BRIDGEPORT — Shepherd and the University of Charleston have been tabbed by the league coaches as the preseason favorites for the 2019 Mountain East Conference baseball season.
The Rams were picked to finish first in the North with 66 points and 11 first-place points. Shepherd went 37-14 last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Brenton Doyle, the 2018 MEC Player of the Year, returns to the Shepherd outfield after hitting .415 with 14 home runs, 16 doubles and 68 RBI. Nick Atkinson, who had a league-best 15 home runs, will also rejoin Doyle in the Rams outfield.
Christian Hamel (.350 BA, 57 RBI) and Justin Smith (.426 BA, 43 RBI), both of whom were first-team All-MEC selections last season, also bring firepower to the SU lineup. Senior starter Ryan Potts will look to lead the pitching staff after going 11-2 last year with a 2.90 ERA. Potts also struck out a school-record 120 batters last season.
Notre Dame was picked to finish second in the North with 50 points (one first-place vote). Kenny Pierson will serve as the ace of the NDC staff after going 5-2 with a 2.16 ERA and earning first team All-MEC honors in 2018. Drake May (.303 BA, 30 RBI) and Ricky Phillips (.313 BA, 26 RBI) will lead the team on offense.
West Liberty was selected third with 46 points, followed by Fairmont State with 42 points. West Liberty returns outfielder Coby Eckstein (.394 BA, 10 HR) and a pair of starters in Parker Dyson (5-4, 3.00 ERA) and Luke Nees (4-2, 2.45 ERA).
Fairmont State, which was tabbed to finish fourth in the North Division, brings back the reigning MEC Pitcher of the Year in Michael Stout. Stout went 8-3 with a 1.68 ERA and earned All-Atlantic Region and All-America honors a season ago. Tyler Hill (.380, 36 RBI) a second-team All-MEC pick a season ago, and Greg Yaksich (.336 BA, 32 RBI), will be counted on to lead the offense.
Urbana was picked fifth (27 points) and Wheeling Jesuit was sixth (16 points) to round out the North Division poll.
Charleston is the pick to win the South Division with 62 points (seven first-place votes). The Golden Eagles recorded a 36-23 record last season, winning the division title and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament in the process. First-team All-MEC selections Jack Brunetti (.320 BA, 21 RBI) and Colby Johnson (.351 BA, 40 RBI , 10 HR) return to the formidable UC lineup, along with second team honorees Gianfranco Morello (.309, 41 RBI, 35 SB) and Colton Bauer (.348 BA, 35 RBI, 13 2B). Austin Henrich returns the most innings on the pitching staff going 6-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 62.2 innings of work.
Concord was picked to finish second in the South Division with 54 points (three first-place votes), just ahead of West Virginia State with 52 points (two first-place votes).
Concord returns several key components from last year's team, including a pair of second-team outfielders in Adam Linkous (.360 BA) and Evan Webb (.331 BA, 40 RBI). Senior starter Troy Beckner logged 68.1 innings last year going 6-5 with a 4.35 ERA. The Yellow Jackets will be led by Andrew Stone who hit .309 last year with 15 doubles with 30 RBI on his way to being named the MEC Freshman of the Year.
UVa-Wise and Glenville State finished tied for fourth in the poll with 29 points. West Virginia Wesleyan rounded out the South Division with 20 points.
MEC PRESEASON POLL
1. Shepherd — 66 (11)
2. Notre Dame — 50 (1)
3. West Liberty — 46
4. Fairmont State — 42
5. Urbana— 27
6. Wheeling Jesuit — 16
1. Charleston — 62 (7)
2. Concord — 54 (3)
3. W.Va. State — 42 (2)
4. UVa-Wise — 29
Glenville State —29
6. W.Va. Wesleyan — 20