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WVC baseball: Seton Hill picked to win conference title

By From staff reports

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.

Davis & Elkin will try to make a run similar to the one it made in 2011 after missing out on the WVC Tournament a year ago. Matt Barr led the team with a .384 average, eight home runs, 37 RBI and 41 runs scored while starting all 47 games. He was also walked 20 times and was hit by 25 pitches to post an eye-popping .533 on-base percentage. Lance Vannoy was just behind Barr with a .365 batting average. He notched 38 hits, drove in 24 and scored 17 times.

Fairmont State's late-season run finished one win shy of the tournament title game. Trevor Funk posted a team-high .351 average while starting 47 games. He pounded out 54 hits, scored 41 times and had a team-high 11 doubles while swiping 26 bases. Honorable mention all-conference hurler Tyler Kincaid returns to the FSU rotation. He had six wins a year ago, including two complete games and one shutout, while fanning 73 batters in 75 2/3 innings of work.

Glenville State gained a lot of experience in 2012 and will look to make a push toward the postseason this year. Ethan Szabo earned first-team all-conference honors after batting .352. He led the Pioneers in hits (50), runs (19), doubles (13) and homers (6). John Royce is a veteran after playing in 38 games last year, while starting 35. Seven of his 23 hits went for extra bases, including a pair of triples. John Royce also returns to the line-up. He was third on the squad a season ago in batting average while starting 35 games. Nearly one-third of his hits went for extra bases.

Royce also led the team in walks.

Ohio Valley made a late push for the WVC Tournament but fell just short. That experience could pay off this spring as the Fighting Scots return a veteran squad. After missing the 2012 season, Mike Shepherd brings his strong bat back to the hot corner for his senior year. He started all 42 games two years ago, hitting .320 with 40 hits and 27 runs scored. Tyler Wharton is also back after starting 38 games last year. He had 29 hits, including a team-high seven doubles, and ranked second on the team with 19 runs scored.

Pitt-Johnstown just missed qualifying for the 2012 Tournament and will try to get over that hump and a make a run at the title this season.

The Mountain Cats boast two first-team all-conference selections in Kyle Morrow and Jake Warner. Morrow started all 49 games while belting out 53 hits, nearly half (26) of which went for extra bases. He led the team with 48 RBI and was second on the squad with 14 doubles and 12 home runs.

Warner recorded a .393 average to finish second on the team while posting team-highs of 66 hits, 47 runs scored and 13 steals.

Seton Hill returns an experienced team will be gunning for its fourth straight North Division title and its first WVC Tournament crown since the 2010 season. The Griffins will rely heavily on a strong mound rotation, headed by Haines, with Sell leading the way at the plate. Haines was 7-2 with a pair of saves last spring, striking out 108 batters and yielding just 63 hits in 70 innings on the bump. Sell pounded the ball at a .380 clip with 11 homers and 55 RBI to lead the Griffin attack. Sell finished with 60 hits, 23 for extra bases, and scored 48 runs while striking out just 18 times all season.

Shepherd will try to find a way to defend its WVC Tournament crown after losing NCAA Division II National Player of the Year Nate Minnich to graduation. The cupboard is far from bare in Shepherdstown, however, as the Rams return a deep and talented nucleus. First-team all-conference ace Paul Hvozdovic heads the mound staff after going 10-4 with two saves and a 2.57 ERA in 20 appearances last season. The Shepherd workhorse whiffed 81 batters and walked just 19 in 108 1/3 innings of work. Second-team all-league performer Chad Murphy returns to the middle of the order after hitting .351 with a .503 slugging percentage and a .487 on-base percentage a year ago.

Murphy banged out 60 hits and drove in 43 runs while scoring 40 more.

West Liberty is guided by Coach Eric Burkle, who will try to lead the Hilltoppers back to postseason play. Speedy Mike Johnson started 39 games for the Hilltoppers in 2012, pounding out 34 hits, scoring 33 runs and driving in 16. He also led the team with 22 walks and was second on the squad with 13 extra-base hits. Drew Peterson appeared in seven games on the mound for WLU. He tossed 35 innings while striking out 27. Peterson started six contests and went the distance in four.

West Virginia State wants to get back to the WVC Championship game, which it last did two years ago in Beckley. The Yellow Jackets return first-team all-league selection Billy Smith, who hit .419 with 78 hits and 49 runs scored - all team-highs - a year ago. Smith also belted out a team-best 19 doubles while ranking second on the squad with 34 RBI. He'll team with Noah Blackhurst to forge one of the league's top hitting tandems.

Blackhurst hit. 358 with 59 hits and 31 RBI last year while scoring 46 runs.

"What we have to do to get better next year is throw strikes and keep the other team from scoring," Yellow Jackets Coach Cal Bailey said. "We have to reduce our level of frustrations and just play the game.

"With everybody back we ought to do better this year than we did last year."

West Virginia Wesleyan will look to defend its WVC South Division title in 2013 behind a talented and experienced lineup and one of the conference's top returning pitchers. First-team all-conference honoree Aaron Adams tossed eight complete games last season, posting a 10-4 record with a 2.57 ERA in 17 appearances. Adams had 80 strikeouts and gave up just 82 hits in 105 innings. J.R. Tenney returns to lead the Bobcat attack after hitting .339 with a .431 on-base percentage last spring. In 45 starts, Tenney lashed out 42 hits and scored 32 runs.

Wheeling Jesuit narrowly missed a postseason berth a season ago and will be looking to get over that hump this spring. Wheeling Jesuit welcomes back Corey Hull and his .345 batting average. Hull ranked among the team leaders a year ago with 40 hits, 25 runs scored and eight doubles while posting a team-high 6 stolen bases. Clutch performer Robbie Davia also returns after starting 40 games last season. Davia scored 22 runs and ripped out 10 doubles in 40 starts.


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