2009 marked the first conference championship for the Texas State, while Sam Houston State picked up the SLC Tournament Title and joined the Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament. This season, Texas State is looking for a return to the postseason, while the rest of the conference is taking aim at booking their ticket to a regional by way of the postseason tournament in Corpus Christi. The conference may not be major, but the returning talent definitely is. Led by Team USA OF Michael Choice, the league will feature more than six players who garnered some sort of All-American status last season.
1. TEXAS STATE 41-17 (24-7)
Key Player: OF Tyler Sibley, So.
Texas State is coming off their best season in school history, but without everyone who made that possible. The Bobcats return most of their outfield in Sibley and junior OF Bret Atwood, as well as their middle infield, with senior 2B Kyle Livingstone and junior SS Jason Martinson. The 2010 recruiting class was a decent draw, featuring a pair of three-time all-state members, freshmen IF Christian Gallegos and C Andrew Stumph, as well as Texas transfer Morgan Mickan. The pitching staff will be without 10-game winner and All-American Kane Holbrooks, but retain 7-game winner junior RHP Brian Borski and senior closer Michael Russo, who led Texas State with 6 saves in 2009. A repeat of last year won’t come easy due to Head Coach Ty Harrington’s difficult non-conference schedule, but the Bobcats return enough talent to make another run at the Southland title and the NCAA tournament.
2. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA 37-22 (21-12)
Key Player: RHP Chris Franklin, Sr.
There is no doubt that a big reason Southeastern Louisiana won a school-record 21 conference games in 2009 was because of the pitching of Chris Franklin. Franklin, a senior, picked up 12 saves on his way to a third team All-American designation by the NCBWA. This year, Franklin is a candidate for Stopper of the Year, as well as a 2nd Team NCBWA Preseason All-American. The Lions also return the talents of their top three starting pitchers from last season. RHPs Ryan Boudreaux, Brandon Efferson and Josh Janway return after combining for 15 wins last year. On the field, the Lions will be led by junior OF Cass Hargis and junior C Josh Cryer, both on the preseason All-SLC second team, along with Franklin. Senior OF Philip Freeman, the team-leader with a .343 average, returns as well.
3. SAM HOUSTON STATE 36-24 (18-14)
Key Player: 2B Braeden Riley, Jr.
Last season, Braeden Riley tied North Carolina 1B Dustin Ackley for the NCAA-lead in hits, with 111 total. This season, Riley returns to the Bearkats infield, hoping to lead them back to the NCAA tournament. It won’t be easy for Sam Houston. Of the eight players to hit over .300, only Riley and .305 hitter Ryan Mooney return to the lineup, but they add Rice transfer John Hale and Texas Collegiate League Player of the Year Mark Hudson, a transfer from Alvin Community College. On the mound, junior RHP Matt Shelton, owner of a 7-0 record last year, is the top pitcher headed into the new season. Junior RHP Dallas Gallant and junior LHP Brent Powers will lead the Bearkat rotation for head coach Mark Johnson.
4. LAMAR 38-22 (20-13)
Key Player: RHP Eric Harrington, So.
The main story out of Beaumont in 2010 will be the play of sophomore RHP Eric Harrington. As a freshman, Harrington went 8-1 with a 3.01 ERA, throwing a pair of complete game shutouts and striking out 63 batters in 83.2 innings. Joining the reigning SLC Freshman of the Year on the mound are senior RHPs Matison Smith and Blake Ford. Smith was 6-6 with a 3.52 ERA last season in 15 games, 14 starts, while Ford finished 1-1 with a 7.65 ERA in 11 games and five starts. Lamar’s offense will be the biggest question mark. The Cardinals only return a pair of their eight players with 20 or more starts in 2009. Leading those returnees is senior OF Quentin Luquette, a .316 hitter in 2009 with 4 HR and 33 RBI. Lamar will need plenty of help from their recruiting class. Leading the way for the newcomers is junior INF Pablo Salinas, a former NJCAA All-American, and Navarro College transfer Clayton Farhat.
5. UTSA 32-25 (20-12)
Key Player: 3B Lance Brown, Sr.
Good news for UTSA; they return preseason All-SLC picks Lance Brown, junior OF Brett Aguilar and junior 2B Ryan Hutson. Bad news; four-time All-SLC selection OF Michael Rockett and top starting pitcher Red Patterson are gone. In a positive note, the Roadrunners will have nine game starter Ryan Proudfoot back, as well as Zach Calhoon, their 2009 leader in saves with six. Sophomore OF Casey Selsor is hoping to build on a strong freshman campaign at the plate and on the mound.
6. UT-ARLINGTON 30-26 (19-13)
Key Player: OF Michael Choice, Jr.
There is no doubt that the Mavericks main weapon in 2010 will be the bat of junior OF Michael Choice. The UT-Arlington career batting average leader is coming off a summer spent with Team USA, and a #13 ranking in TheCollegeBaseballBlog.com Top 100. Choice hit .413 with a team-high 11 HR, adding 52 RBI and 64 runs in the process. Joining Choice will be junior C Chad Comer, a preseason All-SLC selection who threw out 29 runners in 2009, allowing only a .567 steal percentage for opposing teams. Junior INF Brian Nephew, a newcomer from McLennan CC, will try and help out the Mavericks after hitting .291 in the Texas Collegiate League over the summer. On the mound, junior RHP Rett Varner has high hopes to continue his hot streak from the summer. Varner spent his summer with the Coppell Copperheads, finishing the season with a 4-2 record and 1.17 ERA in seven games with 57 K in 46 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year honors from the league.
7. NORTHWESTERN STATE 26-26 (18-13)
Key Player: RHP Chad Sheppard, So.
The Demons had a good season in 2009 against the lower half of the conference. Unfortunately, they were 6-13 against the top six, including 0-2 in the Southland Tournament. On the mound, Northwestern State will be led by former freshman All-American Chad Sheppard. In 23 relief appearances, Sheppard struck out 43 batters with a 2.34 ERA, 4-1 record, and 10 saves. Senior RHP Ryan Zimmerman is the Demons’ top returning starter, having finished 3-3 with a 5.35 ERA last year. Offensively, senior 3B Chase Lyles will be back in Natchitoches after hitting .362 with 14 HR and 47 RBI. Joining Lyles is senior SS Trent Grondin, .324 with 14 RBI, a first team preseason All-SLC selection.
8. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 23-32 (14-18)
Key Player: IF/OF/RHP Ryan Priest, Sr.
Leading the Lumberjacks into the 2010 season will be senior UT Ryan Priest. In 2009, Priest started out on the mound, appearing in 10 games, before switching to 2B and LF for the final half of the season. On the mound, Priest was 0-3 with an 8.17 ERA, but at the plate, he finished at .370 with 4 HR and 26 RBI. Senior SS Tanner Hines hit .353 with 8 2B and 19 RBI, earning All-SLC honorable mention. Pitching-wise, SFA returns two of their main starters, junior RHP Jared West and sophomore RHP Brett Rogers. West finished 2009 with a 4-3 record, including 4-0 at home, with a 5.11 ERA, while Rogers was 2-4 with a 5.02 ERA in his first season at the collegiate level. Newcomer junior LHP Tyler Herriage looks to be an integral part of the starting rotation for the Lumberjacks. Unfortunately, the bullpen graduated their top closer, leaving a spot open for Priest to try for double duty.
9. CENTRAL ARKANSAS 22-30 (10-21)
Key Player: OF Tye Throneberry, Sr.
Central Arkansas had a disappointing season, finishing ninth in the conference and holding a losing record on their home field. Returning to lead the way for the Bears is fifth-year senior OF Tye Throneberry. Throneberry hit .374 with 4 HR and 34 RBI, a vast improvement from his previous years in Conway. Sophomore IF Jordan Getchell, a .333 hitter, and junior IF/RHP Bobby Pritchett, .327 with 2 HR, both join Throneberry in the lineup. On the mound, Central Arkansas has a plethora of experienced pitchers. senior LHP Brandon Solberg returns after a 2-3 season, along with fellow starters junior RHP Reece Cross, Pritchett, and sophomore LHP Dustin Ward.
10. McNEESE STATE 21-30 (10-22)
Key Player: OF Lee Orr, So.
McNeese State, like many others, is hoping to keep 2009 in the past while focusing on 2010. A big problem for the Cowboys last season was suffering four series-sweeps at the hands of conference foes. That’s a 10-10 conference record when they manage to win at least a single game. Sophomore OF Lee Orr led the Cowboys with 15 HR and 18 stolen bases as a freshman, and was appropriately named third team All-SLC and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. Leading hitter, 2B Jace Peterson, another sophomore, hopes to build off his .366 average as a freshman. On the mound, McNeese State returns their top three starters in senior LHP Jonathan Conrad, junior RHP Matt Click and senior RHP Tyler Davis.
11. TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI 18-38 (9-24)
Key Player: 1B Trey Hernandez, Jr.
The biggest news out of Corpus Christi for 2010 is the transition from spacious Whataburger Field to a new on-campus home for the Islanders. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will move all but 10 of their games to Chapman Field for the new season. Hoping to take advantage will be first team preseason All-SLC 1B Trey Hernandez. Hernandez, an area native, only hit .236 in 2009, but accompanied that with 12 HR and 33 RBI. The team-leader in batting average, sophomore 2B Jeremie Marek also returns to his hometown team after batting .335. In a lesson on famous fathers, the Islanders added sophomore INF Bobby Buckner, son of MLB legend Bill Buckner, to their roster. Top arms, junior LHP Roy Ferdin and senior RHP Brandon Orr, will take their spots atop the rotation and hope to improve on a combined 4-13 record and 6.16 ERA. Hernandez served as the teams primary closer, earning four saves last year.
12. NICHOLLS 19-32 (9-23)
Key Player: OF Scott Moseley, Sr.
The only direction for the 2010 Colonels is up. After a dismal 2009 that culminated in a trip to the bottom of the Southland Conference, the Colonels have high hopes on improving their record and moving up the ranks. Hoping to be led by All-SLC preseason pick, senior OF Scott Moseley, Nicholls will need the .346 speedster to return from offseason hip labrum surgery. On the mound, senior LHP Jarret Dunnam is coming off an excellent summer that included a 5-0 record and 2.68 ERA in ten games, seven starts,for the San Luis Obispo Blues. Senior RHP Tyler Minto finished his summer with a 6-1 record and 0.58 ERA in seven games, six starts, for the Chillicothe Mudcats. If either player can roll their summers into spring success, than the Colonels fans should have a few reasons to celebrate in 2010.