Feb. 26, 2008


Unique Challenges for Independents

by Andrew Finley



Independents face unique challenges in college baseball.


Many of the top teams are Division I in baseball only. Although they are good enough to compete with good teams, many conferences are not interested.


Dallas Baptist University, for example, recently was close to joining the Western Athletic Conference, but the WAC decided having a school that was only Division I in baseball was against its overall philosophy, according to Patriots coach Daniel Heefner.


Independents also have to be strong immediately because every game counts equally, and most of their games against top competition are before other teams begin conference play.


“Most teams can kind of start over in conference play,” Heefner said.


That’s not an option for independents.


Here’s a look at one of the top independent teams in the country – and a newcomer to the independent ranks.




From its location in the middle of one of college baseball’s hotbeds, longtime NAIA power Dallas Baptist has forged a successful Division I program. DBU arrived in Division I four years ago and became an active member in 2005. Each of the first three seasons of active membership has seen the Patriots win at least 30 games.


Dallas Baptist takes advantage of its location to schedule most of the top teams in Texas.


“We’ve got a shot to be a pretty good team, but we have a tough schedule, especially in our area,” Heefner said.


This year’s schedule includes a pair of dates with Rice, three games with TCU and a visit to Austin to play Texas. In addition, there are series against Texas Tech and Texas A&M.


The Patriots will be led by ace junior Jordan Meaker. The 6-6 right-hander was a ninth-round pick out of high school who throws in the low- to mid-90s. The top offensive player will be junior outfielder Evan Bigley. Bigley, the younger brother of former Oral Roberts star Dennis Bigley, is coming off a season in which he hit .329 with 10 home runs and 61 RBI. He has been named to the Wallace Award Watch List.




Le Moyne is a newcomer to the ranks of the independents. This will be the first season for the small New York college as an independent after it was dropped from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after 18 years in the conference.


“We were told that our associate membership for 2008 was denied,” coach Steve Owens said.


The Dolphins had been one of the top teams in the MAAC, advancing to the NCAA tournament in three of the past four years and posting the 24th best winning percentage in college baseball so far this decade.


The MAAC let Le Moyne keep its schedule for this season, so it will play a slate of familiar MAAC foes. Next season, however, Tulane, Georgia, Troy and others will appear on the schedule, and there will be no games against the MAAC, Owens said. This season Le Moyne will travel to play Wichita State, Kansas and a series against Kansas State.


The team hopes to reach 40 wins. The squad returns seven of last year’s starting position players.


“It’s a good solid team,” Owens said. “We have a lot of good players rather than one superstar. We’re not treating it any different than in the past.”


Mid-week games no longer will be time for experimenting and giving younger players developmental playing time. Every game counts now, right from the start, Owens said.


“We’re used to overcoming obstacles; this is just another obstacle for our players to overcome, and I’m confident they’ll rise to the challenge,” Owens said.