Preseason All-Conference Team Named As Well…
Conference USA announced its 2012 preseason baseball awards, as chosen by the league’s nine head coaches. UCF junior utility player D.J. Hicks was chosen as the preseason Player of the Year, while Rice sophomore left-hander Austin Kubitza was named the preseason Pitcher of the Year. Rice was chosen to win the league’s championship. The Owls have won either the regular season or tournament championship in each of its first six years as a member of C-USA.
Hicks was a third team NCBWA All-American, a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and a second team All-Conference USA selection in 2011. As a redshirt sophomore last season, he led C-USA in RBI (66) and topped the Knights in batting (.351), placing fifth in the conference. Hicks ranked second in the conference in slugging percentage (.583), second on UCF in home runs (14) and walks (35), while adding 11 doubles and scoring 42 runs. He earned NCBWA National Hitter of the Week honors April 26 and had a pair of hitting streaks of 10 games or longer last season.
Kubitza headlined an outstanding group of freshmen at Rice, earning the league’s Freshman of the Year honor last season after ranking fourth in the conference in earned run average at 2.34. The first team All-Conference selection made 15 starts, posting a 6-5 record with one complete game and two shutouts. In 100.0 innings pitched, Kubitza recorded a league-high 102 strikeouts and walked only 24 batters. The Colleyville, Texas native was the only player in C-USA to be named Pitcher of the Week twice last season.
Kubitza is joined by three Owls teammates on the preseason All-Conference USA team, giving Rice a league-high four selections. Junior RHP Tyler Duffey is the squad’s relief pitcher after going 8-2 with a 2.52 ERA and 76 strikeouts with only 18 walks last season. He was the C-USA Tournament MVP after helping the Owls to the tournament title. Rice placed a pair of outfielder s on the team in juniors Jeremy Rathjen and Michael Ratterree. Rathjen was a 2010 second team All-Conference USA selection that missed all but 16 games of last season due to injury. Ratterree will move from the infield to the outfield this season after batting .327 with team-highs in home runs (tied with six), doubles (tied with 20) and RBI (53).
East Carolina and UCF had the second-highest total of selections with three. Headlining the Pirates selections is senior C Zach Wright, a sixth round MLB draft pick who chose to return to school. Senior LHP Kevin Brandt is the veteran leader of the ECU pitching staff and logged a 7-3 record with a 2.26 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 2011. Senior IF Corey Thompson led the squad in batting (.328) and RBI (47) last season, while hitting 11 doubles and six home runs. In addition to Hicks, the Knights placed junior SS Darnell Sweeney and junior OF Ronnie Richardson on the preseason team. Sweeney swiped 12 bases and had 17 doubles, three triples, a homer, 45 RBI and 43 runs scored, while Richardson hit .312 with 12 doubles, four triples, two homers, 34 RBI and a team-high 59 runs. Richardson also walked 36 times, was hit by a pitch on 19 occasions, had a .440 on-base percentage and was 15-for-20 in stolen bases.
Houston, Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulane and UAB each had one representative on the team. Houston junior SS Chase Jensen (.320, 12 doubles, 45 RBI) and Memphis senior 3B Jacob Wilson (.286, 14 2B, 6 HR, 52 RBI) round out the infield, Southern Miss senior Kameron Brunty (.404 on-base percentage, six triples, five homers, 34 RBI) completes the outfield, Tulane senior Jeremy Schaffer (.338, league-high 23 doubles, six homers, 37 RBI) is listed at catcher and UAB senior Dillon Napoleon (C-USA Newcomer of the Year, 5-3, 2.87 ERA) ) rounds out the pitching selections.
Conference USA’s 17th baseball season gets underway on February 18. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 23-27 in Pearl, Miss. C-USA’s nine baseball schools have produced 68 NCAA appearances and 10 College World Series teams over the past 16 seasons.
2012 PRESEASON BASEBALL AWARDS
(as selected by C-USA’s head coaches)
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Rice (8)
2. UCF (1)
3. East Carolina
4. Southern Miss
(first place votes in parentheses)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
D.J. Hicks, UCF (Junior, Infielder/Pitcher)
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Austin Kubitza, Rice (Sophomore, Right-hander)
P Kevin Brandt Sr. East Carolina
P Austin Kubitza So. Rice
P Dillon Napoleon Sr. UAB
RP Tyler Duffey Jr. Rice
C Jeremy Schaffer Sr. Tulane
C Zach Wright Sr. East Carolina
IF Chase Jensen Jr. Houston
IF Darnell Sweeney Jr. UCF
IF Corey Thompson Sr. East Carolina
IF Jacob Wilson Sr. Memphis
OF Kameron Brunty Sr. Southern Miss
OF Jeremy Rathjen Jr. Rice
OF Michael Ratterree Jr. Rice
OF Ronnie Richardson Jr. UCF
DH/UT D.J. Hicks Jr. UCF