Gardner-Webb Baseball announces new recruiting class for 2023 season


BOILING SPRINGS — Baseball’s Gardner-Webb announced its new signing group, a talented collection that includes 10 transfers and four high school recruits.

The head coach Jim Chester continues to build a Big South Conference contender in Boiling Springs, with that class poised to join a strong body of returning starters for a team that warmed up at the end of 2022.

The signers join fall recruits Ryan Kennell (Westland, Michigan) and Erick Delgado (Miami, Fla.) on the 2023 Gardner-Webb roster.

Nine of the signers are pitchers — eight transfers — with NCAA Division II All-America serviceman Jacob McCaskey (Tarentum, Pa./Cal U Pa.) among that group. McCaskey — a standout two-way performer — earned ABCA Division II All-America Second Team honors in 2022 and was a First-Team All-Region and All-PSCA West selection for the Vulcans.

He started 48 games on the court, seeing action at six different positions. McCaskey batted .373 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 2022, while going 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 54.0 innings of work. He’s thrown a pair of full games and is blessed with a fastball that sits in the 90s.

“Jacob is a special player who can play literally any position on the pitch,” Chester said. “He’ll be a two-way player for the Runnin’ Bulldogs and be a special part of the roster.”

Gardner-Webb also added transfer arms LHP Brendan Bean (North Wildwood, NJ/Penn), RHP Tanner Chafin (Cumming, GA/LaGrange College), RHP Kazuya Kojima (Kamakura Gakuen, Japan/Tacoma CC), RHP Joe Miceli (Oakland, NJ/Virginia), RHP Joe Nestal (Drexel Hill, PA/UMBC), RHP Grant Vera (Tiffin, Ohio/Kent State), and RHP Dalton Wood (Katy, TX/Rice). High school student Quin Spalding (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) also joined the team.

Bean pitched 57 career Ivy League innings at Penn, striking out 64 with a career 3.32 ERA.

“Brendan is the ultimate competitor and will be a huge improvement to our pitching team,” Chester said. “I’m delighted to see his success this year.”

Chafin pitched 125 innings at Division III Lagrange College during his career, with 86 strikeouts and a career ERA of 3.60.

“Tanner comes from a very successful D3 program where he was an integral part of the bullpen,” added Chester. “He adds depth and experience to our staff.”

Kojima joins GWU after a successful college career at Tacoma Community College, where he was an All-Conferenxe pick in 2022 after pitching 29.2 innings with 33 strikeouts and a 1.21 ERA as a reliever. He walked six batters all season.

“Kazuya was one of the best arms in the AFAC bullpen,” Chester said. “He comes from a winning tradition in Tacoma and is a perfect fit for our program.”

Hard pitcher Miceli spent a season at the University of Virginia, where he worked out of the bullpen without allowing a deserved run in 2022. He previously played at Bergen Community College in his home state of New Jersey and has a fastball that reaches into the mid-90s.

“Joe is an experienced arm and was one of the top junior college arms in the country a year ago,” Chester said. “We got better with Joe joining the Runnin’ Bulldog Baseball family.”

Nestal has struck out 41 in 41.0 career innings at UMBC and is another experienced Division I arm to join the Gardner-Webb program for the 2023 season.

“Joe is another piece of the pitching staff puzzle,” Chester said. “His experience and his success make us better.”

Vera, a former Kent State shortstop, is another reliever with a hitting fastball in the mid-90s. He moved to the bullpen full-time for the Golden Flashes and will remain in that role for Gardner. -Webb.

“Grant is taking the back of our bullpen to the next level,” added Chester. “He brings his experience and leadership to our pitching team.”

Wood, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander, is another good reliever with a big fastball. He threw 59.0 career innings at Rice and held opposing batters to a .248 batting average during his time in Houston.

“Dalton is another experienced arm who adds talent and depth to our staff,” Chester said. “We’re excited to see him compete this fall.”

Receiver Mark Black joins the Gardner-Webb program after spending the 2022 season at Wake Forest. He made two starts for the Demon Deacons and had his first hit as a Division I player against UNC Greensboro – earning a grand slam as part of a 23-3 win.

Black hit .288 with three homers and 28 RBI as a freshman for powerhouse national junior college Chipla (Fla.) College and was a star at Serra Catholic High in Pittsburgh — also skipper Gardner-Webb’s alma mater Jim Chester.

Black was named first-team High School All-America catcher by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and was named Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Baseball Player of the Year for 2019. Black batted .521 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs as a junior in 2019, leading the team to a spot in the WPIAL Class 2A Finals.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound slugger was ranked the nation’s 14th-largest receiver prospect in the Class of 2020 by Perfect Game and participated in the 17U USA National Team Development Team Program in 2019. He has also competed in the 2020 PBR Super 60 Pro Showcase and played the 2019 Yankees Area Code Games and the 2019 Reds East Coast Pro Showcase.

“Mark is a midfielder with the ability to play in multiple positions,” Chester said. “His experience and talent are an upgrade to our lineup.”

Max Smyley signed with Gardner-Webb as a transfer from Division III University of the Redlands. A shortstop, Smyley batted .287 for his career with 73 hits, 64 runs scored, 13 doubles and nine homers. He’s run home 48 in 254 career batting. The Whitefish, Montana native is also recognized as a solid defender.

“Max comes from another outstanding D3 program,” added Chester. “His energy and competitiveness will raise the level of play in our infield.”

The Gardner-Webb High School signers are wide receiver Brian Daker (Burr Ridge, Ill./IMG Academy (Florida), infielder Matt Illgenfritz (New Cumberland, Pa./Cedar Cliff HS) and infielder Joe Stanzine (Lincroft, NJ / Middletown South HS) with Spalding.

Daker also played at Hindsdale Central High before moving to Florida, earning West Suburban Silver All-Conference honors.

“Brian is a workaholic behind the plate,” Chester said. “He has a bright future in our program.”

Illgenfritz was a first-team All-Conference pick at Cedar Cliff (Pennsylvania) High

“Matt is a great all-around player,” Chester said. “We are excited to see its development this fall.”

Stanzine brings great power to the roster, with a conference-record 15 home runs under his belt during the 2022 high school season. He also earned first-team All-State honors in New Jersey.

“Joe has as much raw power as anyone in our program,” added Chester. “He adds depth and talent to our corner infield in addition to his offensive potential.”

Spalding went 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 17.0 innings last spring for American Heritage. He made 15 appearances in his last two seasons, including three starts.

Quin is a young arm with a lot of potential, we are excited to follow his progress this fall.”

Gardner-Webb’s current roster is on campus for the fall semester and is already gearing up for a strong run into the 2023 season.

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