Legends On Deck

Is 2021 the Year of the Mid-Major in College Baseball?

If you’re looking for a really good College Baseball podcast, check out the guys at 11 Point 7.  This is a College Baseball podcast, put on by former college ballplayers; they have an interesting and entertaining approach to the game.  Every week, they release a “Mid-Major Top 25” power ranking.  Throughout their discourse on the podcast, they covered several the early season successes of Mid-Major programs and suggest that 2021 is starting to look like the “year of the Mid-Major.”

Mid-Majors are no strangers to success in College Baseball.  In 2016, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won the College World Series.  College Baseball has the opportunity to be more like College Basketball, where programs outside the Power 5 conferences, like Villanova and Gonzaga, have become perennial contenders.

The 11 Point 7 rankings given particular attention to two programs in the state of Florida.  The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles currently rank sixth and the Florida Atlantic Owls rank seventh in the power rankings.  After losses to Florida and Alabama, the Stetson Hatters fell off the list for the first time this season.  I briefly mentioned FGCU and FAU in my Florida College Baseball Preview 2021 piece a few weeks back.  Here’s some of what seems to be contributing to their early season success.

#6 Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles came off a strong weekend sweeping the South Florida Bulls for a second time this season.  Infielder, Richie Garcia, earned Atlantic Sun Player of the Week for his hitting heroics over the weekend.  Garcia hit .583 for the series and racked up five RBIs.  For the season, he’s hitting .388, with a .592 SLG and .524 OBP and he’s tied teammate, Joe Kinker, for the team lead with 13 RBIs.  Garcia is the second FGCU player to receive honors this season.  Pitcher, Mason Studstill, earned A-Sun Pitcher of the Week after tossing 8 scoreless inning in an Eagles victory over FAU on March 5.  Studstill is currently 2-0 in four starts with a 0.99 ERA and 27 strikeouts.

Thanks to these impressive performances, the Eagles currently sit at 10-5.  On Wednesday, they struggled against #5 Miami, losing 15-2.  They head to Tallahassee to face Florida A&M this weekend in hope to rebound.

#7 Florida Atlantic

Last week, the Owls were ranked #1 in the 11 Point 7 Mid-Major Rankings.  Coming off a big win over the Florida Gators on March 3, FAU jumped up to #21 overall in the national polls.  However, a 11-2 loss to Miami and dropping two of three to Indiana State disrupted that surge in the rankings.  They dropped a game to UCF on Tuesday night as well.  The Owls will look to rebound this weekend at USF and will have rematch with Miami next week in Boca.  FAU will need to recapture some of their early season heroics if they hope to stay competitive this season.

Pitcher, Matt Sparling, was given National Player of the Week honors by Collegiate Baseball magazine for a 10 strikeout victory over Seton Hall on February 28th.  Freshman, Nolan Schanuel, was named Conference USA Hitter of the Week, back in late February, for his performance in the UCF series.  And we all know about the historic performance of Freshman Caleb Pendleton, who made national headlines, hitting two grand slams (in his first two at-bats) in his college debut.

The Season Ahead

FGCU and FAU split their first two games this season.  On March 30, they will play a make-up game postponed from March 6.  This will prove to be an important game as both teams will proceed into conference play.  FAU has some strong competition on it’s hands in Conference USA with Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion.  In a similar fashion, FGCU will have to compete with Liberty and Stetson in the Atlantic Sun.  The Stetson Hatters started the season out hot, racking up 10 consecutive victories by March 3.  Look for Stetson to rebound in the weeks to come.  FGSU and Stetson will meet seven times throughout the remainder of the season.

There’s a long way to go in the 2021 College Baseball season and plenty of time for these Florida based, mid-major programs to continue to make an impression.  The focus will be on the major programs as the college baseball world turns it’s attention to Omaha, but don’t ignore what might be accomplish in Estero (FGCU) and Boca (FAW) this season.

**Picture courtesy of fgcuathletics.com**

Brian Koss
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