Big East 2010 Preseason Baseball Coaches’ Poll

January 1, 2010
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Louisville Picked To Win 2010 Regular Season Crown

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – On the heels of a 47-win season that included a sweep of the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament championships, Louisville has been chosen as the favorite to take the 2010 title in the BIG EAST preseason baseball coaches’ poll.

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The coaches also selected West Virginia shortstop Jedd Gyorko as the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year and tabbed USF righthanded pitcher Randy Fontanez the BIG EAST Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Louisville earned nine of a possible 11 first-place votes to edge second-place USF as the 2010 favorite. The Cardinals had 119 points in the poll, while the Bulls were second with 113 points and three first-place votes. The close vote suggests a possible repeat of last season’s championship race, which saw Louisville overtake USF in the last weekend of the regular season by taking three games against the Bulls.

Louisville returns seven starting position players and the majority of its pitching staff from last year’s team that went 47-18 overall and 19-7 in the BIG EAST. The Cardinals made their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and reached the NCAA Super Regional round for the second time in three years. Louisville is ranked No. 13 in the Ping Baseball preseason poll and No. 19 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.

Louisville returns four players who were tabbed as Preseason All-BIG EAST selections, including righthanded pitcher Tony Zych (6-2, 3.25 ERA, 2 saves), first baseman Andrew Clark (.350, 9 HR, 55 RBI), second baseman Adam Duvall (.328, 11 HR, 51 RBI) and outfielder Stewart Ijames (.349, 8 HR, 39 RBI), who missed the 2009 season due to injury. Zych was named to the all-tournament team at the 2009 BIG EAST Championship, while Clark and Duvall were both All-BIG EAST selections a year ago. The Cardinals also return all-America third baseman Phil Wunderlich, who was the team’s leading hitter with a .367 batting average to go with 18 home runs and 78 runs batted in last season.

USF held first place in the BIG EAST standings for most of the regular season and reached the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championship in 2009. Head coach Lelo Prado – the 2009 BIG EAST Coach of the Year – led the Bulls to a 34-25 record (18-9 in BIG EAST play) and a second-place finish in the final standings, marking the Bulls’ best showing since joining the conference. Fontanez went 7-3 with a 3.09 earned-run average last year, finishing second in the conference in ERA and innings pitched (99.0). He was joined on the Preseason All-BIG EAST team by outfielder Junior Carlin, who hit .384 last season.

Connecticut was picked third in the preseason poll following the Huskies’ run to the title game of last year’s BIG EAST Championship. The Huskies and head coach Jim Penders are led by outfielder George Springer, who was last year’s BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Springer was a unanimous selection to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team after he hit .360 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs last season. Connecticut was 36-24 overall and 14-13 in the BIG EAST last year.

St. John’s was tabbed for fourth in the preseason poll. The Red Storm went 30-22 overall and 16-11 in BIG EAST play to finish fourth in the 2009 standings. Head coach Ed Blankmeyer has led St. John’s to three BIG EAST regular-season titles, one tournament crown and five NCAA tournament appearances. Preseason All-BIG EAST outfielder Jimmy Parque (.360, 5 HR, 61 RBI) is expected to provide the offensive punch.

Notre Dame was fifth in the preseason poll on the heels of a 36-23 season in 2009 that saw the Fighting Irish narrowly miss an appearance in the NCAA Championship. Head coach Dave Schrage returns seven starting position players and 12 pitchers from that group, which went 15-12 in the BIG EAST and reached the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championship. Righthanded pitcher Cole Johnson was named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team after he went 7-3 with a 4.47 ERA last year.

West Virginia was projected to finish sixth by the BIG EAST coaches after the Mountaineers went 37-18 overall and 17-10 in the BIG EAST last year under head coach Greg Van Zant. Gyorko is the catalyst behind the potent West Virginia lineup as the shortstop hit .421 with eight home runs, 58 runs batted in, a school-record 28 doubles and 96 hits as a sophomore. In addition to his selection as BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year and a unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST pick, Gyorko is a Preseason All-America Second Team selection by Louisville Slugger and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Cincinnati and Rutgers were picked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the preseason poll. Bearcat head coach Brian Cleary brought Cincinnati to the title game of the BIG EAST Championship and a second-place finish in the regular season in 2008 and looks to return to the top half of the standings after a rebuilding year in 2009. Rutgers was the 2007 BIG EAST tournament champion under head coach Fred Hill, who looks to return the Scarlet Knights to the postseason following a two-year absence.

Pittsburgh was ninth in the preseason poll as coach Joe Jordano looks to replace the production of All-BIG EAST First Team second baseman Chris Sedon, who signed a professional contract after last year. Seton Hall was 10th in the preseason balloting as head coach Rob Sheppard is faced with the departure of two All-BIG EAST pitchers from last season. Villanova was 11th, with coach Joe Godri turning to Preseason All-BIG EAST designated hitter Matt Szczur (.346, 1 HR, 24 RBI, 18 SB) for offensive production. Szczur was the key player behind Villanova’s run to the 2009 NCAA football championship. Georgetown was 12th in the preseason poll as head coach Pete Wilk has Preseason All-BIG EAST catcher Erick Fernandez (.349, 5 HR, 28 RBI) to lead a young lineup.

The 2010 baseball season begins Feb. 18 with the early season highlighted by the second annual Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge taking place in Florida. The first weekend of league play is March 26-28 with all 12 schools in action. The 2010 BIG EAST Baseball Championship will return to Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., May 26-30, with the championship game to be televised on ESPNU.

2010 Preseason BIG EAST Baseball Coaches’ Poll

1.           Louisville (9)  119

2.           USF (3)  113

3.           Connecticut  94

4.           St. John’s  87

5.           Notre Dame  84

6.           West Virginia  79

7.           Cincinnati  53

8.           Rutgers 49

9.           Pittsburgh 44

10.          Seton Hall  32

11.          Villanova  23

12.          Georgetown  15

(Release)

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