NAIA BASEBALL: The ties that bind lead Division I transfers to Lewis-Clark State team

Mar. 7—There are ties that bind all over college athletics. Look at any head coach at any program and there's bound to be some kind of coaching tree they're part of, or there's some other kind of seemingly obscure thing that connects one coach to another.

The Lewis-Clark State baseball team has benefitted from a couple of those ties.

The Warriors have had their share of NCAA Division I talent over the years. Either players who've transferred in or athletes who chose to play for LCSC over mid-majors or NCAA Division II or Division III programs.

In the last couple of seasons, the Warriors have gained key contributors from one DI school in particular: the University of Utah.

Senior outfielder Carter Booth, senior infielder Jake Gish and junior pitcher Brady Maylett all came to Lewiston after spending varying amounts of their college careers in the Pac-12's (soon to be Big-12's) Salt Lake City-based institution. Gish and Maylett transferred to LCSC this season whereas Booth is in his second year with the program.

DI baseball players transferring to NAIA schools isn't a new development. Even without the recent notoriety of the transfer portal, it was hardly uncommon to look across the landscape of NAIA baseball and see athletes who spent time in the top classification of college baseball at some point in their careers.

The margin of DI talent has become less spread out in the NAIA over the last couple of years with extra COVID-19 eligibility and the transfer portal. Blueblood programs like the Warriors and Southeastern have continued to find success in recruiting those types of players despite that. And with so much top-tier talent in the portal, the aforementioned ties can make the difference in whether a player joins the program or not.

A good word from a trusted mentor or former teammate can make a big difference in the decision on one's future. And that's been the case with the Utes and the Warriors.

LCSC coach Jake Taylor has a friendship with Utah skipper Gary Henderson. Originally from Oregon, Henderson made a couple of different trips to Lewiston playing American Legion baseball in his youth. Utes assistant coach Todd Guilliams has a background in coaching at the NAIA level with Embry-Riddle (Fla.) and Dallas Baptist. Guilliams, in particular, has made several visits to Lewiston with World Series teams he coached and got to see the Warriors first hand. That experience included memorable interactions with the legendary late coach Ed Cheff.

"Ed was so gracious," Giulliams said. "We asked him to talk to our team one time when I was at Embry-Riddle. This might have been 2004. And he said 'Nobody's ever asked me to talk to their team while they were in Lewiston.' And to his credit, he did. That was very gracious."

What made the experience even more memorable was that the two coaches' squads competed against each other the next day.

Booth already knew about LCSC, being a Pacific Northwest native, and had a connection with former Warriors player Jack Johnson. That helped him make his decision when transferring.

Booth's advocacy for the program plus the threads connecting Henderson and Guilliams to the Warriors helped Gish and Maylett learn more about the team and eventually guided them to their commitments.

Gish, in particular, didn't know much about LCSC before talking to Guilliams. Which was a somewhat amusing stroke of irony considering Gish's father has a friend who played for the Warriors with Taylor.

Guilliams and the rest of the coaching staff have helped many players who've transferred out get in contact with other coaches and programs in efforts of putting them in the best situations for their collegiate careers.

LCSC's roster consists of a plethora of former DI athletes, even outside of the Utah transfers. Isaiah Thomas, Shane Spencer, Jakob Marquez, Dominic Signorelli, Ike George, Magnum Hofstetter and Kolby Solomon all spent time at DI programs before making the decision to transfer to Lewis-Clark State.

The process between recruiting these athletes and bringing them to Lewiston has varied player-to-player.

"We're always recruiting and looking for the best players and best character guys that we can," Taylor said. "Last couple years we've been fortunate enough to land not only great talent but outstanding ambassadors for our program, for our school and for our community."

In Gish and Maylett's cases, Booth was a former teammate and a good spokesperson for the team. Guilliams and Henderson's knowledge of the program helped.

Every player's decision to transfer is an important one. Maylett, a Utah native, had already committed to his hometown school with the Utes. Salt Lake City is a 21-minute drive from South Jordan, Utah, where Maylett graduated high school. Barring a move to another Utah-based program, whatever decision he made would take him away from home.

"Carter reached out when he found out that I was in the portal and told me a lot about the program and kind of convinced me to come here," Maylett said. "He talked to coach Taylor on my behalf, so that was awesome of him. I knew I had a friend and a good teammate (in Lewiston) and I feel like we're close brothers. So, it was good to have a guy that was already on my side and told me a lot about the program. ... And with its history and culture it felt like a good fit for me."

The "why" and "how" for each player who are joined the program is a little different. Some players wanted to get more playing time, others wanted to be closer to home.

The transfer portal has been a controversial part of college athletics since the rule changed to allow players to compete immediately after transferring rather than wait a season before donning their new threads.

Some people are heavily against it and have pointed to a lot of transfer decisions being influenced by name, image and likeness deals. On the other hand, there's cases such as Booth, Maylett and Gish who can (and do) thrive in new environments and might not have had a chance to do so at their previous schools for a variety of reasons.

"I think the transfer portal is a tricky situation," Booth said. "But I think for guys like us, it's really beneficial and has its perks. It's not for everyone, but there is a good crowd that it is for. And for guys like us, it's helped us find the right fit in L-C and we're having a whole hell of a lot of fun doing it."

From the outside looking in, it's easy to see the move from Utah and other Division I programs to Lewis-Clark State as a downgrade. Going from NCAA DI to NAIA, that's an understandable view for people to have.

But, in terms of quality of competition, there's really not much of a difference from the players' points of view.

"I've been to a lot of different places at a lot of different levels," Gish said. "Everywhere you go there's good players. It doesn't matter whether it's DI, NAIA or juco. There's always players out there that are good. Just on this team, I reflect on it, and this is one of the most talented teams I've ever been on. And it's reassuring that I don't have to do everything myself and that you can rely on the other guys on your team to help you out."

The ties have helped the Warriors look to former Utes as players to bring into the program. That doesn't mean there's a new Utah-to-LCSC recruiting pipeline. Roster needs vary year to year and there's really no way to make anything beyond an educated guess as to who will be willing to transfer and who isn't.

But those connections have helped bring three talented players from Salt Lake City to Lewiston. Ties make the baseball world go 'round. And the Warriors have a lot of them that are paying dividends.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.