by Ben Elsner
When people think of college baseball and their prospects, people’s minds go to the Division I (DI) big schools like, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, TCU and Arizona State but within Division II (DII) college baseball you can find some unique prospects. Current World Series Champion and All-Star J.D Martinez is a former DII prospect when he played his college ball at Nova Southern University. Likewise, former World Series Champion Evan Gattis got his start playing DII college baseball at University of Texas of the Permian Basin. One of the premiere DII schools in college baseball is Southern New Hampshire University out the Eastern College Athletics Conference.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is a wagon in Division II. Last year going into the D2 College World Series bracket, they were ranked as the 4 seed. After losing to the 5 seed Augustana, they were placed in the elimination bracket. In the elimination bracket they played and beat Southern Indiana in a game where starting pitcher Shane McDonald went seven and a third innings allowing just 3 base runners. After the win over Southern Indiana, SNHU met up with UC San Diego, just 2 wins away from the national championship. SNHU went up 7-0 early after the third inning, from there on UC San Diego slowly crept back into the game and SNHU was able to hold them off for the victory. Next up for the Penmen was Augustana, the team that beat them in the first game of the World Series. In this revenge game, according to NCAA.com, the Penman sent out the tall right hander Andrew Lalonde from Bedford, NH. Going into the game, Lalonde was 13-6 2,86 ERA in 81 innings pitched, according to snhupenman.com. For the Augustana Vikings, they sent out Tyler Mitzel. The game started poorly for the Penmen and were already down 5-2 going into the 5th inning. From here on, for the rest of the game the Penmen had nothing going for them and ultimately lost 8-2, to end their season.
“This team was resilient all year…we stepped up every single time we had to. I’ve never been around a group of guys who hated to lose… that starts with our coach (Scott Louiseu),” said pitcher Josh Eastman.
Last year SNHU finished with a record of 41-16 and made a deep run in the World Series bracket thanks to fantastic pitching and timely hitting. Their lead-off hitter, Tom Blandini is just about as good as they get in the leadoff spot. According to snhupenmen,com, the third baseman hit .325 with 51 runs scored and 15 SB out of the leadoff spot. What is most impressive about Blandini’s sophomore season was hit ability to put the ball in play. In his 297 plate appearances, the rising junior struck out just 17 times. This means that only a little less than 6% of his PA’s ended in a strike-out. To compare this to another player, in his sophomore year at LSU, Alex Bregman who is on path to becoming a perennial MVP candidate in the MLB, struck out a little over 7% of the time.
When asked about Blandini, Eastman said, “Tom is an absolute stud… anytime you think you have a good count he’ll just throw the bat at the ball and put it where he wants… it’s impressive to watch how confident he is.” With the job of a lead-off hitter to get on for the more powerful bats behind him, Blandini did as good of a job as you could ask for, even being second on the team with 30 BB’s.
As for this upcoming season for the Penmen, they will be missing some key components to their lineup. Starting right-fielder and 3 hitter, Caleb Potter will no longer be in the lineup. According to snhushipmen.com, Potter hit .301 with 11 HR’s (which led the team) and 40 RBI’s in his senior campaign. This will be a huge bat to fill in the middle of the lineup for the Penmen. Likewise, SNHU will no longer have starting shortstop Kyle Pangallo, who hit .340 in his senior campaign. These are two major bats, who contribute in different ways that will have to be replaced by the Penmen if they have their sights set on making it back to the D2 College World Series. Going into the 2019 season, someone to watch out for would be starting catcher, Dakota Mulcay. As a freshman last year, Mulcay showed promising power from the catcher position hitting 8 HR’s in 47 games played, according to snhupenmen.com. Similarly, second-basemen Joshua Goldstein will be looked at to continue what he did as a red-shirt sophomore and fill the void that Pangallo will cause. Goldstein was very impressive in his 130 AB’s during the 2018 season, hitting for a team high .354 average. The lineup has some key pieces exiting after their senior campaigns, but don’t be surprised if they pick up where they left off last year and continued with the timely hitting.
As for the pitching staff, the Penmen will lose their top three workhorses in Mitchell Powers, Shane McDonald and Andrew Lalonde this upcoming season. According to snhupenmen.com, Powers started 13 games for the team last year finishing with a 6-2 record in 88.2 innings pitched and allowing only 25 earned runs. The tall right hander out of Portland, Maine will be tough to replace for the Penmen coming into the 2019 season. As for Shane McDonald, he was a graduate student in the 2018 season and pitched in 82.1 innings striking out a team high 112 batters. Likewise, Andrew Lalonde who too was a graduate student for the Penmen last year pitched in 81 innings for the team ending with a 6-5 record and 26 earned runs. The Penmen starting pitching staff will be going through an entire transformation this upcoming season.
“Coming into the year we know it’s going to be a new look staff…there are a lot of pieces returning to the staff too though…guys finding new roles with a goal in mind… to win a national championship this time around… the losses of those guys suck…they weren’t just great pitchers, but great leaders,” Eastman said. Losing the top three starters is tough for any team, but a team that lost the quality of starter they did is going to be hurting. Powers, McDonald and Lalonde made for a pitching staff that led the Penmen to the season they ultimately ended up having.
But don’t worry SNHU students and fans, there may be some replacements on the way. Endy Morales, a righty starting pitcher from Holyoke, Massachusetts might be just what the Penmen are looking for. Morales had a solid year in his junior campaign last year starting in 7 games and posting a 3.18 ERA in 34 innings pitched. What makes Morales a special pitcher is similar to what made McDonald special, his ability to make a batter miss. In the limited innings last year, according to snhupenmen.com, Morales struck out 42 batters resulting in a 11.12 K/9 rate. Morales decided to continue his spring baseball season into the summer by playing for the Valley Blue Sox of the NECBL. According to Pointstreak.com, Morales was the definition of lights out posting a 5-0 record with a mind-blowing 1.12 ERA in 40 innings pitched. He was awarded a spot as a starter on the All-Star team in the NECBL All-Star game.
One name that might not be first to people’s mind when thinking of help of this SNHU pitching staff/bullpen is Josh Eastman. Eastman is a redshirt freshman from Marshfield, Massachusetts. Eastman has the ability to pitch from a low and deceptive arm angle. Eastman said “My arm angle is something that is simply not seen often… I have 4 pitches I can throw for strikes… the biggest thing is to use these pitches and make them all look the same until the last second”. This was on display during the summer, when Eastman pitched out of the bullpen for the Plymouth Pilgrims of the NECBL. To continue the trend of SNHU pitchers performing exceptionally well in the NECBL, Eastman posted a 0 ERA in 20.2 innings pitched striking out a ridiculous 31 batters, according to Pointstreak.com.
“Endy and I both found success in just working on stuff we work on all year. The biggest thing that need to be done is keeping things simple and repeat them,” Eastman said. As someone who saw Eastman pitch this summer for the Pilgrims, the best compliment that can be given is that when you saw Eastman coming in the game, you were able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing how unhittable his pitches were this summer. As shown on Pointstreak.com, in a game against the Mystic Schooners, Eastman came in for 3 relief innings and strike out 8 out of the 9 outs he recorded, to say he was on fire would be an understatement.
Eastman is from a town of Marshfield, Massachusetts which is about 15 minutes from Plymouth, Massachusetts, the home of the Plymouth Pilgrims. For Eastman, “It was awesome to pitch close to home… I was given the perfect situation and given the perfect opportunity thanks to the Plant family (former owners of the Plymouth Pilgrims).” After his successful year in the NECBL and his sophomore year at SNHU, Eastman will have the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod league with the Harwich Mariners which will allow him to stay close to home. Eastman is on the path to perfecting his pitching and if he can show what he did this past summer in the NECBL, he has a bright future ahead of him.
Going into the 2019 season for the SNHU Penmen, there are definitely question marks after the departure of many starters from both the lineup and the pitching staff. But to be nervous about the replacements picking up the slack would be silly, SNHU is a wagon in D2 college baseball, they show up, get the job done and move on to the next game. Being so close to the national championship game might weigh heavy on the minds of these players going into the upcoming season but do not be surprised if they are right back in it next year. With the major losses of the seniors from the 2018 team, it would be wise to think this team might regress a little but when they figure it out, because they will, this is a team to watch out for.