1. MINNESOTA STATE MAVERICKS (42-9)

MINNESOTA STATE MAVERICKS (42-9)
Had the DII National Championship not been a winner-take-all single game, Minnesota State may have captured the title last season. No team was hotter than the Mavs at the end of last season who were 25-1 headed into the final deciding game against Tampa. However the Spartans extinguished the red hot Mavericks and jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead against MSU’s ABCA and Daktronics Pitcher of the Year, Harvey Martin to take home the title.

Minnesota State's Connor McCallum

Minnesota State’s Connor McCallum

Despite falling a game short of their ultimate goal, the Mavs’ second-place finish was the highest by any team in club history. Coach Mathew Magers and the Mavs will be looking to take that final step this season and look to have a club which can make the goal a reality. Despite losing Martin who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers organization after the season, the Mavs will once again have a loaded and talented pitching staff to accompany a strong offense which could have them headed back to Cary once again.

Despite all the accolades won by Martin, the top arm for MSU may have been Jason Hoppe. Hoppe went 8-1 last season and had a dainty 1.26 ERA thanks in large part to tossing 55 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.  He will be rejoined on the staff by Josh Matheson who was drafted in the 19th round of last year’s MLB after impressing in a relief role last season as he held opposition to a .103 batting average. Also back will be Bryce Bellin who came up big in a dual role last season, making several important appearances both as a starter and in relief.  The arm that could really make or break the rotation will be Tyler Ockuly. Last year Ockuly was injured and was limited to six appearances; however in 2012 the junior went 7-3 with a 2.31 ERA and struck out 96 batters in just 89.2 innings pitched. Also poised to be a big time performers are seniors TJ Larson and Chris Williams. Larson had a 6-0 record and limited opposing batter to a .198 batting average and Williams was the team’s primary set-up man, producing 37 strikeouts in 34.2 innings while only allowing three extra-base hits. Coaches are expecting big things from Wabash Valley College transfer Matt Geislinger. The lefty went 5-0 with five saves for the Warriors last season with 56 K’s in 47.2 innings.

Offensively the team will be lead by Tino Martinez Award candidate Nolan Johnson. Johnson made 47 starts in 49 appearances behind the plate for MSU and led the team with a .359 batting average and a .576 slugging percentage. He also had a .987 fielding percentage and was named the NCAA Central Region MVP as well as a selection to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. Also returning is third basemen Connor McCallum who was second on the club in batting as he hit .354 for the purple and gold. He also had the highest on-base percentage on the team at .437. Stetson Olson who led the Mavs in homeruns with a team-best nine will also find his name penciled into the middle of MSU’s lineup. The senior, who played two seasons at Washington State before transferring to MSU, batted .298 last season and accumulated 38 RBI and 40 runs. An important addition to the Mavs lineup should be redshirt sophomore Eric Peterson.  He’ll be anticipated to step in and replace graduated second baseman Lucas Skjefte and continuing to produce the same soft hands which helped MSU finish last season with a mind boggling and nation leading .980 fielding percentage.