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2011 Patriot League Preseason Coaches Poll

FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
Center Valley, Pa. – Army finished in first place in the Patriot League Baseball standings by four games in 2010, while Bucknell came through in the League Tournament to win its second crown in the past three seasons. Patriot League coaches and sports information directors predicted success for each team again in 2011 as the Black Knights edged out the Bison for first place in the League’s preseason poll, it was announced on Wednesday.

Army took the top spot with 45 points overall and six first-place votes, just edging out Bucknell with 43 points and five first-place selections. Holy Cross, which fell to the Bison in last year’s Patriot League Championship series, came in third with 36 points and a first-place vote. Lehigh was next with 23 points, followed by Navy with 21 and Lehigh 12. Patriot League coaches and sports information directors from each of the six schools participated in the poll, and were not allowed to vote for their own team.

The Black Knights won at least a share of the regular-season title for the third straight season by going 16-4 in Patriot League action, but lost to Bucknell in a three-game semifinal series in the Patriot League Tournament and finished the season at 28-17 overall. Army returns the bulk of its squad including all eight positional starters, as its stellar class of 2011 has reached its senior season. First baseman/relief pitcher Kevin McKague, shortstop Clint Moore, outfielder/starting pitcher Ben Koenigsfeld and outfielder/starting pitcher Joey Henshaw have all earned honors both from the Patriot League as well as regional or national organizations during their first three seasons. McKague, Moore and Koenigsfeld are trying to join a group of just five players who have won All-Patriot League recognition in all four of their seasons. Army’s veteran experience includes six seniors and two juniors returning to the starting lineup and three seniors and a junior back to lead the rotation. The Black Knights were picked first in the preseason for the third straight year and sixth time in the past seven seasons, and most recently won the Patriot League Tournament in 2009.

Bucknell went from No. 4 seed to Patriot League champion for the second time in three seasons in 2010, as the Bison won a three-game series on the road at Army in the semifinals and Holy Cross in the championship to win their record-tying fifth Patriot League title. One very big bat returns to the Bucknell lineup as first baseman Doug Shribman enters his senior season after earning the Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player award last year with seven home runs and 16 runs batted in over Bucknell’s six Tournament games. Shribman finished with a .359 batting average and 21 home runs to shatter the previous Patriot League single-season record of 14, and enters the 2011 season just three home runs shy of the Patriot League career record of 30. He does lose some protection in the lineup with Patriot League Player of the Year Andrew Brouse and three other All-League players graduating from last year’s team. The starting rotation features a pair of seniors with All-League recognition in their career in Trey Frahler and Dylan Seeley.

Holy Cross will once again go in search of its first Patriot League title, as the Crusaders moved to the cusp of the League Championship last year after winning the opener of the series against the Bison before falling in games two and three. Holy Cross graduated two-time All-League selection and former Patriot League Player of the Year Matt Perry from third base, but has a potent lineup back with four players that received All-League recognition last year in outfielders Jack Laurendeau and Nick Ciardiello and catchers/designated hitters Steve Tkowski and Stephen Wadsworth, who was the 2010 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. Junior Nate Konseki leads the rotation after also earning All-League honors a year ago while finishing 6-2 with 3.74 earned run average. The Crusaders finished an even 26-26 overall and 10-10 in the Patriot League last season, and have made the League Tournament in each of Head Coach Greg DiCenzo’s first three seasons.

Lehigh defied the preseason predictions in 2010, as the Mountain Hawks finished in second place in the Patriot League at 12-8 after being picked last in the preseason and Sean Leary was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year. They bowed out in a three-game semifinal series to Holy Cross in the Patriot League Tournament, and will try to take the next step with most of the batting order returning. First baseman Kevin Mihalik and third baseman Jim McConlogue each earned second-team All-Patriot League honors, and are part of a group of experienced seniors in a veteran lineup. Some of the top pitchers, including first-team All-Patriot League pick Andrew Berger, have graduated, but the Mountain Hawks feature one of the League’s best relief pitchers in junior Cory Kent.

Navy missed the Patriot League Tournament for the second straight season, but could rely on strong starting pitching to get back to the postseason. Ben Nelson earned All-Patriot League recognition and was also named a Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger and Ping! after cracking the Patriot League top 10 list with a 2.34 ERA last season. Sam Long, Wes Olson and Zach Sipe add even more experience to the Navy rotation. Alex Azor returns to lead the lineup after receiving first-team All-Patriot League honors last year while hitting over .350 and finishing among the national leaders in toughest hitters to strike out. Despite missing the Patriot League Tournament by one game with a 7-13 record, the Mids’ overall mark of 30-21 gave them the League’s highest win total and one of only two overall winning records along with Army.

Lafayette returns first-team All-Patriot League designated hitter Matt Fenster, who batted .410 with 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored last season. Rob Froio, A.J. Miller and Brian Davila should also play key roles in the Leopard lineup. Zach Fritz and Corey Shea each enter their senior season with experience in the starting rotation, and Jeff Snell saved five games in 2010. Lafayette won seven of its final nine games last year to finish 15-30, and took three of four from Navy on the final Patriot League weekend to tie the Mids at 7-13 in the Patriot League standings.

McKague has enjoyed the most recognition heading into the 2011 season, as he was named a second-team preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and garnered third-team recognition from Louisville Slugger and College Baseball Lineup. He also received a spot on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award preseason watch list, where Kent joined him as one of the 45 selections.

Three teams open their 2011 season this weekend, as Bucknell plays a four-game series at James Madison, Navy heads to Presbyterian for three games and Army heads to Davidson to take on the hosts as well as Radford and Georgetown. Lehigh, Holy Cross and Lafayette will all kick off their 2011 schedules next weekend.

The Patriot League schedule begins on April 2, and four teams will qualify for the Patriot League Tournament beginning with the semifinals on May 14-15 and moving to the Championship series on May 21-22. Both postseason rounds are best-of-three series that will be played at the site of the higher seed.

The 2011 Patriot League baseball composite schedule can be viewed here with the Patriot League record book heading into the season available here

2011 Patriot League Baseball Preseason Poll

1. Army (6 first-place votes) 45
2. Bucknell (5) 43
3. Holy Cross (1) 36
4. Lehigh 23
5. Navy 21
6. Lafayette 12