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Perennial D-III baseball power Illinois Wesleyan sets sights on title


Kevin Callahan

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Updated: April 25, 2013 12:19AM

You know things are going your way when a key injury uncovers a new strength.

So it goes for the Illinois Wesleyan baseball team (23-7, 13-2 CCIW), which has had things going its way since the dawn of the 2000s, qualifying for 11 CCIW tournaments, winning eight conference championships, playing in seven NCAA Division III regionals, two Division III World Series and winning a national championship in 2010.

Zach Scott was a starter on the title team and entered this season expecting to be the Titans’ shortstop for the fourth year running. But in his first game of the season, he pulled an oblique muscle and missed nearly four weeks.

“When we bring him back, the backup shortstop [Matt Workman] does such a good job I move my three-year starting shortstop to left field,” coach Dennis Martel said. “You go figure that. The other day he threw out a guy at the plate against Augustana [in a 7-6 comeback victory]. We had been undefeated in the league, we lost two up there Saturday, we’re in a tight game and he throws the guy out at the plate.

“The next three innings we score four, take the lead and win the game. For a converted shortstop to make a play like that ... He’s bought into it. He loves playing out there now and he realized we couldn’t mess with the chemistry we had up the middle.”

IWU has a veteran team with nine seniors, five of whom played on the 2010 team. First baseman Kevin Callahan is an offensive force, hitting .338 with three home runs and 28 RBI.

“He’s a two-time All-American and he could be a rare breed, a three-time All-American,” Martel said. “He’s just a great hitter. This year he hasn’t shown the power [after 11 home runs last year]. People have pitched around him, but look at the doubles, and look at his walks (19). He doesn’t chase much.”

On the mound, Martel pointed to Jeff Johnson (5-0, 1.64), John Munyon (6-2, 2.08), Nick Mehn (3-1, 1.09) and Matt Hart (3-2, 5.40) as solidifying what looked like an uncertain group before the season. But the MVP of the team, he said, works behind the plate.

“A.J. Nathan is he’s the best catcher in Division III, I believe,” he said. “He’s picked off nine guys off bases so far, and really, he’s phenomenal. And now we have scouts looking around because he has such a great arm.”

It’s a group build to contend, and they’re doing it.

“I tell them championship teams don’t do this. this and this, and they’ve really responded, doing things in the right way,” Martel said. “They want to go out on top. This group will be the first to go all four years — hopefully, hopefully, hopefully — making the NCAA regional.

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