Nova, Barry and other local colleges gear up for the 2018 baseball season

Andrew Liberty launches a second-inning homer in last year’s Nova Southeastern University season opener against Tusculum.
Andrew Liberty launches a second-inning homer in last year’s Nova Southeastern University season opener against Tusculum. Nova Southeastern University

The Nova Southeastern University Sharks, who won the NCAA Division II baseball national championship in 2016 but fell short last year, are gearing up for another run at the title.

NSU is ranked 12th in the nation by the Perfect Game website and 18th by Collegiate Baseball magazine.

Last season, the Sharks led the nation in home runs, but it’s not going to be quite like that this year. The emphasis is expected to shift from power hitting to power pitching.

The rotation will feature sophomore Devin Conn, a Middle Tennessee transfer with an overpowering arm; senior Derik Beauprez, a former University of Miami pitcher; and junior Brady Acker, a transfer from Chipola.

NSU’s bullpen is led by senior closer Joe Strzelecki, a transfer from Old Dominion. Junior Christian Demby, a transfer from North Carolina State, was named the nation’s “Newcomer to Watch” by Collegiate Baseball magazine, and he could be a starter or reliever.

Johnny Leone, a talented freshman from Archbishop McCarthy, adds pitching depth and should be a significant contributor. The same can be said for Michael Gizzi, a transfer from Marshall who has a power fastball and a wipeout slider.

“This is the most depth we’ve had in our rotation,” said NSU coach Greg Brown, who has led the Sharks to the NCAA playoffs in five of the past seven years.

“Last year, we weren’t able to finish hitters enough. This year, we have quality strike-throwers who can punch guys out.”

The offense will be led by junior catcher Jake Anchia, senior first baseman Dylan Harris and senior outfielder Andrew Liberty.

Anchia led NSU with 17 homers last season and drove in 55 runs. Harris, a transfer from Saint Leo, led the Sunshine State Conference last season with a .448 batting average, making second-team All-American. Liberty hit .345 with 11 homers for NSU last year.

“[Harris] will hit in the three-hole for us,” Brown said.

The rest of the infield includes sophomore second baseman Andrew Labosky, a lefty hitter from Taravella; senior shortstop Nicholas Gallo, a steady defender who transferred from Oklahoma State; and junior third baseman Ian Acevedo, a transfer from Eastern Florida State who is another athletic, middle-of-the-order hitter.

The outfield and the DH spot will include Liberty, who is coming off shoulder surgery, and Demby, who is a two-way player. Junior Samuel Duran, another transfer from Eastern Florida State; and freshman Bryan Diaz, a lefty hitter from Monsignor Pace, add to the mix.

“This year, we have more speed than last season,” Brown said. “We’ll score a lot more from first on doubles.”

Here’s a quick look at some other local college baseball programs:

Barry University

The Buccaneers, who are NSU’s South Florida rivals in the Sunshine State Conference, suffered through an injury-plagued 23-27 season last year under coach Juan Ranero.

Senior center fielder Jonathan Quintana, who made first-team All-SSC in 2015, is one of those players who has returned from injury.

Barry has other talented hitters such as junior third baseman Justin Lamazares and senior right fielder Ryan Baldwin. The top pitchers are seniors Daniel Broeseker (seven saves last year) and Jonathan Hernandez.

The Bucs, who are predicted to finish eighth in the conference, are hoping that two junior-college transfers — pitchers Hugo Casilla and Nick Bralczyk — can impact the roster.

Miami Dade College

MDC, under coach Danny Price, continues to produce players for the next levels at an impressive rate. Last year, three MDC players were drafted and signed pro contracts: left fielder Kevin Williams (13th round, Angels); right-hander Alex Valverde (22nd round, Rays); and left-hander Ivan Pelaez (33rd round, Rays).

In addition, three more MDC players signed to play Division I college baseball: pitcher Eddy Demurias (South Carolina); second baseman Bruce Martin (Stetson); and infielder Raul Cabrera (Marshall). In fact, Demurias is set to be South Carolina’s closer.

This season, MDC has more top prospects, including three players who have signed to play major college baseball in 2019: center fielder Brian Rey (North Carolina State); left-hander Garrett Bye (Alabama); and right-hander Zach Helsel (Central Florida).

Other top prospects include catcher Jordan Santos; second baseman Joshua Rivera; shortstop Jose Rojas; third baseman Abdiel Layer-Lugo; outfielder Gabriel Rodriguez-Santiago; and pitcher Yusniel Padron-Artiles.

ASA College — Miami

ASA, a junior-college program that finished 20-24 last season, is coached by Jonathan Hernandez and led by pitchers Anthony Vazquez and Leudeny Pineda. The offense is powered by catcher Luis Chavez, who has signed with FIU; and outfielders Peter Baldrich and Kenneth Moreno-Costa.

Florida Memorial University

The Lions, an NAIA program that finished 10-30-1 last season, will be led by right-hander Devin Hadley. Coach Florentino Burgos’ offense will be powered by junior third baseman Emilio Marrufo and sophomore outfielder Ray Guerrero.