South Atlantic Conference

2023 SAC Baseball Preview: Wingate Early Favorite In Deep Conference

2023 SAC Baseball Preview: Wingate Early Favorite In Deep Conference

The SAC is one of the deepest baseball conferences in the country, as evidenced by a 2022 season that saw 8-of-13 teams finish at .500 or better.

Jan 27, 2023 by Ron Balaskovitz
2023 SAC Baseball Preview: Wingate Early Favorite In Deep Conference

The South Atlantic Conference boasts one of the deepest baseball conferences in the country, as evidenced by a 2022 season that saw eight of the league’s 13 teams finish at .500 or better, including a trio of teams that won over 78% of their games.

The three teams that dominated the SAC last season – Wingate, Newberry and Lenoir-Rhyne – are expected to carry the banner for the league this season, with that trio topping the preseason coaches poll earlier this week, though one team was viewed as the runaway favorite heading into the season.

The league also sees new members this season, with the departure of Queens, which finished tied for third last season and is being replaced by Emory & Henry.

With the SAC baseball schedule set to start on Feb. 1, and FloBaseball now the official home of the league, here’s a look at each of the SAC’s 13 teams ahead of the 2023 season, presented in order of the preseason poll.

Wingate Bulldogs

Last Season: 48-10 (21-2)

The Bulldogs captured the league’s regular-season title by three games on their way to 48 wins for the season, and they were tabbed as the SAC favorites by 12 of the league’s 13 coaches earlier this week.

The Bulldogs also are expected to be among the nation’s best teams. They were ranked No. 5 in the recent Collegiate Baseball 2023 Preseason Division II Poll.

Wingate returns four preseason All-SAC picks, led by a pair of pitchers who should make runs hard to come by for opponents. 

Starter Austin Mitchell is the ace of the staff and was joined on the preseason team by reliever Sam Bordersen, while Brett Adams at designated hitter, Andrew Motsinger in the outfield and Seaver King at second base also received nods to the first team. 

The Bulldogs had 11 players named to the league’s preseason teams.

A deep pitching staff and a deep lineup make the Bulldogs not just the favorite to win the league, but a favorite to make a deep run in the Division II postseason.

Lenoir-Rhyne Bears

Last Season: 46-13 (17-7)

After finishing in a tie for third place in the SAC last season, despite 46 wins on the year, the Bears enter 2023 picked to finish second in the league, even without getting the lone first-place vote that didn’t go to Wingate.

Like Wingate, the Bears will be led by a pair of strong pitchers heading into the year, with starters Andrew Patrick and Joshua Lanham named to the preseason first-team, while outfielder Wade Cuda leads the bats.

Last season, the Bears held opponents to just a .229 batting average and posted a 3.78 ERA as a team. 

If another big season is to be had, the pitching staff is there to make it happen.

In all, Lenoir-Rhyne had six players named to the preseason SAC teams and gained national attention by being ranked No. 20 in the Collegiate Baseball Poll.

Newberry Wolves

Last Season: 38-13 (19-5)

Despite 38 wins last season, the Wolves might be flying under the radar nationally this season, not getting a single vote in the national preseason poll.

But they did get the lone non-Wingate first-place vote from the SAC coaches, who know they’ll be a dangerous team after finishing as the league runner-up last season.

Newberry saw eight players named to the all-league preseason teams, including Braylin Marine and Henry Gibson, two of the top hitters in the SAC last season.

The Wolves will look to use contact and speed to win games, hitting .334 last season and swiping 151 bags, while hitting just 11 home runs.

Catawba Indians

Last Season: 31-24 (16-8)

After finishing fifth a season ago, the coaches expect Catawba to be in the running for a top-4 finish in the league, this despite placing just one player on the SAC’s preseason teams. That was second-team pick Robbie Cowie, a reliever who sported a 2.43 ERA in 25 appearances.

The Indians are led by one of the longest-tenured coaches in the conference, Jim Gantt, who will be coaching his 27th season. 

Catawba opens the season later than most in the league, facing Shippensburg on Feb. 3.

Carson-Newman Eagles

Last Season: 28-24 (12-11)

After battling to finish above .500 in both the league and overall, the Eagles look to jump back into the league’s elite, while also posting an eighth straight winning season.

The Eagles face a tough task in replacing six of their 10 best hitters from last season, but the squad does return second-team preseason pick Harrison Travis at catcher. Travis hit .342 with nine home runs over the final 33 games of last season.

One key to success for the Eagles will be continuing to win on the road. They were 14-6 away from home last season.

Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters

Last Season: 27-18 (15-8)

The Railsplitters looked to be a team that could challenge for the SAC Tournament last season, entering white hot and on a seven-game winning streak, but they were bounced quickly, dropping three straight games.

Despite the sixth-place finish in the SAC poll, Lincoln Memorial saw four players picked to the preseason All-SAC team, paced by Carson Boles and Patrick Queener on the second team. 

Boles hit 290 as a true freshman last season, while Queener posted a sub-4.00 ERA and fanned 91 batters in just 71 innings of work.

Last season’s pitching staff held opponents to a 3.96 ERA, one of the top marks in the league.

Anderson Trojans

Last Season: 23-23 (8-16)

While Anderson scrapped to a .500 overall record last season, it struggled in SAC play, finishing eight games below .500 and missing out on the eight-team SAC Tournament by 1.5 games.

The Trojans are led by Carols Hernandez, who was a third-team all-league pick after a season that saw him hit .327 with 19 extra base hits and 46 RBIs. He fills a key role on the team, starting 34 of his 45 games last season at catcher.

He was joined on the preseason teams by outfielder Justin Fox, who hit .314 last season, and Joseph Cottone, who went 5-2, while striking out 80 batters.

The trouble for Anderson last season was pitching, seeing opponents belt 42 home runs in 46 games on the way to a .847 slugging percentage.

Mars Hill Lions

Last Season: 18-30 (9-14)

The last team to get into the SAC Tournament last season, the Lions will look to improve behind an offense that ranked in the top half of the league last year, but struggled on the mound, giving up the third-most runs in the league a season ago.

Junior third baseman Zach Weaver leads a solid offense and looks to build on a season that saw him named first-team All-SAC, both at the end of last year, and in the preseason.

He hit .321 last season with 12 home runs and led the Lions with 53 hits and 45 RBIs in 44 games.

Tusculum Pioneers

Last Season: 17-30 (5-19)

After finishing next to last a season ago, the SAC coaches see the Pioneers as one of the teams that should see big improvement in 2023, with the hope that more offensive depth can lead to more wins.

Last season, the Pioneers scored the third-fewest runs in the league, finishing 13 games under .500, despite finishing in the top of the league in runs against.

Tusculum will lean on Zane Keener and Wes Reynolds at the plate. 

Keener was a first-team preseason pick after leading Tusculum with a .338 average. He had 13 multi-hit games and drove in 36 runs. 

Reynolds returns after hitting .301 last season. He had 10 multi-hit games.

Coker Cobras

Last Season: 13-35 (8-16)

The Cobras were one of the few teams that played better once in league play. They still finished near the bottom, going 5-19 out of league, but they won eight of their 24 league games.

Coker’s big issue that will need improving this season is run prevention. The Cobras gave up the second-most runs in the league overall and the fourth-most during league play.

Coker also struggled offensively, scoring the second-fewest runs in the league.

The Cobras have a new head coach, Fico Kondla. He played for the Cobras and was a three-time captain, along with earning all-conference and all-region honors.

Limestone Saints

Last Season: 4-41 (1-23)

There is literally nowhere to go but up for the Saints, who won just a single league game, and then went 3-18 outside the league.

The massive problem for the Saints last season was at the plate, where they averaged less than three runs per game in league contests, and less than four runs per game overall, losing their first 10 games of the year.

The eye is on the future for the Saints, who posted the 11th-best recruiting class in the country under second-year coach Brett Harker.

UVA Wise Cavaliers

Last Season: 18-32 (6-18)

Like most teams near the bottom of the standings, the trouble for the Cavaliers was on the mound, giving up the most runs in the league last season at 417 for the year, and the third-most in conference play.

Wise also struggled at the plate once conference play began, scoring 92 runs in 24 games, the second-fewest in the SAC.

Sophomore DJ Dickson was a preseason all-league pick after hitting .432 as a freshman, including 12 doubles and 19 runs in his 34 games. He also drew 17 walks in that span. Most impressive, was his play against the SAC, where he hit .447 in 17 games.

Emory & Henry Wasps

Last Season: 9-28

After playing as an independent last season, the Wasps join the SAC and will feature almost an entirely new roster, with 37 faces, 22 of them transfers.

One area where the Wasps must get improvement is on the mound, where they posted an almost-impossible-to-believe 9.26 ERA as a team, allowing more than a run per inning for the year.

Jared Folwy is the top returning bat, hitting .391 last season, while collecting 52 hits and swiping 18 bags. 

As a team, the Wasps hit just 14 home runs.