DELTA STATE STATESMEN (44-11-1)
Delta State may have been DII baseball’s best team last season. They spent all most the spring at top of the national rankings and felled opposition weekly by lopsided scores. Nevertheless when the postseason arrived DSU fell short in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and the NCAA South Regionals and were sent home for the season without capturing their second national championship in ten years. The setback in the GSC finale was particularly tough because it may have cost the Statesmen an opportunity to host the South Regional. Overcoming last season’s late season shortcomings will be a daunting task for Head Coach Mike Kinnison. Eleven seniors from last year’s elite squad need to be replaced which could make the season a rebuilding year. That’s not to say there are not still plenty of tools in the shed. DSU still returns a competitive squad and will compete once again for conference and national supremacy.
The offense returns only three of seven position players who started at least 40 games and finished the season batting over .300. Jordan Chovanec was an All GSC First Team player after finished the season with a .347 batting average, a team leading 64 runs and twenty stolen bases and will lead the Statesmen charge. The speedy centerfielder will also be rejoined by middle-of-the-diamond teammates Kasey Hinton and Carlos Leal who played second base and catcher respectively for DSU. Hinton hit .331 and Leal added a .310 average, each while providing solid defense. Benji Sullivan, a transfer from Jones County Community and Landon Thibodeaux, who comes to Cleveland via LSU Eunice, will each likely be valuable additions for the Statesmen. Also look for returning senior slugger Brent Langston to provide some pop in the middle of the lineup after batting .288 with three homeruns and 33 RBI last year.
Pitchingwise, DSU lost one of their two aces from last season in Josh Branstetter, but will return Michael Manley who earned All American honors after a phenomenal season in which he went 9-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 88.2 innings pitched. Rickey Winters and Cody McGill are top candidates to elevate their pitching game and become the dependable arms the team needs if they are to go deep into the postseason. Last year Winters was 5-0 with a 3.98 ERA while pitching 40.2 innings of ball. McGill fanned 25 batters in 25 innings while earning a 3.96 ERA in seven appearances. Taylor Stark, who was an All GSC performer out of the bullpen and led the team with five saves, will also be back on the mound. Jonathan Moody, a transfer from Dyersburg State Community College, could also be a difference maker for DSU.