FRISCO, Texas – Stephen F. Austin shortstop Hunter Dozier has been named the Southland Conference Player of the Year by a vote of the league’s head coaches and sports information, the conference announced Monday in conjunction with the release of its all-conference teams. The junior was also named the league’s hitter of the year, becoming the second Lumberjack to collect both awards in the last three seasons.
Dozier’s teammate, senior right-handed pitcher Brett Higginbotham, was named the conference’s relief pitcher of the year, while Oral Roberts junior right-handed pitcher Alex Gonzalez was named the Southland pitcher of the year. McNeese State freshman right-handed pitcher Bryce Kingsley was named the freshman of the year and Lamar junior shortstop Sam Bumpers was the newcomer of the year. Sam Houston State head coach David Pierce was named the Clay Gould Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Dozier leads the league in home runs with 17, which ranks among the top three players in NCAA Division I. The junior from Denton, Texas (Denton H.S.), hit an astonishing .394 on the year with 80 hits and accumulated 154 total bases. Dozier drove in 50 runs to go with 23 doubles and 12 stolen bases. He also led the league in batting average, doubles, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage (.759), while ranking in the Southland’s top five in four other categories, including hits (second), on-base percentage (second, .483), runs scored (third, 47) and walks (fifth, 34). Dozier, who has helped the Lumberjacks win at least 25 games for the fourth consecutive season, enters the tournament having reached base safely in 45 consecutive games.
Dozier is the seventh Southland player in the last eight years to earn both hitter and player of the year accolades and is third Lumberjack to be named player of the year and hitter of the year. He is a candidate for the Brooks Wallace Award, which goes to the nation’s top shortstop, and is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation’s best player.
Gonzalez was named the Southland’s top pitcher after leading the league with a 1.76 earned-run average. He is the only Southland pitcher this season to have a sub 2.00 ERA and sports the seventh-lowest single-season ERA in conference history. The junior from Delray Beach, Fla. (Boca Raton H.S.) tossed 107.1 innings while allowing 21 earned runs. The Golden Eagle accumulated 125 strikeouts and averaged 10.48 per nine innings while striking out the fifth-most batters in Southland history for a single season. In 14 starts, Gonzalez picked up eight wins and walked only 23 batters while limiting opponents to a .198 batting average against him. He led Oral Roberts to a third-place finish in its first season in the Southland. Gonzalez averages 7.2 innings of work each time out and did not lose a decision from March 22 to May 3.
Higginbotham is the fifth recipient of the conference’s relief pitcher of the year award and is the first Lumberjack. The senior from Hutto, Texas (Hutto H.S.), was 4-2 with a 1.88 ERA and allowed only nine earned runs in 43 innings. He tied for fourth in the conference with 25 appearances and struck out 37 batters. Opponents got just three extra-base hits against him and managed to hit just .156. The Lumberjack picked up consecutive wins against Oral Roberts in early April. SFA and Oral Roberts play in the opening round of the conference tournament on Wednesday.
Kingsley becomes the third Cowboy to be named the league’s freshman of the year, joining Dooley Prince in 2002 and Bryan Cartie in 2005. The freshman from Lake Charles, La. (Barbe H.S.), tied for fourth in the Southland with eight wins and tossed the seventh-most innings (94.2). He finished fifth in the league with a 2.57 ERA, while opponents batted .228 against him. Kingsley won four consecutive starts in March and he notched a victory against Southeastern Louisiana last weekend to earn the Cowboys a spot in the conference tournament.
Bumpers earned the newcomer of the year award after finishing sixth in batting average (.341). The transfer from Iowa Western Community College played in 54 games and racked up 34 RBI. He introduced himself to the conference with an eight-RBI opening weekend. Bumpers slugged .491 with a .406 on-base percentage and collected 19 doubles. The junior from Bourbannais, Ill. (Bradley-Bourbonnais H.S.), is the first Cardinal to win the award and led Lamar to its first 30-win season since 2010. Bumpers finished the regular season ranked second in total bases (105) and fourth in both hits (73) and runs scored (46). The Cardinals’ shortstop is a main reason Lamar led all conference teams in turning 52 double plays.
After guiding the Bearkats to a second consecutive regular-season title, Sam Houston’s Pierce repeated as the Southland coach of the year. Sam Houston finished 20-7 in conference play and will take a 36-18 overall record as the top seed into conference tournament later this week. Prior to laying his claim to the award last year, Sam Houston had not had a coach of the year since 1989 when John Skeeters became the first Bearkat coach to be honored after guiding the Huntsville school to its first Southland Conference championship. After dropping back-to-back conference series in mid-April, the Bearkats responded to win 14 of their final 15 games. During conference play, they posted seven series wins and four sweeps. Pierce is the first Southland coach to win consecutive honors since Texas-San Antonio’s Sherman Corbett (2007-08).
Lamar leads all league teams with eight student-athletes on the three all-conference teams, including three on the first team and five on the second team. Cardinal senior second baseman V.J. Bunner, senior outfielder Darian Johnson and senior pitcher Eric Harrington earned first-team honors, while Bumpers, senior first baseman Brad Picha, senior third baseman Aaron Olivas, senior designated hitter Seth Dornak and junior pitcher Jonathan Dziedzic were named to the second team.
Regular-season runner-up Texas A&M-Corpus Christi joined Lamar in placing three players on the first team, including senior first baseman Brad Porras, senior outfielder Eric Weiss and senior designated hitter Jonathan Gonzales. Regular-season champion Sam Houston and Central Arkansas also placed two on the first team. The Bearkats’ first-team selections include senior third baseman Kevin Miller and junior catcher Anthony Azar, while the Bears placed senior outfielder Forrest Allday and senior pitcher Caleb McClanahan on the top squad. The squad is rounded out by SFA’s Dozier at shortstop and ORU’s Gonzalez at pitcher.
A&M-Corpus Christi was second with six players on the three all-conference teams, followed by Sam Houston State (five) and Central Arkansas (four). McNeese State, Oral Roberts, Southeastern Louisiana and Stephen F. Austin each placed three on the squads, while Nicholls State had one selection.
Another 18 student-athletes earned honorable mention after earning votes from at least 25 percent of the league’s coaches and sports information directors.
Nine of the 36 all-conference players were repeat selections, including UCA’s Jonathan Davis, a third-team outfielder, who was honored for a third time. Miller, Dozier, Johnson, Allday, Azar, Gonzales, Harrington and Sam Houston pitcher Caleb Smith, a second-team honoree, are two-time all-conference selections.
The 2013 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament gets underway Wednesday at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. Tickets to the event are available online at www.SugarLandSkeeters.com. All games of the tournament will be streamed live on the Southland Conference Digital Network, with the exception of the championship game, which is available exclusively on ESPN3. The winner of the double-elimination tournament earns the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, which starts May 31 with regional play.