|ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE|
|HOW THEY’LL FINISH|
|*2012 conference championTeams in bold are 2012 NCAA tournament participants. Teams are listed in order of predicted finish. Records listed are from 2012 season.|
|Projected NCAA Teams (1): Saint Louis.|
|Conference Schedule: 24 games, begins March 22.|
|Conference Tournament: Seven teams, May 22-25 at Charlotte.|
|Player of the Year: Bill Cullen, of, Virginia Commonwealth.|
|Pitcher of the Year: Alex Alemann, rhp, Saint Louis.|
|TOP PROSPECTS, 2013-14 DRAFTS|
|1.||Andrew Brockett, rhp, Richmond|
|2.||Bill Cullen, of, Virginia Commonwealth|
|3.||Tyler Barnette, rhp, Charlotte|
|4.||Patrick Peterson, lhp, Temple (2014)|
|5.||James Norwood, rhp, Saint Louis (2014)|
|1.||Matt Creech, ss, Charlotte (HS—Moultrie, Ga.)|
|2.||Jake Henson, c, Saint Louis (HS—Cottleville, Mo.)|
|3.||Mark Podlas, of, Dayton (Tr.—Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC)|
• Saint Louis claimed a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title for the first time in its history last year, and the Billikens head into this spring as the favorites. They return 10 pitchers and their entire weekend rotation, fronted by Sr. RHP Alex Alemann (7-2, 2.84), from a staff that led the A-10 in ERA (3.06) last season by a wide margin. Eight of nine everyday regulars are also back in the fold, headlined by Sr. OF Alex Kelly (.326/.403/.487, 8 HR). The Billikens have won 30 or more games in five straight seasons under coach Darin Hendrickson, and coming off a school-record 41 wins a year ago, expectations are higher than ever.
• Charlotte had been the A-10’s most successful program, winning four regular-season and three tournament titles since joining the league in 2006, before slumping to a 21-32 record last year, the program’s first losing season since 2004. The 49ers will look to bounce back behind Jr. RHP Tyler Barnette, the A-10’s rookie of the year in 2011 who went just 3-3, 4.20 as a sophomore in 2012. An unsigned ninth-round pick of the Red Sox out of high school, Barnette runs his fastball up to 93 mph, and the 49ers believe his secondary stuff has stepped forward.
• The A-10’s baseball ranks swell to 15 teams this season thanks to the basketball-driven additions of Butler (from the Horizon League) and Virginia Commonwealth (from the Colonial Athletic Association). The Bulldogs don’t figure to be much of a factor in their debut season, but VCU should challenge the league’s top tier. The Rams return eight starters in their lineup, anchored by juniors Bill Cullen and Joey Cujas. Cujas finished second in the CAA batting race last year with a .390/.476/.543 line while providing steady defense at third base. Cullen (.347/.412/.571) had a big year in his own right and brings speed to the top of the Rams’ lineup and quality defense in center field. The Rams have to replace departed closer Blake Hauser (10 saves), but they do return Sr. LHP Ryan Farrar (4-3, 3.67) to lead the weekend rotation.
• VCU’s players will be playing with heavy hearts this season, as the program moves forward without head coach Paul Keyes, who lost his battle with skin cancer in November. Keyes started at VCU as an assistant in 1985 and had been the head coach for 18 seasons, putting together a 603-428-1 record, winning five CAA titles and making eight NCAA tournament appearances. The Rams promoted pitching coach Shawn Stiffler to the interim head job in December. On April 23, VCU and Old Dominion, Keyes’ alma mater, will play a benefit game dubbed the Key Dog Strike Out Cancer Classic.
• Dayton split the A-10’s regular-season title with Saint Louis in 2012 and captured the league’s lone regional bid, the first in school history, by winning the conference tournament. The Flyers relied heavily on seniors last year and go into 2013 having lost their top four hitters and two-thirds of their weekend rotation. To compete this time around, they’ll turn to a trio of junior college imports in OF Mark Podlas and RHPs Noah Buettgen and Brock Trimbur. Podlas originally committed to Virginia before detouring to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. The Flyers are excited about his speed and believe he’ll be a presence in the middle of their order. Buettgen has a strong arm with a quality changeup and is expected to assume the Friday starter’s role.
• George Washington made one of the country’s most intriguing coaching hires this offseason, bringing Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie home to take over at his alma mater. Ritchie, an outfielder and pitcher at GW in the 1980s, had been the Pirates’ hitting coach for the last two seasons before making the unheard-of career move of leaving the majors to take a college job. Ritchie hasn’t been shy about setting big goals for the program, which got a boost in the form of a $3 million renovation to its ballpark before last season, but the short-term outlook for the Colonials isn’t pretty. GW hasn’t had a winning overall record since 2005, and the 2012 team finished last in the A-10 with a 6-18 conference mark. Making matters worse, Ritchie has to replace two of the team’s top three hitters from last season, meaning the lineup will lean on Jr. OF Owen Beightol (.309/.349/.459).