FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
NEW ORLEANS – The Panthers of FIU and the Trojans of Troy have been tabbed as the preseason favorites to win the 2012 Sun Belt Conference baseball title in a vote of the league’s head coaches.
FIU, which finished second overall in the standings in 2011, returns five starters to an offense that led the SBC in batting average, home runs and runs scored. The Panthers finished last season 20-9-1 in conference play. FIU received four first-place votes from the coaches and finished with 93 points.
FIU is led by 2012 SBC Preseason Player of the Year and reigning SBC Co-Player of the Year, Pablo Bermudez, who led the SBC with a .373 average last season. Bermudez is joined by teammates Rudy Flores, Mike Martinez and Mason McVay on the Preseason All-Conference team.
Last season the Panthers earned their second consecutive NCAA Regional bid.
Troy won the 2011 SBC regular season championship and advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the third time in the past six years. A large part of Troy’s success came from its 30-5 record at Riddle-Pace Field. The Trojans finished the 2011 season 43-19 but return two of the league’s better players in Tyler Hannah and Tyler Ray. Ray, last year’s Pitcher of the Year, was tabbed as the 2012 Preseason Pitcher of the Year. Last season Ray went 12-0 with a 2.39 earned run average.
Hannah has been named to a pair of preseason All-America teams this season after finishing second in the league in batting a year ago (.370).
The Trojans also received four first-place votes and finished with 93 points in the coaches poll.
Louisiana-Lafayette was picked third overall by the coaches with 74 points and one first-place vote. The Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team enters their 18th season under the direction of Tony Robichaux in 2012 who has compiled a career record of 608-409-1 while the head coach of the Cajuns.
This is the second consecutive year the Cajuns were picked to finish third in the league by the coaches. Louisiana-Lafayette finished third in the league in pitching with a staff ERA of 3.85.
Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky were picked to finish fourth as each team garnered 60 points. The Owls, last year’s preseason favorite, finished the 2011 season 32-25. Despite the starters lost from a season ago, the Owls return catcher Mike Albaladejo and outfielder Alex Hudak. In addition to the two position starters, the Owls return one of the best relievers in the country in Hugh Adams. Adams has been named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list after leading the SBC in saves with 10.
The Hilltopper baseball team enters the 2012 season under the direction of first-year head coach Matt Myers. Myers is in his fifth year overall with WKU after serving as an assistant coach the last four seasons. The 2012 Hilltoppers feature 16 returning letter winners, led by Preseason All-SBC selections outfielder Jared Andreoli and pitcher Tanner Perkins, as well as the reigning SBC Freshman of the Year Justin Hageman.
The Hilltoppers will look to make their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons.
South Alabama is the other team in the conference with a first-year head coach in Mark Calvi. The Jaguars, picked to finish sixth in 2012 by the coaches, finished the 2011 season with a 30-28 record as the team closed out the storied career of Steve Kittrell who retired following the season. Logan Kirkland represents the Jaguars on the Preseason All-Conference team at second base.
Arkansas State follows the Jaguars as the Red Wolves were picked to finish seventh in the league this season. Six starting position players return from the 2011 team that finished 27-31-1 and won two games at the SBC Tournament, including starting pitcher Jacob Lee, and outfielders Ryan Emery, Michael Faulkner and Logan Uxa. Lee was the preseason 2011 SBC Pitcher of the Year and finished the season with a team-low 3.25 ERA and a 5-4 record, while Emery finished second on the team with a .314 batting average.
Middle Tennessee and head coach Steve Peterson enter their 25th season together in 2012. The Blue Raiders failed to qualify for the tournament in 2011 and look to recapture the winning magic that saw the team win 44 games in 2009. MT returns six position starters and 20 letter winners to the squad led by senior Justin Guidry and sophomore Hank LaRue, both 2012 Preseason All-SBC selections.
Louisiana-Monroe and UALR were picked to finish ninth and tenth, respectively, by the league’s coaches. ULM will have 16 returning letter winners on the roster in 2012, among them 2011 All-Sun Belt Conference first team selection Joey Rapp (.318, 13 HR, 46 RBI) and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove Team recipient and 2012 Preseason All-SBC Caleb Clowers (.996 FLD, no errors in conference play).
UALR became the first No. 8 seed to ever win the SBC tournament in 2011 and will look to build upon that postseason success from a season ago. The Trojans welcome 20 newcomers this year but return five position starters including utility man Myles Parma and shortstop Greg Garcia.
All ten SBC teams will begin the season on Feb. 17. Western Kentucky University, the Bowling Green Hot Rods and the BG Hot Rods facility, the Bowling Green Ballpark, will play host to the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championships set for May 23-27, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ky.
2012 Preseason All-Sun Belt Baseball Team
Tyler Ray (Troy, Senior, SP)
Justin Hageman (WKU, Sophomore, SP)
Tanner Perkins (WKU, Junior, SP)
Hugh Adams (Florida Atlantic, Senior, RP)
Mason McVay (FIU, RS-Junior, RP)
Mike Albaladejo (Florida Atlantic, Senior, Catcher)
Mike Martinez (FIU, Senior, 1B)
Caleb Clowers (Louisiana-Monroe, Senior, 2B)
Logan Kirkland (South Alabama, Sophomore, 2B)
Tyler Hannah (Troy, Senior, SS)
Hank LaRue (Middle Tennessee, Sophomore, 3B)
Alex Hudak (Florida Atlantic, Senior, OF)
Pablo Bermudez (FIU, Senior, OF)
Justin Guidry (Middle Tennessee, Senior, OF)
Rudy Flores (FIU, Junior, DH)
2012 Preseason Player of the Year
Pablo Bermudez (FIU, Senior, OF)
2012 Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Tyler Ray (Troy, Senior, SP)
2012 SBC Coaches Predicted Order of Finish (first place votes)
1. FIU (4) – 93 pts
1. Troy (4) – 93 pts
3. Louisiana-Lafayette (1) – 74 pts
4. Florida Atlantic – 60 pts
4. Western Kentucky – 60 pts
6. South Alabama – 56 pts
7. Arkansas State – 36 pts
8. Middle Tennessee – 31 pts
9. Louisiana-Monroe (1) – 26 pts
10. UALR – 21 pts