PRINCETON, W.Va. - Ranked as high as No. 13 in several national college baseball previews and coming off its third consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional, Seton Hill has been selected as the preseason favorite to win the final West Virginia Conference Tournament championship and secure the league's automatic NCAA Regional bid.
The Griffins received nine WVC Tournament championship votes in the annual preseason balloting by the league's baseball coaches. Concord and Fairmont State each had two championship votes while West Virginia Wesleyan was listed first on one ballot.
Seton Hill, led 2012 WVC Pitcher of the Year Alex Haines and first-team all-conference slugger Nick Sell, also was a near-consensus pick to defend its WVC North Division crown.
The Griffins received 13 of the 15 first-place nods in that poll and were listed second on the other two ballots to stand head atop the North Division crowd with 103 points. Shepherd, also coming off an Atlantic Regional trip after beating Alderson-Broaddus in the finals of last year's WVC Tournament, received one first-place vote and was second with 74 points while the Battlers were third. Pitt-Johnstown, Fairmont State, Wheeling Jesuit and West Liberty round out the North Division with Fairmont State picking up the lone remaining first-place vote.
The coaches made 2011 WVC champion Concord the overwhelming favorite in the South Division with 113 points, including 11 first-place nods. The Bobcats received two first-place votes to hold down second place in the South with 93 points. Charleston and West Virginia State each received one first-place vote with the Golden Eagles edging out the Yellow Jackets for the No. 3 spot. Davis & Elkins was fifth, followed by Ohio Valley, Bluefield State and Glenville State.
Here's an alphabetical list of 2013 outlooks for each team:
Alderson-Broaddus returns a potent lineup that guided the squad to the 2012 Tournament Championship game. First-team all-conference performer Sean Collette led the Battlers with a .405 batting average.
He registered 79 hits, scored 60 runs, drove in 44 and swiped 13 bases. Jeff Conley registered second-team all-league honors after hitting .343 while tallying 61 hits and 62 RBI. Of his 61 hits, 27 were for extra bases.
Bluefield State posted eight league wins last season. Rusty Rainey leads a veteran squad.
He started 44 games in 2012, earning a .280 batting average. Rainey drove home 25 runs while scoring 20. He also helped turn 17 double plays. Sean Williams also started every game for the Big Blues. He scored 26 runs while swiping 12 bases.
Charleston will be under the guidance of second-year Coach Lee Bradley. During his rookie campaign, the team posted 19 league wins.
"I think the biggest thing for us is our guys got a little bit of that taste of success and they liked it and want to keep it going," Bradley said.
He returns a strong nucleus headed by second-team all-conference selection Igor Molina. In 2012, Molina led the team with a .377 average while playing in 46 games. He tallied 52 hits, including 17 that went for extra bases.
His 37 RBI were tops on the squad. Hurler Al Oldham also returns this year. He was 3-0 with a 4.81 ERA while appearing in 18 games in 2012. Oldham worked 24 1/3 innings and struck out 11 while walking four.
The Golden Eagles finished last season eighth in the conference in batting and pitching.
"Our pitching is getting better," Bradley said. "I can tell you for a fact that we are deeper than we were a year ago.
"As for hitting, I think the big thing for us is we try to preach quality at bats and situational stuff ... being able to hit and run, move guys around that way."
Concord is looking to win its second WVC Tournament championship in three years. Leading the way for the Mountain Lions is first-team all-conference standout Bret Blevins. In 2012, he started 51 games while notching a .368 average with a team-high 67 hits. He was second on the team with 47 RBI while maintaining a perfect 19-for-19 effort in stolen bases.
Ryan Johnston tallied a .343 average while starting all 53 games. His 10 round-trippers and 51 RBI were tops on the squad. He accounted for 24 extra base hits in 2012.