FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
ELMHURST, Ill. − After winning its record 11th straight league championship a year ago, Oral Roberts was a unanimous decision to claim its 12th consecutive Summit League crown in 2009 as voted by the league’s eight head coaches.
The Golden Eagles collected seven first-place votes for a total of 49 points. Only five points separated the next three teams as Southern Utah placed second with 40 points, Centenary was third with 35 points and South Dakota State is in the fourth slot with 30 points and the final first-place vote. SDSU edged Western Illinois by one point, as the Leathernecks were selected fifth with 29 points. Oakland (17 points), IPFW (13 points) and North Dakota State (11 points) rounded out the voting.
After claiming all three Summit League Player of the Year honors last season, Coach of the Year Rob Walton looks to fill the void as all three have departed. All-league first team selections second baseman Juan Martinez and first baseman Michael Notaro lead the way for the Golden Eagles. Martinez batted .329 last season with nine home runs and 55 RBI, while Notaro belted 10 homers and hit .336. Also returning for ORU are all-league second team honorees Jerry Sullivan and TJ Kelly. Sullivan posted a 3.88 ERA and 9-2 record with 108 strikeouts, while Kelly recorded 10 saves. Starter Mark Serrano, who recorded a team-leading 3.09 ERA last season, will also return to the mound.
The Thunderbirds return four all-league selections from last season in Bucky Aona, Nick Freitas, Chester Wilson and Keli’i Zablan. Aona batted .333 with a team-high 13 doubles and 39 RBI in 56 games, while Freitas had a team-high 16 home runs and a league-best 34 stolen bases. Wilson hit .326 and was one of only two players on the team to play in all 58 games last season for Southern Utah. At .382, Zablan had the second-highest batting average in the league last season, while also recording 34 RBI and stealing 19 bases. On the mound, Jacob Noyes is the top returner after posting a 5-3 record and 4.39 ERA.
Centenary looks to upend Oral Roberts’ league title run with pitching as it returns all-league performer Boone Whiting. Whiting posted a league-low 1.82 ERA with a 2-2 record and five saves last season. The Gents also welcome back Justin Kraft and Dakota Robinson. Kraft went 9-5 last season with a team-best 67 strikeouts, while Robinson had a 5-3 record. Tim Deering leads the offensive attack after posting a .323 aveage last season with nine doubles. Steele Lewis (.308) had 72 total bases last season and drove in 35 runs for head coach Ed McCann.
Two second team all-league honorees from a year ago return for South Dakota State in Billy Stitz and Tony Martin. Stitz returns for his sophomore campaign after collecting a .339 average last season, with a .582 slugging percentage and 40 RBI. Martin returns as the Jackrabbit starting catcher after hitting a team-best .365 last season with 10 doubles and 25 RBI. Caleb Thielbar is the top starter returning for SDSU as he posted a 5-4 record last season, while closer Kirby Morsching is welcomed back by first-year head coach Ritchie Price after collecting seven saves.
The Leathernecks and head coach Stan Hyman welcome back first team all-league performer Drew Laidig after he posted a team-leading .349 batting average a year ago with four home runs and 41 RBI. Also returning to the field for Western Illinois are infielders Lorenzo Gallaga and Cole Waddell. Gallaga batted .328 and stolen a team-high 12 bases, while Waddell had 12 doubles and a .312 average on the season.
Oakland looks to build off last season’s squad as it welcomes back seven position starters. Taylor Traub and Andrew Stafford lead the way as both were named to the all-league second team last season. Traub batted .303 with three homers and 29 RBI, while Stafford had 34 RBI and a .319 average. Offensive leaders Scott Sexton (.342) and Justin Wilson (.338) also return for the Golden Grizzlies.
First-year head coach Bobby Pierce return seven starters from a year ago, including IPFW’s top hitter Chris Gottschall and top pitcher Brandon Knowling. Gottschall hit .330 last season, while Knowling had a 7-1 record, which was half of the Mastodon’s total wins on the season, and posted a 2.91 ERA. Shaun VanDriessche also returns after belting a team-leading nine home runs last season.
North Dakota State welcomes back starting position players Kyle Harrison and Shannon Ekermans to the lineup again this season. Harrison hit .296 a year ago with 20 walks, while Ekermans batted .284 with six doubles and a .440 slugging percentage for the Bison.
The top four teams based on the regular season standings will compete for The Summit League Baseball Championship at J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa, Okla., May 21-23. The winner of the double-elimination tournament will take home the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
2009 Summit League Baseball Preseason Poll
1. Oral Roberts – 49 (7)
2. Southern Utah – 40
3. Centenary – 35
4. South Dakota State – 30 (1)
5. Western Illinois – 29
6. Oakland – 17
7. IPFW – 13
8. North Dakota State – 11