Rice picked to win Conference USA title

FROM CONFERENCE PRESS RELEASE
Coming off a second straight trip to the College World Series, Rice has been selected as the preseason favorite in the 2008 Conference USA baseball poll, chosen by the league’s nine head coaches. Owls junior outfielder/designated hitter Aaron Luna, a preseason All-American, is the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year. Rice hurler Ryan Berry, a national Freshman of the Year selection by Collegiate Baseball last season, was named as the league’s preseason Pitcher of the Year.

After spending time ranked No.1 in each of the past two seasons, Rice is ranked among the nation’s top 10 in the preseason again this year. The Owls return 18 lettermen, five position starters and six experienced pitchers from last year’s 56-14 club and placed a league-high four members on the preseason All-Conference team. In addition to Luna (.315, 15 2B, 13 HR, 66 RBI) and Berry (11-3, 3.01 ERA, 125 K, 34 BB), catcher Adam Zornes (2 2B, 4 HR, 9 RBI in just 17 starts) and pitcher Cole St.Clair (1.91 ERA, 26 K, 8 BB and 9 saves in 16 appearances), a 2006 All-American, earned All-C-USA recognition.

After placing second in the regular season and tournament last season with a 40-23 overall record, East Carolina was chosen to finish in second place again this spring. The Pirates return 15 lettermen, including eight starters, from last year’s NCAA regional team and add 11 newcomers. Of the returning players, ECU brings back three players that earned preseason all-league honors. Senior starter T.J. Hose (6-5, 3.97 ERA, 70 K, 45 BB) is joined by a pair of first team All-C-USA performers in infielder Stephen Batts (.323, 15 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR, 56 RBI), who hit safely in the final 29 games last season, and outfielder Harrison Eldridge (.295, team-leading 19 2B, 6 HR, 28 RBI, team-best 15 SB) on the squad.

Southern Miss, which is coming off a fifth consecutive NCAA appearance and welcomes back 20 letterwinners and seven starters, was picked to finish third according to the league’s coaches. Two Golden Eagle infielders, senior first baseman Trey Sutton, who led the team in batting (.368), runs scored (69), doubles (18) and triples (3), while hitting eight homers and driving in 38 runs, is joined by junior shortstop Brian Dozier (.339, 57 runs scored, 17 2B, 4 HR, 28 RBI) in being listed on the preseason All-Conference team.

Tulane, which opens a completely-renovated Turchin Stadium this season, was chosen fourth, just ahead of Houston. The Green Wave is represented on the preseason team by junior righthander Shooter Hunt, who was 6-6 with a 2.62 ERA and 104 strikeouts with just 30 walks in 15 starts last season. The Cougars are led by preseason all-league infielder Jimmy Cesario, a junior who earned the conference’s inaugural Newcomer of the Year award last season after batting a team-high .352 with 35 runs scored, 13 doubles, three homers and 35 RBI.

Conference USA’s 13th baseball season gets underway on February 22. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 21-25 in New Orleans, with Tulane University serving as the host. C-USA’s nine baseball schools have produced 54 NCAA appearances and eight College World Series teams over the past 12 seasons.

2008 PRESEASON BASEBALL COACHES POLL
(as selected by C-USA’s head coaches)

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Rice (8), 80
2. East Carolina (1), 61
3. Southern Miss, 57
4. Tulane, 52
5. Houston, 38
6. UCF, 26
7. Memphis, 24
8. UAB, 22
9. Marshall, 13

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Aaron Luna, Rice (Junior, Outfielder/Designated Hitter)

PITCHER OF THE YEAR

Ryan Berry, Rice (Sophomore, Righthander)

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

P Ryan Berry So. Rice
P T.J. Hose Sr. East Carolina
P Shooter Hunt Jr. Tulane
RP Cole St.Clair Sr. Rice
C Adam Zornes Sr. Rice
IF Stephen Batts Jr. East Carolina
IF Jimmy Cesario Jr. Houston
IF Brian Dozier Jr. Southern Miss
IF Trey Sutton Sr. Southern Miss
IF Kiko Vasquez Jr. UCF
OF Tyson Auer Sr. UCF
OF K.K. Chalmers Sr. Memphis
OF Harrison Eldridge Sr. East Carolina
DH Aaron Luna Jr. Rice