FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
MACON, Ga. – For the second time in the past three seasons, FGCU and Mercer shared the top spot in the Atlantic Sun Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll. The two teams previously tied in the 2011 poll. The Eagles and Bears both compiled 81 points in the poll with Mercer earning three first-place votes and FGCU receiving two first-place nods.
The top individual awards went to USC Upstate’s Gaither Bumgardner and FGCU’s Ricky Knapp as they were named the 2013 Preseason Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. Both earned the same titles at the end of last season. Bumgardner and the Spartans landed at third in the poll with 78 points and three first-place votes.
Bumgardner ranked second in the league with a .376 batting average, while recording 12 doubles, three triples and owning the league’s fifth-best on-base percentage (.439). The junior outfielder scored 43 times during the season, while notching 77 hits to help the Spartans to the two-seed in the A-Sun Baseball Championship with a 16-10 league record and 33-20 overall – a win improvement of 14 from 2011 season. Relief pitcher Chad Sobotka joined Bumgardner on the preseason squad after recording 12 saves with a 1.72 ERA.
A junior from Port Charlotte, Fla., Knapp posted the second-best ERA in the A-Sun (2.34) and earned nine wins on the season, which tied for the most in the A-Sun. His three complete-game shutouts topped the conference, while his 111.1 innings pitched was second-best. Knapp’s .246 opposing batting average was sixth-best in the conference last year.
Mercer tied with North Florida for the most student-athletes elected to the preseason all-conference team with four. The Bears placed Nick Backlund (Jr.; DH), Chesny Young (So.; 3B), Evan Boyd (Sr.; SS) and Derrick Workman (Jr.; OF) on the 14-man squad. Backlund was an unanimous choice after leading the league in batting (.381), slugging (.668), total bases (149) and total hits (85). Young was the 2012 A-Sun Freshman of the Year.
Kennesaw State landed in fourth place in the preseason poll following a runner-up finish in the 2012 A-Sun Baseball Championship and a 34-25 record. The Owls’ Andy Almonte garnered preseason recognition as a second baseman after hitting .295 last season with 11 doubles and 33 RBI.
With four all-conference selections, North Florida took fifth in the preseason coaches poll. UNF’s Tyler Moore (Jr.; SP), Corey Bass (Sr.; C), Joe Wielbruda (Sr.; 2B) and Tyler Marincov (Jr.; OF) all earned recognition from the league coaches. Moore posted the best ERA in the A-Sun among starting pitchers last season at 2.16 with seven wins. Marincov, an unanimous choice, batted .332 with nine homers and 40 RBI.
Stetson claimed the final first-place vote to sit in sixth place in the preseason poll ahead of ETSU, Lipscomb and Jacksonville. The Buccaneers’ Clinton Freeman took home preseason recognition as a first baseman after hitting .365 with 81 hits and 50 RBI – all of which ranked in the top-five of the A-Sun. JU’s Chris Anderson completed the A-Sun preseason starting rotation as the junior struck out 69 batters in 14 starts in 2012.
Newcomer Northern Kentucky rounded out the preseason coaches poll in 10th. In the preseason fan poll, FGCU was predicted to finish ahead of Mercer, while USC Upstate, North Florida and ETSU rounded out the top-five. FGCU’s Brandon Bednar was elected the A-Sun Preseason Fan-Voted Player of the Year, while UNF’s Tyler Moore was tabbed the A-Sun Preseason Fan-Voted Pitcher of the Year.
The 2013 A-Sun Baseball season starts off on Friday, Feb. 15th with 10 games scheduled for first pitch.