Tuesday, January 4, 2011

USF picked to finish fourth in Big East Baseball

After winning a school-record 48 games and advancing to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 1994, Connecticut has been chosen as the favorite to win the 2011 BIG EAST baseball championship by the league’s 12 head coaches.

The Huskies received nine of a possible 11 first-place votes in the preseason poll. The coaches also chose Connecticut outfielder George Springer as the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year and named righthanded pitcher Matt Barnes the BIG EAST Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Connecticut returns seven starting position players and its top two pitchers from last year’s team, which went 48-16 overall and 20-6 in the BIG EAST Conference, finishing a half-game behind Louisville in the regular-season standings. The Huskies advanced to the BIG EAST Championship final for the third time in the last four years and hosted the Norwich Regional of the NCAA Championship.

USF (26-32, 16-11 BIG EAST) was picked fourth in the preseason poll with 87 points on the strength of two of the top pitchers in the BIG EAST. Southpaw Andrew Barbosa went 8-2 with a BIG EAST-leading 2.40 ERA, while righthander Randy Fontanez went 5-7 with a 3.59 ERA and led the conference in innings (110.1) and strikeouts (105) last season. Both pitchers were chosen to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team.

St. John’s, which went 43-20 overall and 16-11 in BIG EAST play, was picked second in the preseason poll, edging Louisville with 107 points. The Red Storm won a record sixth BIG EAST Championship last season and were selected for the NCAA Regionals for the third time in the last four years. Outfielder Jeremy Baltz (.396, 24 HR, 85 RBI), a Baseball America All-America First Team pick and the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year last season, was named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST Team, along with righthanded pitcher Kyle Hansen (8-3, 3.71 ERA), who was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 BIG EAST Championship.

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