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College  | Story  | 12/26/2012

2012 Year in Review: College baseball

Kendall Rogers     

As part of a four-part series Perfect Game will highlight the top 10 storylines from the 2012 MLB Draft (Patrick Ebert), from Perfect Game's Showcases and Tournament events (Jeff Dahn) as well as those from both High School Baseball (Todd Gold) and College.

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It was a whirlwind year for college baseball.

Most campaigns are remembered by what happened on the field. However, that wasn't entirely the case in 2012, as conference realignment captured the nation's attention and had programs, many of them very good, wondering which conference they'd be playing in the new few seasons.

While those developments were distractions off the field, plenty of good things occurred on the field this past season. Arizona won its first national title since 1986, and its fourth overall, South Carolina competed for its third-straight national title, northern programs such as St. John's, Stony Brook and Kent State made huge statements, and Missouri State pitcher Nick Petree and Baylor made headlines with their historic streaks.

It's time to look back at the year's best stories in our 2012 Year in Review.

10. LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes flirts with .500 batting average.

Rhymes might've ended the season in unimpressive fashion with a poor showing in NCAA postseason play, but he spent much of the 2012 campaign chasing a .500 batting average.

Rhymes' surge forward was impressive to say the least. Two seasons ago, he batted .360 with 18 doubles, three homers and 42 RBIs. But last season, he was absolutely fantastic for the Tigers, finishing the season with 31 multi-hit games and finishing SEC play with an outstanding .458 batting average, three homers and 18 RBIs.

Overall, Rhymes' average dropped the last couple of the weeks of the season, but he still tallied ultra-impressive numbers. The junior outfielder batted .431 with four homers and 53 RBIs. He also recorded 11 doubles, had a .530 slugging percentage and a .489 on-base percentage. It's also impressive to note Rhymes walked 22 times and struck out 13 times.

Expectations have risen for Rhymes, and it'll be interesting to see how he progresses as a senior in 2013. Rhymes returns to the Tigers after getting drafted in the 30th round by the Yankees.

9.  Coaching changes galore

There are years when the coaching carousel isn't too hot and heavy, and there are years like this one, where there were a total of 28 head coaching changes, some certainly perceived more important than others.

Oklahoma State was the most prestigious job to open during the offseason when the Cowboys parted ways with Frank Anderson. Looking for a shot in the arm, the Cowboys hired a charismatic and likable coach in Vanderbilt assistant Josh Holliday, a former Pokes player.

While hiring Holliday is impressive and is expected to help them return to their glory days, the coaching staff he assembled is equally impressive. Joining Holliday in Stillwater, Okla., is former Oral Roberts head coach Rob Walton and former Oregon State top assistant Marty Lees.

Michigan, Maryland, Duke, Texas Tech and West Virginia also made changes.

Michigan parted ways with Rich Maloney (now HC at Ball State), Maryland lost Erik Bakich to Michigan and turned around and hired John Szefc from Kansas State. Meanwhile, Duke hired rising head coach Chris Pollard from Appalachian State, Texas Tech promoted Tim Tadlock to head coach after parting ways with Dan Spencer, and West Virginia made a significant splash by hiring TCU top assistant Randy Mazey to lead its first Big 12 campaign.

In some sad news, the college baseball community continues to mourn the loss of Harvard head coach Joe Walsh, who suddenly passed away at his home at age 58, this past summer. Walsh was replaced by Bill Decker.

8. Florida's Jonathon Crawford tosses postseason no-hitter

It's safe to say it was a memorable year for the Florida righthanded pitcher.

Crawford entered the spring just hoping to see the field with the Gators possessing a strong collection of elite arms. As the season progressed, the righty increased his role and eventually earned the right to start the Gators' NCAA Gainesville Regional opener against Bethune-Cookman.

Boy, he didn't disappoint.

Crawford was fantastic against the Wildcats, as he tossed the seventh no-hitter in NCAA postseason history on the way to a 4-0 triumph. Crawford struck out five and allowed just one against BCC, throwing 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

With a strong sophomore campaign under his belt, Crawford will enter the 2013 campaign as one of the nation's elite pitchers and prospects, while also serving as Florida's staff ace.

7. Carlos Rodon's magical freshman campaign at N.C. State

Rodon might've been the best at his position as just a freshman.

Rodon had high expectations entering his freshman campaign. The talented lefthanded pitcher wasn't an unknown commodity out of high school, getting selected in the 16th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. However, he took his game a significant step further in his first campaign with the Wolfpack.

It didn't take the imposing 6-foot-3, 234-pounder, long to impose his will on imposing teams. He was consistent and consistently displayed a mid 90s fastball. Additionally, he finished the 2012 season with incredible numbers for anyone, much less a freshman.

Rodon went 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 114 2/3 innings. He also struck out 135 and walked 41, while teams hit him at just a .176 clip. Rodon threw two complete games and allowed two homers the entire season.

Rodon, who earned Perfect Game Freshman of the Year honors for his work this past season, has a bright future ahead. He's clearly the top prospect for the 2014 MLB draft, and is considered a better prospect than Indiana State's Sean Manaea and Stanford's Mark Appel if he were eligible for the '13 MLB draft.

6. Nick Petree's scoreless innings streak at Missouri State

Missouri State pitcher Pierce Johnson might've gotten more recognition at the end of last season after getting drafted in the first-round supplemental by the Chicago Cubs, but it was Petree, a redshirt-sophomore, who led the charge much of the season.

Petree certainly started his career on a positive note as a redshirt-freshman two seasons ago, as he tallied a 2.81 ERA in 96 innings of work. But he took a huge step forward as a sophomore last season.

The talented righty threw 38 1/3 innings without allowing a run, and lost the streak on May 17, in a tough loss to Indiana State.

Though disappointed to lose the streak, Petree finished the campaign on a strong note. His statistics were incredibly good, going 10-4 with a 1.01 ERA in 115 1/3 innings. He also struck out 114 and walked 36.

Petree joins the list of elite college pitchers.

5. Baylor's 24-game winning streak

The Bears were littered with veterans entering the 2012 campaign and didn't disappoint. They weren't so dominant early in the season as they dropped a tough road series to UCLA before splitting contests in a tournament hosted by them.

BU then continued to go on an unimaginable run after a midweek loss to Texas-Arlington.

The Bears swept Texas Tech at home to kick-start an amazing 24-game winning streak. Furthermore, the Bears won 18-straight Big 12 games, which snapped a previous record held by instate rival Texas.

Baylor's amazing winning streak ended April 24 against Texas-San Antonio, but it certainly continued to win at a high level.

BU won the Big 12 regular season title by four games over Texas A&M, and earned one of the elusive eight national seeds. Though they had home-field advantage throughout the postseason, the Bears were unable to reach the College World Series despite being one out away from punching their ticket in NCAA Super Regional action against Arkansas.

Though Baylor didn't get to Omaha, it still had a memorable season.

4. South Carolina gets to Omaha, aims for a three-peat

As another Gamecocks season came to an end, long-time head coach Ray Tanner surprised many by abruptly retiring from baseball and accepting the athletic director position at South Carolina after Eric Hyman moved over to Texas A&M.

Though Tanner will be missed in college baseball, he certainly finished his coaching career with a bang.

Tanner guided the Gamecocks to their first national title in 2010, as they beat Clemson and UCLA on the way to a magical championship. The Gamecocks then captured back-to-back national titles in '11 with a series win over SEC foe Florida.

Hungrier for more, the Gamecocks were close to capturing a third-straight national title -- only one team, USC has done so -- with another trip to the CWS. However, after winning their side of the bracket, they fell short against Andy Lopez's Arizona Wildcats.

Tanner had a fantastic cast of characters during the Gamecocks' three-year run in Omaha, including outstanding starting pitcher Michael Roth, who set the CWS record for innings pitched in Omaha, and terrific closer Matt Price.

South Carolina's run for a possible three-peat was something to remember.

3. Conference realignment heats up

There's no doubt few people around college baseball enjoy talking about college conference realignment. After all, almost all decisions by conferences -- except for the new Catholic Conference that is being assembled -- are about football and money.

No matter the reason behind the madness, the changes still affect college baseball programs.

For instance, here's a list of programs debuting in new conferences in 2013:

Belmont: OVC
Butler: Atlantic 10
CS Bakersfield: WAC
Dallas Baptist: WAC
Fresno State: Mountain West
Hawaii: Big West
Longwood: Big South
Missouri: SEC
Nebraska-Omaha: Summit
Nevada: Mountain West
Northern Kentucky: Atlantic Sun
Oral Roberts: Southland
Seattle: WAC
TCU: Big 12
Texas A&M: SEC
Texas State: WAC
VCU: Atlantic 10
West Virginia: Big 12

Unfortunately, the realignment madness isn't expected to end anytime soon. Pittsburgh is headed to the ACC soon, while Maryland and Rutgers are heading to the Big Ten ... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether healthy or not, it's the nature of the beast that is college athletics.

2. Northern programs make strong statements.

Those who have followed college baseball for a long time know that northern programs have received plenty of grief over the years for not making statements nationally.

Well, that changed during the 2012 season on several accounts.

Stony Brook put together an impressive regular season campaign, but given the league (America East) it was from, few people gave them respect entering the NCAA postseason. SBU, though, had a meteoric rise during the postseason. It won the Coral Gables Regional with little trouble before hitting the road again and defeating perennial power LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional to advance to Omaha.

Kent State also made a bold statement. The Flashes were consistent throughout the regular season and didn't surprise many by winning the Gary, Ind., Regional. However, they surprised plenty by hitting the road and beating Oregon in the Eugene, Ore., Super Regional to punch their ticket to the CWS.

St. John's came close to making history. The Red Storm was solid throughout the regular season, getting stronger as the season progressed. They won the Chapel Hill Regional over host North Carolina before falling just short of Omaha with a series loss to eventual national champion Arizona in the Tucson Super Regional.

Other programs also made statements. For instance, Purdue finally won a Big Ten regular season title and hosted the Gary Regional, setting the stage for that program to possibly take another step forward in the future.

Perhaps it was an aberration, logic says it wasn't. Either way, all northern programs must take note that it can be done with a strong commitment. No excuses.

1. Arizona ends South Carolina's run, wins national title

All good things must end, and at some point it's someone else's turn to shine. That's precisely what happened with South Carolina and Arizona, respectively, in Omaha.

The Wildcats played an exceptional brand of baseball throughout the CWS on the way to a national title. Starting pitchers Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade were sensational, closer Matthew Troupe did his thing, and gritty outfielder Robert Refsnyder couldn't have been more clutch as the Wildcats ended the Gamecocks' bid for three-straight national titles.

It was a year to remember for the Wildcats.

They were expected to field a solid club in 2012, but there were some question marks. For instance, past Kurt Heyer, who would step up on the mound? Or in the field, the Wildcats had the tough chore of entering the campaign with freshmen at second base (Trent Gilbert) and catcher (Riley Moore).

Wade complemented Heyer nicely throughout the season, while Gilbert and Moore were mature beyond their years, often getting the job done in clutch situations.

The national title was Arizona's fourth as a program, the last coming in 1986. Meanwhile, it was the second title for coach Andy Lopez. Lopez won a national title at Pepperdine in 1992 before taking over at Florida and eventually returning west to Arizona.

Team of the year: Arizona

Few college baseball teams, especially in the postseason, captured as many hearts and minds as the Arizona Wildcats. Stony Brook certainly could lay claim to that title, but the Wildcats were loved by many as they used an intense and consistent brand of baseball to storm through the College World Series.

The Wildcats weren't just a team that decided to show up in the postseason. They entered the season with high expectations and didn't disappoint, finishing tied with UCLA for tops in the Pac-12 Conference during the regular season, while also finishing the year, after the CWS, with a fantastic 48-17 overall record.

From the offense to the defense, and of course, the pitching staff, the Wildcats always exhibited the true qualities of a championship club.

The Wildcats had one of the nation's most potent offensive lineups throughout the campaign. Gritty outfielder Johnny Field batted .370 with three homers and 44 RBIs, while outfielder Robert Refsnyder, who rose to the occasion in Omaha, batted .364 with eight homers and 66 RBIs. Shortstop Alex Mejia and third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean were both outstanding offensively and defensively for the Wildcats, while Bobby Brown hit .348 with five homers and 59 RBIs.

Pitching-wise, the Wildcats didn't have an incredibly deep staff, but of the pitchers that logged significant innings, most took care of business in positive fashion.

Ace righthanded pitcher Kurt Heyer put together an All-American campaign with a 2.24 ERA in 153 innings of work, while Konner Wade especially stepped up, tallying a 3.96 ERA in 136 1/3 innings of work. Then there's James Farris, who pitched well down the stretch as a starter, while Matthew Troupe (3.47 ERA, 6 saves) was consistently solid out of the bullpen.

The Wildcats were a true and likable champion.

Player of the Year: OF James Ramsey, Florida State

From his role as the Seminoles' captain to his production on the field, no player in college baseball was quite as important as Ramsey. Ramsey was a treasure for the Seminoles, exhibiting all the qualities you want in a key leader. Ramsey decided to return to FSU for his senior season after getting drafted by the Twins two summers ago. That decision was a good one, as he batted .378 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs. He also slugged .652, had a .513 OBP, and walked 63 times while striking out on 42 occasions. As icing on the cake, Ramsey's decision was further validated by his getting drafted in the first round (23rd overall) by the Cardinals.

Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chris Stratton, Mississippi State

Coming to a decision on the most impressive pitcher in 2012 wasn't easy to say the least. North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon had a magical freshman campaign, while Oklahoma State lefthanded pitcher Andrew Heaney rose to the occasion.

Mississippi State righthanded pitcher Chris Stratton was slightly above the rest. Stratton had near impeccable command as he helped the Bulldogs achieve a high level of success. The righty went 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 109 2/3 innings. He also struck out 127 and walked 25, while teams hit him at a .211 clip.

Stratton, who had a fastball in the low to mid 90s along with a devastating slider, was rewarded for his fantastic campaign by getting drafted in the first round (20th overall) by the San Francisco Giants.