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Stetson is a heavy favorite to win the Atlantic Sun Conference title as it returns practically its entire team from the one that exacted a significant turnaround a year ago, ran away with the regular-season crown and fell one step short of its first appearance in the College World Series.
In the previous three seasons, the Hatters were mired in a collective 75-94 slump, but rallied to go 43-20 in 2011 and set the stage for possibly the best season in Stetson baseball history. The 2000 Hatters set the school-record with 48 wins.
That mark could be in jeopardy as every pitcher is back, and the Hatters should have the season-long services of both their two top starters, junior right-hander Kurt Schluter and senior right-hander Lyndsey Caughel. Schluter (8-0, 1.40) was named the A-Sun pitcher of the year, despite missing the final four weeks of the season with an oblique muscle strain. Caughel (6-2, 4.88) missed several early season starts with an ankle injury. They occupy the Friday-Saturday spots in the Stetson rotation to begin the 2012 season. Additionally, Jake Boyd (9-1, 2.93, 6 SV) and Robbie Powell (5-3, 3.42, 8 SV), both seniors, return to anchor the bullpen.
Stetson also welcomes back seven of nine starting position players. Catcher Nick Rickles (.347-12-62), the team’s top hitter, was lost to the draft, but his spot behind the plate will be taken by Sam Kimmel, one of the nation’s top junior college transfers. He joins a lineup that returns all-conference players like second baseman Robert Crews (.332-4-39) and shortstop Mark Jones (.333-5-37), both seniors. Another returning senior, third baseman Ben Carhart (.323-7-63), topped the team in RBIs a year ago.
In Stetson, Jacksonville and surprising tournament champion Belmont, the A-Sun sent three teams to the NCAA tournament a year ago. Like the Hatters, Jacksonville should be better than a year ago as it returns most of its key players, notably first baseman Adam Brett Walker (.409-13-75) and outfielder Dan Gulbransen (.370-6-52), the team’s top two hitters and all-conference performers as sophomores.
HOW THEY STACK UP
Overall/conference won-loss records from 2011 indicated; expectation level denoted -- College World Series= CWS, NCAA Super Regional= SR, NCAA Regional= R
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