St. Louis, Mo. – Defending St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) champion Webster University has been chosen as the pre-season favorite in the SLIAC Baseball Pre-Season Coaches' Poll. The Gorloks received five first place votes and had a total of 54 points.
Webster has won five straight regular season SLIAC titles and has captured five SLIAC Tournament Championships in the past seven years. The Gorloks posted a 32-13 overall record and 21-3 in conference play last season. Head coach Bill Kurich returns an arsenal of players from last year's squad that went 1-2 in the NCAA Regional Tournament and handed top-seeded Christopher Newport an 11-1 defeat in the first game of the Tournament. First Team All-SLIAC centerfielder, Cody Stevenson, returns after hitting .294 in 2011 with 47 hits, 29 RBI and going 47-of-52 in stolen base attempts. The Gorloks also return Second Team All-SLIAC pitchers David Mueller and Zach Schneider. Mueller, a right-handed pitcher, went 6-3 on the mound with a 3.66 ERA in 76.1 innings pitched. In 13 appearances, he recorded three complete games, one shutout and 64 strikeouts. Schneider, a left-handed pitcher, led the Gorloks last season with a 1.86 ERA in 77.1 innings pitched. He went 7-4 in 12 total appearances and tallied a team-high 83 strikeouts.
Spalding University made a run at the league title in 2011 under second-year head coach Mike Stawski, finishing just one game behind Webster in the standings at 20-4. The Golden Eagles will look to make another run in 2012 and have been chosen second in the pre-season poll with 52 total points and three first place votes. 2011 SLIAC Pitcher and Newcomer of the Year Tyler Brown returns as Spalding's ace on the mound after posting an 8-1 record and a 1.68 ERA in 59.0 innings pitched. Brown also recorded three complete games, one shutout, one save and 59 strikeouts. First Team All-SLIAC second baseman Bryan Clemmons returns after leading Spalding with a .381 batting average and 15 doubles. Kyle Just, who posted a .325 batting average, returns in the outfield.
Greenville College and Fontbonne University were chosen third and fourth respectively in the SLIAC Pre-Season poll. Greenville finished third in the SLIAC standings last season with a record of 16-8 and 19-23 overall. Fontbonne tied for fourth place with a 13-11 record in conference and was one of the four teams in the 2011 SLIAC Tournament. The Griffins will look to shortstop Mick Ritter, who earned Honorable Mention All-SLIAC last season, to lead the way. Ritter hit .302 last year with 39 hits and 22 RBI. Greenville returns First Team All-SLIAC utility player David Massengill, who hit .369 at the plate with 55 hits, 23 RBI and 11 doubles.
Westminster College (Mo.) tied with Fontbonne for fourth place last season and was picked to finish middle of the pack in 2012. The Blue Jays return three Honorable Mention All-SLIAC honorees back to the lineup in 2012, including Matt Mallette, an outfielder, who recorded a .302 batting average with 42 hits, 30 RBI and 10 doubles last season.
MacMurray College and Blackburn College were selected to finish sixth and seventh by the SLIAC coaches, with only one point separating the two teams. MacMurray will look to pitchers Anthony Willeford, a left-handed sophomore, and Kelsey Mankins, a right-handed senior, to provide leadership on the field. Blackburn returns two of its top hitters in shortstop Franklin Bush (.299, 35 hits) and centerfielder Donny Fuhrhop (.222, 24 hits).
Principia College and Eureka College round out the pre-season poll in the eighth and ninth spots respectively. Principia has two First Team All-SLIAC players returning to the diamond, including right-handed pitcher Greg Ball, who went 8-3 on the mound with a 2.55 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 74.0 innings of work. Eureka returns Second Team All-SLIAC third baseman Blake McConkey, who hit .385 at the plate with 42 hits, 22 RBI and nine doubles.
In combination with the returning talent to the diamond, the SLIAC welcomes four new faces among the coaching ranks. James Clark comes to Eureka from Spoon River, a two-year school, where he was the head baseball coach and improved the number of wins each year. Andrew Bartman returns to MacMurray as the 17th coach in Highlander baseball history. He played for MacMurray from 2004-06, and was the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach in 2010 and 2011 at Lincoln College, a D-II junior college team that made the top 20 during the 2011 season. Alex Ferguson, a former Principia player, returns to his alma mater after spending four years as the head coach at Presentation, where he led the Saints to three consecutive UMAC tournaments. Dennis Hughes joined the Westminster coaching staff after a successful career as a high school coach, leading the Helias (Jefferson City, Mo.) Crusaders to three state championships. In eight years at Helias, Hughes had a 137-38 record.
SLIAC Baseball Pre-Season Poll
1 Webster (5)
2 Spalding (3)