI) is another one of the team’s top bats, as he hit .396 this season with 37 RBIs and 50 runs scored.

Three freshmen pitchers have been credited with 19 of the teams 35 wins: RHP Jayden Dentler (Ostego, MI), LHP Al Thorington (Pinckney, MI), and RHP Zach Marshall (Rockford, MI). Dentler has been the most effective, with 80 strikeouts in 56.2 innings, both team highs, as well as a team-low 2.54 ERA. Thorington and Marshall have recorded ERAs of 3.31 and 3.33 to this point, respectively, and Thorington is 10-0 himself overall with 64 Ks, second on the team. Sophomore LHP Connor Brawley (Stevensville Lakeshore, MI) leads the team with five saves in 15 appearances, and he’s struck out 27 in 21.2 innings, and has allowed just one earned run all year.

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