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College | Story | 2/17/2011

Preview: The finishing touches

Kendall Rogers        

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SUN BELT CONFERENCE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Florida International
2. Florida Atlantic
3. Louisiana-Lafayette
4. Western Kentucky
5. Troy
6. Arkansas State
7. Middle Tennessee State
8. South Alabama
9. Louisiana-Monroe
10. Arkansas-Little Rock

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Matt Rice, Western Kentucky
1B Dan Schleffer, Florida Atlantic
2B Jordan Poirrier, Louisiana-Lafayette
SS Adam Bryant, Troy
3B Jake Overstreet, South Alabama
OF Kes Carter, Western Kentucky
OF Andy Mee, Florida Atlantic
OF Pablo Bermudez, Florida International
DH Garrett Wittels, FIU SP T.J. Geith, Louisiana-Lafayette
SP Jacob Lee, Arkansas State
SP Tyler Ray, Troy
RP Rye Davis, Western Kentucky

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic (co-champions)
Tournament winner last season: Florida International

New coaches: None
Best hitter: C Matt Rice, Western Kentucky
Best pitcher: RHP Jacob Lee, Arkansas State
Regional contenders: FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. OF/LHP Kes Carter, Western Kentucky
2. SS Logan Robbins, Western Kentucky
3. 2B/RHP Garrett Wittels, FIU
4. RHP Jacob Lee, Arkansas State
5. RHP Tyler Ray, Troy
6. RHP Rye Davis, Western Kentucky
7. C Matt Rice, Western Kentucky
8. OF Pablo Bermudez, FIU
9. RHP Paul Davis, Florida Atlantic
10. LHP/OF Justin Guidry, Middle Tennessee State
11. OF Yoandy Barroso, FIU
12. RHP Glen Troyanowski, Florida Atlantic
13. 2B Jason Houston, Arkansas-Little Rock
14. RHP Andy Ferguson, Arkansas State
15. Aaron Arboleya, FIU
16. RHP Joe Zimmerman, Louisiana-Lafayette
17. OF Joel Capote, FIU
18. RHP/OF Andy Mee, Florida Atlantic
19. RHP Phil Wetherell, Western Kentucky
20. OF Will Skinner, Middle Tennessee State

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. RHP R.J. Alvarez, Florida Atlantic
2. OF Jabari Henry, FIU
3. OF Michael Faulkner, Arkansas State
4. 1B/3B Rudy Flores, FIU
5. RHP Daniel Palo, Middle Tennessee State
6. RHP Hunter Adkins, Middle Tennessee State
7. RHP Kevin Alexander, Florida Atlantic
8. LHP Tanner Perkins, Western Kentucky
9. SS Mark Nelson, Florida Atlantic
10. RHP Taylor Haydal, Western Kentucky

BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Coastal Carolina
2. Liberty
3. Winthrop
4. VMI
5. Radford
6. High Point
7. Gardner-Webb
8. Charleston Southern
9. UNC Asheville
10. Presbyterian

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Alex Haitsuka, VMI
1B Nick Chinners, Charleston Southern
2B Tommy La Stella, Coastal Carolina
SS Taylor Motter, Coastal Carolina
3B Tyler Bream, Liberty
OF Graham Sullivan, VMI
OF Scott Woodward, Coastal Carolina
OF Brantley Meier, Charleston Southern
DH Daniel Bowman, Coastal Carolina SP Anthony Meo, Coastal Carolina
SP Tyler Mizenko, Winthrop
SP Steven Evans, Liberty
RP Ryan Connolly, Coastal Carolina

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Coastal Carolina
Tournament winner last season: Coastal Carolina

New coaches: Tom Riginos (Winthrop)
Coach on the rise: Jim Toman, Liberty
Best hitter: 2B Tommy La Stella, Coastal Carolina
Best pitcher: RHP Anthony Meo, Coastal Carolina
Regional contenders: Coastal Carolina, Liberty

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. RHP Anthony Meo, Coastal Carolina
2. RHP Blake Forslund, Liberty
3. 3B Tyler Bream, Liberty
4. RHP Tyler Mizenko, Winthrop
5. SS Taylor Motter, Coastal Carolina
6. RHP Adam Lopez, VMI
7. OF Scott Woodward, Coastal Carolina
8. RHP Cody Allen, High Point
9. OF Daniel Bowman, Coastal Carolina
10. 1B/RHP Rich Witten, Coastal Carolina
11. 3B/OF Chas Crane, Winthrop
12. SS Matt Williams, Liberty
13. LHP Jim Birmingham, Coastal Carolina
14. SS Jeff Kemp, Radford
15. SS/RHP Sam Roberts, VMI
16. RHP/3B Mike Devine, VMI
17. OF/C Eddie Rohan, Winthrop
18. 2B Tommy La Stella, Coastal Carolina
19. RHP/3B Patrick Dolan, Charleston Southern
20. C Kyle Mahoney, High Point

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. 3B/RHP Josh Conway, Coastal Carolina
2. RHP Eddie Butler, Radford
3. RHP Jamie Schultz, High Point
4. LHP Stefan del Pino, Coastal Carolina
5. RHP/SS Josh Richardson, Liberty
6. SS Michael Mercurio, High Point
7. RHP Coby Cowgill, VMI
8. RHP Jared Avidon, High Point
9. RHP John Garrett, VMI
10. 3B Matt Pierpont, Winthrop

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. College of Charleston
2. Elon
3. Georgia Southern
4. Western Carolina
5. The Citadel
6. Appalachian State
7. Samford
8. Furman
9. UNC Greensboro
10. Wofford
11. Davidson

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Rob Kral, College of Charleston
1B Jose Rodriguez, College of Charleston
2B Ross Heffley, Western Carolina
3B Matt Leeds, College of Charleston
SS Neal Pritchard, Elon
OF Cole Rakar, College of Charleston
OF Shawn Payne, Georgia Southern
OF Matt Johns, Western Carolina
DH Mac Doyle, Wofford

SP Matt Talley, The Citadel
SP Matt Benedict, Western Carolina
SP Lex Rutledge, Samford
RP Casey Lucchese, College of Charleston

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: The Citadel
Tournament winner last season: The Citadel

New coaches: None
Best hitter: OF Cole Rakar, College of Charleston
Best pitcher: LHP Matt Talley, The Citadel
Regional contenders: College of Charleston, Elon, Georgia Southern, Western Carolina

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. RHP David Peterson, College of Charleston
2. RHP Thomas Girdwood, Elon
3. RHP Kenny Ferrer, Elon
4. C Robert Kral, College of Charleston
5. RHP John Cornley, Wofford
6. LHP Matt Talley, The Citadel
7. RHP Jarrett Miller, UNC Greensboro
8. 2B/SS Eric Phillips, Georgia Southern
9. C Brandon Miller, Samford
10. C Mac Doyle, Wofford
11. RHP John Brebbia, Elon
12. RHP Josh Adams, Georgia Southern
13. RHP/1B Andy Moye, Georgia Southern
14. RHP Bobby Lyne, Furman
15. OF Shawn Payne, Georgia Southern
16. RHP Matt Murray, Georgia Southern
17. C/OF Will Miller, Furman
18. OF Nick Orvin, The Citadel
19. SS Garrett Koster, Elon
20. RHP Matt Benedict, Western Carolina

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. LHP Lex Rutledge, Samford
2. RHP Taylor Sandefur, Western Carolina
3. OF Victor Roache, Georgia Southern
4. RHP Matt Plate, Furman
5. RHP Chris Beck, Georgia Southern
6. 2B/SS Will Muzika, Furman
7. RHP Christian Powell, College of Charleston
8. RHP Nate Hyatt, Appalachian State
9. C/RHP Dylan Cole, Furman
10. RHP/OF Drew Watts, College of Charleston

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. James Madison
2. Virginia Commonwealth
3. UNC Wilmington
4. Georgia State
5. William & Mary
6. George Mason
7. Old Dominion
8. Delaware
9. Northeastern
10. Towson
11. Hofstra

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C—Jake Lowery, Jr., James Madison
1B—Hunter Ridge, So., UNC Wilmington
2B—Trevor Knight, Sr., James Madison
3B—Brandon Williams, Jr., Georgia State
SS—David Herbek, Sr., James Madison
OF—Pat Dameron, Sr., Delaware
OF—Ryan Fleming, Sr., Georgia State
OF—Mark Micowski, Sr., Georgia State
DH—Brent Mikionis, Jr., Virginia Commonwealth

SP—Matt Davenport, Jr., William & Mary
SP—Andrew Leenhouts, Jr., Northeastern
SP—Kyle Hald, Sr., Old Dominion
RP—Jonathan Watson, Sr., Virginia Commonwealth

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: James Madison
Tournament winner last season: Virginia Commonwealth

New coaches: Nick Goulet (Old Dominion)
Best hitter: 2B Trevor Knight, James Madison
Best pitcher: Matt Davenport, William & Mary
Regional contenders: James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Andrew Leenhouts, lhp, Northeastern
2. Jake Lowery, c, James Madison
3. Matt Davenport, rhp, William & Mary
4. Andrew Cain, of/rhp, UNC Wilmington
5. David Herbek, ss, James Madison
6. Kyle Hald, lhp, Old Dominion
7. Justin Bradley, rhp, UNC Wilmington
8. Taylor Buran, of, Virginia Commonwealth
9. Logan Billbrough, rhp, William & Mary
10. Chris O’Grady, lhp, George Mason
11. Brent Mikionis, 1b, Virginia Commonwealth
12. Chris Baker, 1b, Old Dominion
13. Turner Phelps, rhp, James Madison
14. Ben Tomchick, rhp, Old Dominion
15. Evan Scott, rhp/1b, James Madison
16. Les Williams, rhp, Northeastern
17. Jonathan Watson, rhp, Virginia Commonwealth
18. Brandon Smith, rhp, Old Dominion
19. Daniel Cropper, rhp, UNC Wilmington
20. A.J. Johnson, rhp, George Mason

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Blake Hauser, rhp, Virginia Commonwealth
2. Brandon Kuter, rhp, George Mason
3. John Farrell, rhp, William & Mary
4. Johnny Bladel, of, James Madison
5. Kyle Haynes, rhp, Virginia Commonwealth
6. Hunter Ridge, 1b/of, UNC Wilmington
7. Blaze Tart, rhp, UNC Wilmington
8. Jake Kalish, of, George Mason
9. Matt Soren, rhp, Delaware
10. Josh Leemhuis, of, George Mason

AROUND THE DIAMOND

The Colonial Athletic Association is spread over seven states, from Georgia State in the south to Massachusetts-based Northeastern in the north, but most of the focus this spring should be in the middle, on Virginia. That state has five teams in the CAA, and it’s expected that two of them, James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth, will duke it out again for the regular season and tournament titles.

JMU finished first a year ago, but third-place VCU claimed the conference’s only NCAA bid by winning the conference postseason tournament. Essentially, it may come down to how much quality pitching JMU can produce vs. VCU’s ability to swing the bats consistently up and down the lineup.

There is little doubting the Dukes ability to produce runs as they return plenty of offense in key defensive positions with the return of catcher Jake Lowery (.285-8-41), second baseman Trevor Knight (.360-13-45) and shortstop David Herbek (.304-7-47). JMU’s biggest challenge will be replacing ace closer Kevin Munson, a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, though projected 2010 No. 1 starter Turner Phelps returns after being sidelined all of last season with academic issues.

The Rams, meanwhile, will pin their hopes on a rotation of junior right-hander Seth Cutler-Voltz (8-4, 3.47), promising sophomore right-handers Kyle Haynes (3-3, 5.60) and Blake Hauser (4-4, 7.07), and senior all-star closer Jonathan Watson (4-2, 2.51).

The one team that could spoil the party for the Virginia schools is Georgia State, which finished just a half-game behind JMU a year ago. From a team that hit .355 and led the nation by averaging 10.5 runs per game, the Panthers return senior second baseman Rob Lind (.402-9-56), junior third baseman Brandon Williams (.408-10-73), and senior outfielders Ryan Fleming (.375-13-59) and Mark Micowski (.392-5-49). Like JMU, Georgia State may be challenged to produce enough quality pitching to make a legitimate run.

ATLANTIC SUN CONFERENCE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Florida Gulf Coast
2. Stetson
3. Mercer
4. Jacksonville
5. East Tennessee State
6. North Florida
7. Belmont
8. Kennesaw State
9. Lipscomb
10. Campbell
11. South Carolina-Upstate

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C—Nick Rickles, Jr., Stetson
1B—Paul Hoilman, Sr., East Tennessee State
2B—Mikel Alvarez, Sr., Florida Gulf Coast
3B—Jacob Tanis, Jr., Mercer
SS—Stephen Wickens, Sr., Florida Gulf Coast
OF—Dan Gulbransen, So., Jacksonville
OF—Matt Scruggs, Jr., East Tennessee State
OF—Spencer Thiesen, Jr., Stetson
DH—Adam Brett Walker, So., Jacksonville

SP—Lyndsey Caughel, rhp, Stetson
SP—Richie Erath, Jr., Florida Gulf Coast
SP—Brandon Love, Jr., Mercer
RP—Ben Carhart, Jr., Stetson

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Florida Gulf Coast
Tournament winner last season: Mercer

New coaches: Smoke Laval (North Florida)
Best hitter: 1B Paul Hoilman, East Tennessee State
Best pitcher: LHP Brandon Love, Mercer
Regional contenders: Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Nick Rickles, c, Stetson
2. Ben Carhart, rhp/3b, Stetson
3. Jacob Tanis, 3b, Mercer
4. Paul Hoilman, 1b, East Tennessee State
5. Jacob Barnes, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast
6. Jonathan Murphy, 2b/of, Jacksonville
7. Spencer Thiesen, of, Stetson
8. Jon Ivie, rhp, Belmont
9. Billy Burns, of, Mercer
10. Bryan Blough, rhp, Kennesaw State
11. Nate Woods, 1b/rhp, Belmont
12. Mark Jones, 3b, Stetson
13. Jack Wagoner, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast
14. Dylan Craig, of, Belmont
15. Brandon Love, lhp, Mercer
16. Lyndsey Caughel, rhp, Stetson
17. Josh Carr, rhp, Kennesaw State
18. Bo Reeder, 3b/rhp, East Tennessee State
19. Tucker Donahue, rhp, Stetson
20. Andrew Karmeris, 1b, North Florida

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Adam Brett Walker, of/1b, Jacksonville
2. Kurt Schluter, rhp, Stetson
3. Mike Reeves, c, Florida Gulf Coast
4. Dan Gulbransen, of, Jacksonville
5. Ryan Lashley, ss, Stetson
6. Ronnie Freeman, c, Kennesaw State
7. Clint Freeman, lhp, East Tennessee State
8. Logan Self, rhp, Campbell
9. Travis Dean, rhp, Kennesaw State
10. Brett Teschner, c, Lipscomb

AROUND THE DIAMOND

Florida Gulf Coast has finished atop the Atlantic Sun Conference standings in each of the last three years, compiling a 73-20 record in conference play in that period while going 112-53 overall. Yet the Eagles have yet to make their first foray into NCAA tournament competition.

They were ineligible to participate in regional play in 2008-09 as they transitioned to full Division I status. But even last year, with an impressive 25-5 record in A-Sun play and a 38-20 ledger overall, and left-hander Chris Sale (the 13th pick in last year’s draft, and the first player from the 2010 class to reach the big leagues) at the front of the rotation, the Eagles were again denied entry. They were passed over as an at-large entry after second-place Mercer won the conference tournament and gained the conference’s only bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament.

Even without Sale, who went 11-0, 2.01 and struck out 146 in 103 innings as a junior, FGCU has been installed as the favorite to win its fourth straight Atlantic Sun title. The Eagles will pin their hopes on the return of senior right-handers Richie Erath (7-4, 4.32) and Jack Wagoner, who was clocked at 96 mph in the fall, and hard-throwing closer Jacob Barnes, whose fastball was timed at 95.

The veteran double-play combination of senior second baseman Mikel Alvarez (.409-5-39) and senior shortstop Stephen Wickens (.359-1-34) will provide stability for the Eagles, both at the plate and up the middle.

The Atlantic Sun Conference should feature two of the nation’s most prolific power hitters this season in East Tennessee State senior first Paul Hoilman and Jacksonville sophomore Adam Brett Walker.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Hoilman hit .421-25-84, topping the A-Sun in batting and homers, and the nation in slugging (.860). He also won two Home Run Derbys last summer, including the one at the Cape Cod League all-star game at Boston’s Fenway Park.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Walker hit .313-16-58 as a freshman for JU, and blossomed during the summer as the top-ranked prospect in the Great Lakes League. An outfielder a year ago, he has transitioned to first base as a sophomore.

Hoilman was expected to be drafted in the top 10 rounds a year ago, but slid to Tampa Bay in the 49th round amidst concerns that he wished to return for his senior year and eventually attend medical school. With four pro-level tools, Walker has designs on being a high-round pick in 2012, possibly even a first-rounder.

Stetson hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since capturing the Atlantic Sun title in 2007, but the Hatters appear primed for a bounce-back campaign with the return of all but one regular. Sophomore shortstop Ryan Lashley (.335-11-50) and junior outfielder Spencer Thiesen (.373-3-43) are two key returnees, and long-time coach Pete Dunn expects junior right-hander Lyndsey Caughel (5-7, 6.17) and sophomore right-hander Kurt Schluter (3-3, 8.12), his top two starters, to make big strides in 2011.

But the biggest reason for optimism at Stetson surrounds junior catcher Nick Rickles and the addition of third baseman/closer Ben Carhart. Rickles (.280-3-36) has emerged as one of the nation’s top defenders behind the plate and a potential early-round draft, while Carhart was a 19th-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2010 draft after being selected the Florida junior college player of the year at Palm Beach State. Carhart hit .473-11-67 as a sophomore, but may actually play a more prominent role with the Hatters out of the bullpen, where his fastball has been clocked at 95 mph.

Schluter himself was clocked at 93, and along with a power curve, he is expected to make significant strides this season on the mound while concentrating on being a pitcher only. He was the team’s regular first baseman as a freshman.

Former LSU coach Smoke Laval takes over the reins at North Florida, replacing the retired Dusty Rhodes. Laval coached LSU for five seasons, leading the school to two College World Series appearances, before he was fired after the 2006 season when the Tigers failed to make the NCAA tournament. He is the only new coach in the Atlantic Sun this season.

SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Texas State
2. Southeastern Louisiana
3. Lamar
4. Northwestern State
5. Stephen F. Austin
6. McNeese State
7. Sam Houston State
8. Texas-San Antonio
9. Texas-Arlington
10. Texas A&M-CC
11. Nicholls State
12. Central Arkansas

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Chad Comer, Texas-Arlington
1B Trey Hernandez, Texas A&M-CC
2B Braeden Riley, Sam Houston State
3B Kyle Kubitza, Texas State
SS Jace Peterson, McNeese State
OF Bear Comer, Nicholls State
OF Jeff Harkensee, Southeastern Louisiana
OF Garrett Smith, Stephen F. Austin
DH Lee Orr, McNeese State

SP Carson Smith, Texas State
SP Tyler Herriage, Stephen F. Austin
SP Luke Irvine, Northwestern State
RP Jaden Dillon, McNeese State

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Texas State
Tournament winner last season: Lamar

New coaches: Seth Thibodeaux (Nicholls State)
Best hitter: 3B Kyle Kubitza, Texas State
Best pitcher: RHP Carson Smith, Texas State
Regional contenders: Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. RHP Carson Smith, Texas State
2. SS Jace Peterson, McNeese State (FB)
3. OF Lee Orr, McNeese State
4. 3B/RHP Kyle Kubitza, Texas State
5. OF Bryson Myles, Stephen F. Austin
6. RHP Sean Hoelscher, Texas A&M-CC
7. OF Mark Hudson, Sam Houston State
8. SS Justin Boudreaux, Southeastern Louisiana
9. LHP Brent Powers, Sam Houston State
10. LHP Todd Simko, Texas A&M-CC
11. OF Jordan Buckley, Northwestern State
12. LHP/1B Casey Selsor, Texas-San Antonio
13. LHP Brad Delatte, Nicholls State
14. RHP Luke Irvine, Northwestern State
15. RHP Collin Reynolds, Texas-Arlington

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. RHP/3B Stefan Lopez, Southeastern Louisiana
2. 2B/SS Brock Hebert, Southeastern Louisiana
3. LHP Jonathan Dziedzic, Lamar
4. OF Daniel Rockett, Texas-San Antonio
5. 3B/RHP Ryan Dalton, Texas-San Antonio
6. LHP Mason Melotakis, Northwestern State
7. RHP Justin Meza, Texas A&M-CC
8. OF/RHP Preston Beck, Texas-Arlington
9. RHP/C Michael Hilliard, Sam Houston State
10. C Andrew Stumpf, Texas State

OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Jacksonville State
2. Southeast Missouri State
3. Tennessee Tech
4. Eastern Illinois
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Murray State
7. Austin Peay State
8. Morehead State
9. Tennessee-Martin

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C—Taylor Davis, Jr., Morehead State
1B—Wes Patterson, Sr., UT-Martin
2B—Tim Rupp, Sr., Southeast Missouri State
3B—Sam Eberle, Jr., Jacksonville State
SS—Kenton Parmley, Jr., Southeast Missouri State
OF—Kyle Bluestein, Jr., Jacksonville State
OF—Zach Borenstein, Jr., Eastern Illinois
OF—Chad Oberacker, Sr., Tennessee Tech
DH—Trey Karlen, Sr., UT-Martin

SP—Mike Hoekstra, Jr., Eastern Illinois
SP—Jordan Underwood, Sr., Southeast Missouri
SP—Hunter Rivers, So., Jacksonville State
RP—Shae Simmons, So., Southeast Missouri State

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Tennessee Tech
Tournament winner last season: Jacksonville State

New coaches: None
Best hitter: OF Chad Oberacker, Tennessee Tech
Best pitcher: RHP Mike Hoekstra, Eastern Illinois
Regional contenders: Jacksonville State

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Zach Borenstein, of/3b, Eastern Illinois
2. Chad Oberacker, of/lhp, Tennessee Tech
3. Taylor Davis, c, Morehead State
4. Matt Shepherd, rhp, Tennessee Tech
5. Kyle Bluestein, of, Jacksonville State
6. Jesse Tierney, c, Southeast Missouri State
7. Jeremy Dobbs, lhp, Austin Peay State
8. Kenton Parmley, ss, Southeast Missouri State
9. Mike Hoekstra, rhp, Eastern Illinois
10. Zach Toney, lhp, Austin Peay State

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Hunter Rivers, rhp, Jacksonville State
2. Shae Simmons, rhp, Southeast Missouri State
3. Daniel Rowe, 2b, Eastern Illinois
4. Tristan Archer, rhp, Tennessee Tech
5. Anthony Bazzani, rhp, Eastern Kentucky

AROUND THE DIAMOND

Eastern Illinois, Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech have each won an Ohio Valley regular season title and tournament championship in the last three years, and those teams should battle again for league supremacy in 2011.

Tennessee Tech finished first a year ago with a team that included the league’s top hitter (Chad Oberacker, .452-6-70), top power producer (A.J. Kirby-Jones, .388-26-71) and ERA leader (Lee Henry, 7-3, 2.69). Only Oberacker, who passed up a 19th-round offer from the St. Louis Cardinals to return for his senior year, is back.

That leaves the door open for Jacksonville State, which finished second in the league a year ago, but managed to win the postseason tournament to earn the conference’s only bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Gamecocks have to replace their top five hitters, along with several key arms, but will retool their lineup around junior third baseman Sam Eberle (.277-16-60) and junior outfielder Kyle Bluestein (.290-12-46), both solid prospects for the 2011 draft. On the pitching staff, they’ll pin their hopes on sophomore right-handers Daniel Watts (3-3, 11.42) and Hunter Rivers (3-4, 7.79), who had limited success a year ago but have significant upside. Rivers has already been clocked up to 97 mph.

Interestingly, the Gamecocks have brought in two sets of twins who should make an immediate impact. Andrew Bishop takes over at shortstop as a freshman, and Michael Bishop does the same in center field. Scott Underwood is JSU’s new left fielder and Erik Underewood will start in a DH role. The Underwood twins, both juniors, are transfers from a California junior college.

EIU should still be a factor in the OVC race as it features the best prospect in the OVC for this year’s draft, third baseman-turned-outfielder Zach Borenstein (.353-11-42), and the league’s best strike thrower, junior righthander Mike Hoekstra (4-4, 4.16, 67 IP/5 BB/39 SO). But a team moving up quickly on the outside is Southeast Missouri State.

The Redhawks return a fine nucleus that includes junior catcher Jesse Tierney (.308-1-8), senior second baseman Tim Rupp (.344-3-36), junior shortstop Kenton Parmley (.380-11-42) and senior outfielder Mike Adamson (.388-6-49). Senior left-hander Jordan Underwood (6-5, 4.11) steps in as the No. 1 starter, while sophomore right-hander Shae Simmons (3-3, 3.20, 5 SV), the hardest thrower on the team at 92 mph, is back as the closer.

SUMMIT LEAGUE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. South Dakota State
2. Oral Roberts
3. Oakland
4. Southern Utah
5. North Dakota State
6. Western Illinois
7. Centenary
8. Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C—Bennett Pickar, Jr., Oral Roberts
1B—Joel Blake, Sr., South Dakota State
2B—Bo Cuthbertson, Jr., Southern Utah
3B—Jesse Sawyer, Sr., South Dakota State
SS—Eric Cain, Jr., South Dakota State
OF—Nick Baligod, Sr., Oral Roberts
OF—Chris Elder, Sr. Oral Roberts
OF—Billy Stitz, Sr., South Dakota State
DH—Brandon King, Jr., Oral Roberts

SP—Bryce Smolen, Sr., Oral Roberts
SP—Zach Sterling, Jr., Western Illinois
SP—Blake Treinen, Sr., South Dakota State
RP—Trever Vermuelen, Sr., South Dakota State

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: South Dakota State
Tournament winner last season: Oral Roberts

New coaches: Mike Diaz (Centenary)
Best hitter: 3B Jesse Sawyer, South Dakota State
Best pitcher: RHP Trever Vermeulen, South Dakota State
Regional contenders: South Dakota State, Oral Roberts

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Sean Johnson, rhp, Oral Roberts
2. Brandon King, of, Oral Roberts
3. Zach Sterling, rhp, Western Illinois
4. Drew Bowen, rhp, Oral Roberts
5. Trever Vermeulen, rhp, South Dakota State

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Bennett Pickar, c, Oral Roberts
2. Kurt Giller, rhp, Oral Roberts
3. Brad Fisher, rhp, Oral Roberts

AROUND THE DIAMOND

Oral Roberts (36-27, 19-9) failed to finish atop the Summit League in 2010, losing out to South Dakota State (39-21, 19-9) on a tie-breaker, but still made its 13th straight trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament.

The Golden Eagles won Summit League titles in 2008 and 2009, in the league’s first two years of existence, and prior to that completely dominated the old Mid-Continent Conference for years. But they finally met their match last year when South Dakota State emerged as a legitimate college program, winning a school-record 39 games.

The two schools are likely to challenge for the top spot again this year. Oral Roberts has augmented a solid returning cast with some impressive newcomers while South Dakota State will rely on most of the same talent from a year ago.

Among the South Dakota State players who have returned are senior first baseman Joel Blake (.391-8-66), senior third baseman Jesse Sawyer (.359-19-73), junior shortstop Eric Cain (.385-16-83), senior outfielder Billy Stitz (.392-6-67), and senior right-handers Blake Treinen (7-1, 6.09) and Trever Vermuelen (9-1. 1.45, 10 SV).

Oral Roberts returns sophomore catcher Bennett Pickar (.286-3-17), a 15th-round draft pick out of high school; senior outfielders Nick Baligod (.390-11-54) and Chris Elder (.331-11-59), and senior right-hander Bryce Smolen (9-3, 4.41). Sophomore right-hander Drew Bowen (2-2, 9.38), who missed most of last season with Tommy John surgery, and senior right-hander Sean Johnson (3-4, 3.01, 4 SV), who emerged as a top prospect last summer in the California Collegiate League, could provide a significant boost to the pitching staff. Johnson’s fastball has peaked at 94 mph.

Among the top-rated Golden Eagles newcomers are outfielder Brandon King, a transfer from California’s Fresno CC, and Florida prep right-hander Alex Gonzalez. King was a 16th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in last year’s draft and Gonzalez an 11th rounder of the same team.

GREAT WEST CONFERENCE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Utah Valley
2. Northern Colorado
3. New York Tech
4. Texas-Pan American
5. Houston Baptist
6. North Dakota
7. New Jersey Tech
8. Chicago State

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Tony Sanchez, Jr., Chicago State
1B Goose Kallunki, Sr., Utah Valley
2B T.J. Berge, Sr., Northern Colorado
3B Effrey Valdez, Sr., New York Tech
SS Jake Rickenbach, Sr., Utah Valley
OF Chris Benson, Sr., Utah Valley
OF Jarod Berggren, Jr., Northern Colorado
OF Jerry Smith, Sr., New York Tech
DH Jake Magner, Sr., North Dakota

SP Tom Cardona, So., New York Tech
SP Justin Campbell, So., Utah Valley
SP Joe Sawicki, Sr., Northern Colorado
RP Nate Steinmetz, Jr., Northern Colorado

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Utah Valley
Tournament winner last season: Utah Valley

New coaches: Mike Cole (New Jersey Tech), Carl Iwasaki (Northern Colorado)
Best hitter: OF Jarrod Berggren, Northern Colorado
Best pitcher: Joe Sawicki, Northern Colorado
Regional contenders: None (not eligible)

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Jarod Berggren, of, Northern Colorado
2. Chris Benson, of, Utah Valley
3. Effrey Valdez, 3b, New York Tech
4. Jake Rickenbach, ss, Utah Valley
5. Goose Kalunki, 1b, Utah Valley

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Justin Campbell, rhp, Utah Valley
2. Tom Cardona, rhp, New York Tech
3. Blake Krahenbuhl, rhp, Utah Valley

AROUND THE DIAMOND

The Great West Conference is an odd assembly of Division I teams ranging from Utah Valley in the West, to Texas-Pan American in the south, to New York Tech in the east, to North Dakota in the north. Essentially, the league was formed from a group of ex-D-I independents that went looking for a conference, and ended up with an alignment that makes little sense geographically.

For the first time last year, the Great West played a full regular season schedule and postseason tournament.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle in 2010 was a school-record 42-win season for league champion Utah Valley, and a 34-win campaign by runner-up Northern Colorado, most since that school won 35 in 1974 when it pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college baseball history. The Bears shocked heavily-favored Arizona that year to earn a berth in the College World Series, the last time the school has reached Omaha.

Utah Valley went 42-17 a year ago (26-2 in conference play), and led the nation with a .372 team batting average. The Wolverines rank as prohibitive favorites to repeat as they return senior outfielder Chris Benson (.408-18-89), senior shortstop Jake Rickenbach (.390-6-39) and junior first baseman Goose Kallunki (.370-10-65), along with sophomore right-hander Blake Krahenbuhl (9-1, 5.22). The Wolverines, however, lost a key player when all-conference closer Brian Whatcott underwent labrum surgery and is expected to miss the 2011 season.

Northern Colorado should again provide the stiffest challenge for Utah Valley as it returns junior outfielder Jarod Berggren (.392-11-54), the conference’s best prospect, and senior right-hander Joe Sawicki (9-2, 3.06), who shared the league lead in wins a year ago. The team will have a new coach, former UNC star Carl Iwasaki, who most recently coached at Austin (Texas) College.

The Great West Conference held its first post-season tournament in 2010. This year’s event is set for North Dakota, but the conference champion still doesn’t get an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Bethune-Cookman
2. North Carolina A&T
3. Norfolk State
4. Delaware State
5. Florida A&M
6. Maryland-Eastern Shore
7. Coppin State

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Bethune-Cookman
Tournament winner last season: Bethune-Cookman

New coaches: Sherman Reed (Coppin State)
Best hitter: C Peter O’Brien, Bethune-Cookman
Best pitcher: LHP Esterlin Paulino, North Carolina A&T
Regional contenders: Bethune-Cookman

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Peter O’Brien, c, Bethune-Cookman
2. Rayan Gonzalez, rhp, Bethune-Cookman
3. Ali Simpson, lhp, Bethune-Cookman
4. Ryan Durrence, 1b, Bethune-Cookman
5. Xavier Macklin, of, North Carolina A&T

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

1. Patrick Goetz, rhp, Bethune-Cookman
2. Gabriel Hernandez, rhp, Bethune-Cookman
3. Kelvin Freeman, 1b, North Carolina A&T

AROUND THE DIAMOND

Bethune-Cookman ran the table in the MEAC in 2010, posting an 18-0 record on its way to its 10th league title in 11 years. The Wildcats are a good bet to repeat that feat as they probably will field the best team in school history this year.

Only once in draft history has B-C produced a first-round pick—outfielder Stan Jefferson, drafted 20th overall by the New York Mets in 1984. Junior catcher Peter O’Brien (.384-20-56) could be the second. His combination of raw power and arm strength might be the best of any college catcher in the country, and he should pile up big offensive numbers against the subpar pitching he will face in the MEAC.

But the Wildcats are hardly a one-man team as they return a veteran lineup that includes senior first baseman Ryan Durrence (.364-18-72), senior outfielder D.J. Leonard (.432-10-45), sophomore right-handers Patrick Goelz (5-2, 6.39) and Gabby Hernandez (5-3, 4.32), junior right-hander Rayan Gonzalez (3-2, 4.45) and junior lefthander Ali Simpson (6-2, 4.93).

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
By Allan Simpson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

EAST
1. Jackson State
2. Alcorn State
3. Mississippi Valley State
4. Alabama A&M
5. Alabama State

WEST
1. Southern
2. Texas Southern
3. Grambling State
4. Prairie View A&M
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

AT A GLANCE

Regular-season winner last season: Jackson State (East), Texas Southern (West)
Tournament winner last season: Grambling State

New coaches: Ed McCann (Alabama A&M)
Best hitter: C/1B Frazier Hall, Southern
Best pitcher: RHP Quintavious Drains, Jackson State
Regional contenders: Southern

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

1. Rodarrick Jones, of, Southern
2. Quintavious Drains, rhp, Jackson State
3. Frazier Hall, c/1b, Southern
4. Charles Epperson, of, Jackson State
5. Cody Hall, rhp, Southern

AROUND THE DIAMOND

Southern has struggled to replicate its amazing success of nearly a decade ago, when a Rickie Weeks-led Jaguars squad posted a 86-8 record in conference play, and 132-29 mark overall in the three-year period from 2001-2003. Weeks, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, finished second in the SWAC batting race as a freshman or otherwise would have won three straight conference triple crowns.

The Jaguars went 25-22 overall a year ago, and didn’t even finish atop the Western Division standings. They rank as the pre-season favorite to emerge from the West, but Jackson State appears to be the clear front-runner to represent the conference in post-season play.

Southern added a key player with the transfer of junior outfielder Rodarrick Jones from the University of New Orleans, when that program de-emphasized baseball following the 2010 season, but his presence in the lineup may not be enough to offset all the firepower Jackson State has assembled.

The Tigers feature the conference’s two winningest pitchers from 2010 in junior righthander Quintavious Drains (13-4, 4.85, 117 IP/93 SO) and senior lefthander Cortney Nelson (10-5, 3.65), along with senior third baseman Willie Wesley (.345-3-38, 52 SB).

Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org

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