Yellowjackets Narrow Favorites In Baseball Coaches Poll
Montana State Billings finished 2019 with a 33-20 overall record and claimed the GNAC regular-season and GNAC Championships titles to earn a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional.
Montana State Billings finished 2019 with a 33-20 overall record and claimed the GNAC regular-season and GNAC Championships titles to earn a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional.

Friday, January 24, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. – Fresh off its first-ever GNAC Championships title and a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional, Montana State Billings enters the season atop the 2020 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Baseball Coaches Poll.

Under the direction of first-year head coach Derek Waddoups, the Yellowjackets were selected as the preseason favorites with four first-place votes and a total of 33 points. The Yellowjackets finished last season 33-20 overall and 30-10 in conference play to claim the GNAC regular-season title before going undefeated to win the GNAC Championships.

Following closely behind the Yellowjackets, Western Oregon is picked second with 31 points and one first-place vote. The Wolves return 20 players and five position starters from last year’s team that finished in second place with a 26-11 conference mark (30-13 overall).

Looking to make it to the GNAC Championships in back-to-back seasons, Northwest Nazarene is picked third with 22 points. Central Washington and Saint Martin’s are tied for fourth with 15 points apiece while Concordia rounds out the poll in sixth place and 10 points.

Montana State Billings rode an 11-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to secure the GNAC regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the GNAC Championships. The Yellowjackets saw 13 players earn all-conference honors in 2019, including six first-teamers. The Yellowjackets’ loaded lineup led the conference in slugging percentage (.533), runs scored (407), hits (554) and RBI (370) en route to an NCAA West Regional appearance.

The Yellowjackets will look to senior first baseman Daniel Cipriano to lead the way. The reigning GNAC Player of the Year, Cipriano led the GNAC with a .405 batting average, a .528 on-base percentage and a .827 slugging percentage while collecting 68 hits, 59 runs, 18 home runs and 52 RBI on his way to earning Second Team All-American honors by the Division II Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA). He was also named a Third Team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).

Also returning for the Yellowjackets is senior catcher Andrew Schleusner and junior shortstop Wyatt Setian. Schleusner earned First Team All-GNAC and NCBWA Honorable Mention All-West Region honors as a designated hitter last year, finishing with a .293 batting average, 44 hits, 24 runs and 29 RBI. Setian was also selected to the All-GNAC First Team before moving on to earn selection to the All-West Region Second Team by the D2CCA, ABCA and NCBWA. He batted .327 and led the conference with 71 hits and 19 doubles.

The Yellowjackets will need to restock their starting rotation after losing Steen Fredrickson and Jarrod Molnaa. Senior Keven Mackintosh is in a prime position to emerge after recording a 5-3 record, a 5.46 earned run average and 61 strikeouts a year ago.

Western Oregon won 11 of its final 12 games of the season to advance to the GNAC Championships for the seventh consecutive year under head coach Kellen Walker. The Wolves are without six all-conference selections from last year, including Alex Roth, the 2018 and 2019 GNAC Pitcher of the Year. Returning to the mound is senior Connor McCord, who finished the season with a 2.33 earned run average and a .182 opponent batting average in 11 appearances and five starts. McCord earned First Team All-GNAC honors as a utility player in 2019 as he also finished with a .303 batting average, 43 hits, eight home runs and 42 RBI with time as a first baseman.

Other key returners for the Wolves are sophomore outfielder Jacob Maiben and senior outfielder Blayze Arcano, both of whom were second-teamers last year. Maiben had a stellar freshman campaign that earned him selection as the GNAC Freshman of the Year while Arcano started in 41 of the Wolves’ 42 games and finished with a .304 batting average.

Finishing the regular season in third place a year ago, Northwest Nazarene (24-24, 20-17 GNAC) has some holes to fill in order to return to the GNAC Championships. The Nighthawks return just three starting position players but have a solid core to build around.

Senior middle infielder Parker Price returns for his final season after earning Second Team All-GNAC honors at second base last year, hitting .291 with 50 hits and securing a .965 fielding percentage. Junior pitcher and catcher Ben Johnson also returns as the Nighthawks’ main utility player. Johnson led the team with a .364 batting average while also contributing a 4.63 earned run average and 39 strikeouts in 58.1 innings pitched.

Central Washington (16-31, 13-27 GNAC) is tied for fourth in the preseason poll with Saint Martin’s. The Wildcats finished last season tied for fifth place and were left out of the GNAC Championships for the first time since 2016. Desi Storey’s Wildcats return 23 players, six position starters and two starting pitchers.

A pair of All-GNAC honorees return to the Wildcats’ lineup in senior outfielder Justin Hampson and junior infielder Mitch Lesmeister. Hampson was a First Team All-GNAC selection last year after he finished with a .317 batting average and a .410 on-base percentage. Lesmeister was a second-team selection, batting .353 with a team-leading 60 hits and 24 RBI. On the mound, senior Tyler Hoefer also returns after posting a 2-2 record, a 5.51 earned run average and 51 strikeouts in 11 starts.

Saint Martin’s (21-32, 15-25 GNAC) snuck into last year’s GNAC Championships as the No. 4 seed. The Saints made it through the consolation bracket and upset second-seeded Western Oregon to advance to the title game, where they would fall to top-seeded Montana State Billings. The Saints return seven position starters and two starting pitchers.

Senior pitcher Tanner Inouye is expected to lead the Saints’ rotation in 2020. The First Team All-GNAC and D2CCA Second Team All-West Region selection finished with a 4-6 record, a 4.58 ERA, 87 strikeouts and two complete games in 72.2 innings pitched. Returning on the field for the Saints is sophomore first baseman Aaron Renaud, who earned second-team honors after he finished with a .319 batting average and a .397 on-base percentage.

Rounding out the preseason poll, Concordia (15-34, 13-27 GNAC) finished last season tied for fifth with Central Washington. The Cavaliers return 20 players, including five position starters, as head coach Rob Vance enters his 22nd season. Leading the group is a pair of honorable mentions in senior shortstop Damon Peters (.270 batting average and 44 hits) and senior third baseman Liam Knowles (.277 batting average, 49 hits and 41 RBI).

The 2020 season begins on Friday, Jan. 31 with Montana State Billings playing at Point Loma and Central Washington playing at Stanislaus State. Conference play will start on Feb. 28 when the Wildcats host Northwest Nazarene in Ellensburg. The GNAC Championships will run from May 6-8 at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Montana State Billings (4) 33-20 30-10 (1st) 33
2. Western Oregon (1) 30-13 26-11 (2nd) 31
3. Northwest Nazarene 24-24 20-17 (3rd) 22
4. Central Washington (1) 16-31 13-27 (Tie 5th) 15
  Saint Martin's 21-32 15-25 (4th) 15
6. Concordia 15-34 13-27 (Tie 5th) 10

Points awarded on 6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.