2009 Patriot League Preseason Conference Poll

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

Armys Clint Moore

Army's Clint Moore

Center Valley, Pa. – Army has been selected as the favorite to claim the 2009 Patriot League Baseball title in a preseason poll of the League’s head coaches and sports information directors.

The Black Knights claim the top spot with 48 points and eight first-place votes after finishing first in the regular season last year with a 13-7 mark in League games. Navy followed in second place with 37 points and two first-place votes. Holy Cross claimed a first-place vote and came in third position with 30 points. Defending champion Bucknell and Lafayette shared fourth place in the poll with 24 points, with the Leopards also claiming a first-place vote. Lehigh rounds out the poll with 17 points. Head coaches and sports information directors were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Army totaled a 25-25 overall record to go with the 13-7 Patriot League mark last season, and fell in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament to Bucknell. Head Coach Joe Sottolano enters his 10th season with the Black Knights with his entire starting infield returning, including reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Year Clint Moore. Moore, a sophomore shortstop, hit .350 with six home runs and 39 RBI in 2008. Moore was named a Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American last year, an honor he shared along with teammate Kevin McKague, who notched a .328 batting average with three home runs and 50 RBI at first base. Junior Matt Fouch received First-Team All-League honors on the mound, posting a 6-2 record with a 4.53 earned run average last year. Also returning after earning Second-Team All-League honors are sophomore starting pitcher Ben Koenigsfeld (6-4, 5.61 ERA), senior third baseman J.P. Polchinski (.299, 6 HR, 30 RBI) and senior outfielder Andy Ernesto (.301, 2 HR, 32 RBI). Army kicks off its season on Saturday against Ohio in Davidson, N.C.

Navy has seven positional starters returning after posting a record of 32-25-1 overall and 11-9 in the Patriot League last year, and making it to the League Championship series against Bucknell for fourth-year Head Coach Paul Kostacopoulos. Leading the group of returnees is junior outfielder Michael Speciale, who earned First-Team All-League honors and finished among the League leaders in batting average (.350), hits (82), runs (58), home runs (10), triples (six) and RBI (47). Speciale’s 139 total bases were more than 30 ahead of the next finisher. Three other Mids return after receiving First-Team All-League honors, with junior pitcher JD Melton (2-1, 1.85 ERA, seven saves), sophomore second baseman Mike Guadagnini (.324, 5 HR, 24 RBI) and junior third baseman Kendall Bolt (.324, 4 HR, 36 RBI) comprising the group. Navy opens the season against Air Force on Friday with Kostacopoulos needing one win for his 100th at the Academy.

Holy Cross notched a record of 21-28 overall and 11-9 in the Patriot League in Head Coach Greg DiCenzo’s first season, and advanced to the Patriot League Tournament where it fell to Navy. The Crusaders took home a pair of League awards for their accomplishments, with DiCenzo named Coach of the Year and junior Matt Shapiro earning Pitcher of the Year recognition. Shapiro finished the season with a 4-2 record and 5.10 ERA, and went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his five Patriot League starts. Shapiro is the only Crusader to return after receiving All-League honors last year, but leads a group of 20 returning letterwinners that includes six starters in the field. The Crusaders will not kick off the season until Feb. 28, when they travel to California to take on Loyola Marymount.

Bucknell won its fourth Patriot League title for Head Coach Gene Depew last season, and went on to defeat No. 4 Florida State in the first game of the NCAA Regionals in Tallahassee. The Bison finished the season with a 30-24-2 overall mark and 10-10 Patriot League record, and won postseason series at Army and Navy to claim the Patriot League Championship. That run left Depew just two wins short of 500 for his career entering his 28th season in Lewisburg. The Bison will go for a repeat without a good portion of the core of last year’s team, with six positional starters including Patriot League Player of the Year Jason Buursma departing. However, the returning starters each had good seasons a year ago, with three players back after receiving Second-Team All-League honors. Second baseman Ben Yoder (.318, 1 HR, 26 RBI) and shortstop Ben Allen (.312, 2 HR, 24 RBI) each enter their junior campaign, with outfielder Dane Grandizio (.333, 4 HR, 35 RBI) set for his senior season. Depew will go for his 500th win when the Bison open the season with a four-game set at Virginia on Friday.

Lafayette missed out on the Patriot League Tournament last season, but the 2007 champions have a good core back to rebound under 10th-year Head Coach Joe Kinney after going 25-23 overall and 8-12 in the Patriot League last year. The Leopards return six starters in the field and three of their four starting pitchers. Shortstop Dan Bierce (.324, 3 HR, 16 RBI) is back after earning Second-Team All-Patriot League status last year. Sophomore starting pitcher Zach Fritz (4-1, 2.88 ERA) finished second in the Patriot League in earned run average a year ago, and posted the top mark for a returning player this season. The Leopards will join Army by opening the 2009 campaign in Davidson, N.C., and will take on Ohio in their first game on Saturday.

Lehigh rounds out the preseason poll with a majority of its team back after going 23-27 overall and 7-13 in the Patriot League last season. The Mountain Hawks have seven starting positional players and four starting pitchers back in the fold for 14th-year Head Coach Sean Leary. Andrew Russell (.313, 3 HR, 29 RBI) and Second-Team All-League selection Logan Marshall (.278, 1 HR, 15 RBI) are back after strong freshman campaigns, while junior Greg Angelo (1-2, 3.09 ERA) held opponents under a .200 batting average last year. The Mountain Hawks begin the season on Friday with a three-game series at Southern Mississippi.

Patriot League baseball student-athletes have received national recognition in the preseason. Moore and Speciale were named to the preseason Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Award watch list, while Melton earned a spot on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award watch list released on Tuesday.

The first pitch for the Patriot League baseball season is on Friday, with every team except Holy Cross in action on the opening weekend. The League schedule begins on March 28, and will conclude with the Patriot League Tournament beginning with the semifinals on May 9-10 and moving to the Championship series on May 16-17. Both postseason rounds are best-of-three series that will be played at the site of the higher seed.

2009 Patriot League Baseball Preseason Poll

1. Army (8 first-place votes) 48
2. Navy (2) 37
3. Holy Cross (1) 30
T4. Bucknell 24
T4. Lafayette (1) 24
6. Lehigh 17