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February 6, 2014 CAC BASEBALL: 2014 Preseason Webcast And Coaches' Poll

CAC Baseball Preseason Webcast

Four new teams.  One hundred percent participation!  That’s baseball in 2014 in the Capital Athletic Conference!

The CAC welcome three new full-member institutions during the 2013-14 academic year – Christopher Newport, Penn State Harrisburg and Southern Virginia.  The difference is that CAC founding member Marymount added varsity baseball this season, recruiting long-time NCAA Division I coach Frank Leone to build the program.

All four programs step into a conference that has traditionally been deep in talent.  Heading that list is Salisbury, which won its second-straight title (and seventh in the last 10 years) and advanced to the NCAA regional championship game in 2014.  The Sea Gulls were the top pick in the first-ever pre-season coaches poll with 80 points, including eight first-place votes.

Newcomer Christopher Newport, traditionally one of the top teams in the USA South Athletic Conference over the last decade, joins Frostburg State and Mary Washington as the top challengers for Salisbury, according to the CAC coaches poll.  CNU ranked second (74 points, including two first-place votes) while 2010 CAC champ Mary Washington (64 points) edged 2011 champion Frostburg State (56 points) for third place.

Wesley and York, which have both advanced deep in the CAC Tournament in recent seasons, will battle for the final two playoff positions, according to the pre-season poll.  The Wolverines, who finished in the top four in the CAC Tournament in each of the past five years, compiled 46 points in the coaches voting while York, last year’s silver medal team, gained 44 points.

St. Mary’s (26 points), Penn State Harrisburg (23 points), Southern Virginia (20 points) and Marymount (18 points) will look to surprise the coaches in 2014.  St. Mary’s has traditionally been a playoff team in past CAC seasons, and Penn State Harrisburg advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 after winning the North Eastern Athletic Conference.

Southern Virginia a second-year provisional member of NCAA Division III, so the Knights’ games will not count in the CAC standings and they are not eligible for the conference playoffs until 2015.  Southern Virginia players are eligible for CAC individual awards, such as Player of the Week and All-CAC, during the 2014 season.

Here’s a look at the 2014 CAC Preseason Poll:

Team (first-place votes)            Points

  1. Salisbury (8)                                        80
  2. Christopher Newport (2)                   74
  3. Mary Washington                               64
  4. Frostburg State                                  56
  5. Wesley                                                   46
  6. York (Pa.)                                              44
  7. St. Mary’s (Md.)                                   26
  8. Penn State Harrisburg                       23
  9. Southern Virginia                                20
  10. Marymount (Va.)                                  18

The 2014 season opened last week when Marymount (at Averett) and Southern Virginia (at Ferrum) traveled to southwest Virginia for non-conference twinbills.    The first CAC game is slated for Feb. 10, when CNU visits St. Mary’s in a game that was re-scheduled to avoid the Seahawks’ spring break trip to Florida in March.

The 10 teams will battle for six openings in the 2014 CAC Tournament which begins Tuesday, April 15, and crowns a champion that earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, April 20.

Here is a quick look at each team heading into the 2014 season:

In its first year in the CAC, CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT will start the year just outside the Top 25 according to the D3baseball.com preseason national rankings. Head coach John Harvell enters his 14th season at the helm just 28 wins shy of 400 for his career and will boast one of the most veteran squads he's ever coached in 2014. Headlining the experienced group are a trio of All-Region seniors in Billy Steel (SS), Justin Weaver (OF) and Bryan Bierlein (SP). Steel has started all 132 games of his career at shortstop and carries a .328 career average into his final campaign. Weaver was named Conference Player of the Year last season and earned All-American honors after transferring into CNU and hitting .403 with 46 RBI. Bierlein is coming off the best year of his career with a 1.99 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched. CNU opens the season on February 6 against Hampden-Sydney.

FROSTBURG STATE returns a wealth of talent both at the plate and on the mound for seventh-year head coach Guy Robertson.  FSU has won 154 games over Robertson's previous six seasons with six appearances in the CAC Tournament and 2014 shouldn't be any different.  D3baseball.com All-American and CAC Player of the Year Kevin Kean returns for his senior season after leading the conference in several offensive categories, including batting average (.423), hits (60) and triples (5).  Senior Dylan Shupe will bolster the lineup after hitting .397 and earning ECAC All-Star honors.  Fellow senior Kenny Georgious will help lead the pitching staff after posting a perfect 6-0 record with two saves and Second Team All-CAC honors.

One year removed from an appearance in the CAC Championship, MARY WASHINGTON will look to return to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time this spring under second year head coach Wayne Riser. The Eagles, despite the loss of seniors Torey Mancari, Mike Straub, and Seth Jordan, welcome back a veteran group, headlined by junior Jono Haught and sophomore Conner Lilley. The Eagles will rely heavily on several top newcomers, including freshmen pitchers Paul McClure, Erik Jorgenson, and Cole Jarvis. Transfers James Keller and Thomas Weaver will also look to make an immediate impact for the Eagles.

MARYMOUNT enters its 2014 inaugural season under head coach Frank Leoni with a young core of players.  Named the program’s inaugural coach in September 2012, Leoni has posted 462 career wins in 20 seasons as a Division I head coach.  The Saints will rely heavily on their host of newcomers to solidify the lineup, with senior infielder Macon Heikes leading the charge as the team’s newly named captain.

PENN STATE HARRISBURG is coming off its strongest season in program history; a 26-win campaign that saw the Lions win the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship and qualify for the NCAA Division III championship tournament.  This year, the Blue & White will have their work cut out for them now that they are competing in the Capital Athletic Conference.  The Lions will face some of the nation's best competition day-in and day-out.  Luckily, Penn State Harrisburg has a slew of talent returning from last year's championship squad, including 2013 RBI and batting average leader in sophomore Bryan Balshy.  Also back is senior infielder Travis Crammer, the team's leader in runs scored and home runs a year ago.  Both men were all-conference selections last spring.  On the mound, the Lions will look to juniors Clint Hicks and Will Chaney to give the team quality starts.  The duo combined to win ten games last season.

As Lew Jenkins enters his 20th season as ST. MARY’S skipper, the Seahawks will look to keep their streak of CAC tournament appearances alive, hoping to make it 24 in a row as 10 teams fight for six spots. St. Mary's strength looks to be its hitting as the team's top two hitters, Brad Dioguardo (.336, 36-for-107) and Jared Eaker (.323, 42-for-130), return for their junior seasons while this year's 30-man roster features 11 newcomers, including three transfers that should bolster the Seahawks' lineup.

SALISBURY looks to compete for a third-straight conference championship and get back to the College World Series for the second time in four years … Coach Doug Fleetwood returns five starters that garnered All-CAC First Team honors last season … Senior Quinn Griffith, the team’s leading returning hitter, led the team in average (.399), hits (59), doubles (15), on-base percentage (.505), and slugging (.561), was second on the team with 36 RBIs and third on the squad with 42 runs scored … The rotation will be anchored by two returning juniors, Brett Collacchi and Dan Fein, who combined for a 17-2 record last season; Fein had a 1.35 ERA last season and Collacchi finished with a 3.82 ERA … Junior Kyle Hamby will open the season as the closer; he finished last with 15 appearances, 26 strikeouts in 20 innings of work and a 1.35 ERA … Senior Bill Root finished last year second on the team with 46 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.

SOUTHERN VIRGINIA head coach Logan Mann acknowledges an excitement in the air but with a lot of unknowns to be determined.  After posting an 18-16 record in 2013, the team fields a young squad that hopes to start strong in its new conference.  Mann is excited about catchers Jordan Keefer and Ryan Gabriel, who will have veteran pitcher Tyler King throwing the ball to them.  Last year, King had an earned run average of 5.73 and had 13 strikeouts for an average of 3.55 per game.  In 33 innings pitched, he allowed 58 hits, 21 earned runs, seven doubles and three triples. Last summer, he was also a member of the summer team Rockbridge Rapids.  At the plate, Colin Bigelow and Gage Bigelow will lead the Knights’ rotation.
Note:  As a second-year NCAA Division III provisional member, Southern Virginia is not eligible for the CAC team championship/standings.  However, the Knights student-athletes are eligible for all CAC individual awards.  Southern Virginia will be eligible for team recognition in all sports beginning with the 2014-15 academic year.

WESLEY returns just three position players who were starters last season, but included in those is sophomore Trevor Mears who was the 2013 CAC Rookie of the Year and junior shortstop Cory Smith who hit nearly .300 with a team-high 12 doubles.  The other returning starter is junior Conner Gobright who saw most of his time at designated hitter but also saw time at the hot corner.  Two of Wesley’s top starting pitchers from a year ago also return in sophomore Eric Willey and senior Zach Stuart while senior workhorse Andrew Cooper also returns to the bullpen. Now in his third season as the Wolverines skipper, Bret Underwood oversees a roster with just four seniors and where nearly half of the players are newcomers (18 of 37).

YORK enters the 2014 season with high expectations after a solid campaign last year. York returns one All-CAC selection in centerfielder Andrew Hershey. Hershey hit .313 last year from the lead off spot. Top hitter Colbe Herr returns to his spot behind the dish for 2014. Herr hit .363 with 28 runs scored, 17 doubles, and 17 RBI for the Spartans. He also had a sterling .990 fielding percentage. Other returning starters include Colin Porter at short, Derek Pitzer at first and J.J. Oleniacz at second. Head coach Mike Scappa has a number of talented newcomers he expects to fill openings in the everyday lineup. On the mound, David Walker, Tyler Alexander, and Dan Gurganus will front a young but talented staff.