FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
ELMHURST, Ill. – Oral Roberts is favored to win its 15th-straight Summit League Baseball Tournament title in a vote among the league’s seven head coaches. The Golden Eagles received six first-place votes and 36 points.
Western Illinois placed second in the poll with 27 points followed closely by South Dakota State with 25 points. In fourth was North Dakota State with 21 points, two ahead of Southern Utah with the final first-place vote. Oakland with 11 points and IPFW with eight points rounded out the poll.
The Golden Eagles finished the 2011 season ranked No. 23 nationally by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and return the league’s Pitcher and Newcomer of the Year in sophomore Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez finished the year with an 8-7 record, 100 strikeouts in 105.2 innings of work and a 3.49 ERA which ranked third in the league. He was tabbed a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and the NCBWA. Oral Roberts and reigning Coach of the Year Rob Walton also return junior Drew Bowen, who had the league’s lowest ERA at 1.73 and a 6-2 record, and Matt Rush, who had nine saves a year ago. Offensively, ORU welcomes back all-league honorees in senior infielder Cam Schiller and senior outfielder Brandon King. Schiller had a .342 average with 17 doubles and 56 RBI, while King batted .319 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI.
Western Illinois returns a trio of senior starters in infielders Austin Cowen and Tom Lilja and utility player Matt Igara. Lilja, a second team all-league performer, led the team with 11 homers, third in the league, 43 RBI and a .461 slugging percentage last season. Cowen batted .302 on the year with 37 RBI and a .396 on-base percentage, while Igara led the squad with a .317 average and 109 total bases. On the mound, the Leathernecks welcome back Dan Russell, who finished the year 6-7 with a 4.21 ERA in 102.2 innings of work, second-most in the league.
First-year South Dakota State head coach Dave Schrage inherits three of the team’s top four hitters from the 2011 campaign which saw the Jackrabbits finish second in league. First team All-Summit League selection Beau Hanowski, a senior outfielder who batted .349 with a .449 on-base percentage, returns to the lineup for SDSU. Senior outfielder Andrew Phelan batted .333 a year ago for the Jacks with 11 doubles, while senior infielder Eric Cain hit .322 with a team-leading 46 RBI. Junior right-hander Stephen Bougher also returns after collecting a 6-4 record in 13 starts last season.
The Bison finished last season with its first-ever winning record in league play and will look to continue that momentum behind the offensive production of sophomores Tim Colwell and Blake Turbak. Colwell, a utility man, batted .333 last season with 56 hits and 10 stolen bases, while Turbak, an outfielder, had a team-leading .349 batting average. Returning to the mound for North Dakota State is junior southpaw John Straka who compiled a 3-2 record and 3.60 ERA a year ago.
Southern Utah returns senior infielder Bo Cuthbertson, who was named to the Louisville Slugger All-America Third Team last season. Cuthbertson led the league in average (.432), triples (7), on-base percentage (.496) and slugging percentage (.688). Sophomore outfield Tyson Weber returns after being named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Weber batted .333 with 13 doubles last season. The Thunderbirds also return all-league recipients in senior utility player Mitchell Kauweloa and junior catcher Taylor Shaw. Kauweloa hit .370 with 47 RBI, while Shaw batted .338 with a .460 on-base percentage.
The Golden Grizzlies are set to return junior utility player Mike Carson, along with senior outfielder Tim Ryan. Carson hit .329 a year ago with a team-leading .503 slugging percentage and 12 doubles, while Ryan batted .319 with a team-high 16 steals. Junior righthander Russell Luxton returns to the hill after collecting a 4.72 ERA and 4-4 record last season.
IPFW returns sophomore infielder Kristian Gayday and sophomore outfielder Steve Danielak. Gayday batted .258 last season with a .360 on-base percentage, while Danielak hit .350 in 17 games with a .400 slugging percentage.
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 24-26. The winner of the double-elimination format will claim the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
2012 Baseball Preseason Poll
Place Team Points (1st)
1. Oral Roberts 36 (6)
2. Western Illinois 27
3. South Dakota State 25
4. North Dakota State 21
5. Southern Utah 19 (1)
6. Oakland 11
7. IPFW 8