Crusaders cruisin' back to Lewiston

May 23—William Carey has been "winning in different ways" compared to last year's team, which made its first trip to the Avista NAIA World Series in 54 years.

The Hattiesburg, Miss., club in 2023 was an offensive juggernaut with 86 home runs and 575 RBI. This year, the Crusaders have a little more than half the homers (45) and runs batted in (368).

However, William Carey (37-14) returned one of its top offensive contributors, senior utility player RJ Stinson. The Crusaders' leadoff hitter paces the team in batting average (.403), hits (77), doubles (14) and on-base percentage (.526).

Stinson, a right-hander, had a monster night at the plate for William Carey in its two victories over Milligan to clinch top honors in the NAIA Opening Round on its home field, going 5-for-8 with a double and four RBI.

Stinson's stellar campaign earned him a spot as one of five finalists for the Ferris Trophy, awarded to the top collegiate baseball player in Mississippi. He is the team's first-ever finalist for the award.

"He carried us for most of the year," William Carey coach Bobby Halford said. "We are extremely pleased and honored for RJ to be in that group."

Seventh-seeded William Carey opens tournament play against 10th-seeded Indiana Southeast at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Harris Field.

Although the Crusaders are finding different ways to win, they did return a good chunk of their roster that went 2-2 in Lewiston last season.

William Carey brings six players who "played quite a bit last year," including senior outfielder Bailee Hendon, who leads the team with 10 home runs.

Jake Lycette also brings some experience to the Crusaders and has a team-leading 60 RBI and 51 hits.

"The last couple of months, we've been swinging it really well and scoring a lot of runs," Halford said. "Like when we played (Milligan) in the championship round, we erupted for eight runs (in the bottom of the seventh), and we've been doing that the last month or so."

The starting pitchers have also been a consistent unit for the Crusaders.

Andrew Shriah has been the No. 1 option for William Carey on the hill, bringing an 8-4 record to the World Series and a 5.15 ERA.

The junior's standout appearance came in a 10-2 win over Madonna (Mich.), where he had a season-high 12 strikeouts in seven innings.

Derek Herrera is the Crusaders' second option among starting hurlers.

The Panama City native was the top pitcher in the Southern States Athletic Conference in 2023. But he got off to a rocky start this season because of a pulled groin and back issues.

However, as he's started to get healthy, Herrera has started to take shape, entering the tournament with a 6-1 record on the mound and a 4.73 ERA.

The senior has had three games where he's recorded double-digit Ks and notched a season-high 12 strikeouts in a 7-3 win against Mobile (Ala.).

"A lot of these guys have a lot of experience, and that's one of the biggest pluses," Halford said. "The last couple of months, we've been swinging the bat well and scoring a lot of runs. Our bullpen has stepped up in big moments as well."

Halford leads all active NAIA coaches in career wins (1,337) and is seventh all-time.

> William Carey

Location: Hattiesburg, Miss.

Nickname: Crusaders

Coach: Bobby Halford (39th season)

Season record: 37-14

Rank in final NAIA poll: No. 15

How qualified: Won the Hattiesburg Bracket

Number of appearances; best finish: Four; national champions (1969)

> Juice (out of five stars)

STARTERS: ***1/2

Andrew Shirah has been a reliable option for the Crusaders with a 5.15 ERA. Dario Herrera is also starting to get healthy and boasts a 6-1 record for the season.


John Snyder knows how to get his team out of a jam. The senior has a team-high 13 saves on the year.


William Carey's .963 fielding percentage ranks No. 53 in the NAIA. The Crusaders have also committed the third-most errors among the World Series field (68), behind Hope International (76), Reinhardt (70) and Arizona Christian (70).


RJ Stinson is one of the best hitters in the NAIA. As a team, the Crusaders have 460 hits, 413 runs and 76 doubles.


The Crusaders' 57 stolen bases rank No. 130 in the NAIA. They've also been caught stealing 15 times.


This is a much different team that went 2-2 in Lewiston last year. But with a handful of standouts on its roster, William Carey could possibly make another run.