College Preview

2006 Big South Conference Preview




HOW THEY'LL FINISH



Conference Overall


W
L
W
L
1. +Winthrop
19
5
44
22
2. Coastal Carolina
21
3
50
16
3. Birmingham-Southern
18
6
36
21
4. Liberty
14
10
36
19
5. Charleston Southern
8
16
24
29
6. Virginia Military Institute
11
13
27
28
7. High Point
6
18
19
36
8. Radford
8
16
15
40
9. UNC Asheville
3
21
11
42
(2005 records listed; 2006 national ranking in parentheses)
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface

Projected NCAA Teams (1): Winthrop.
Conference Schedule: 24 games. Schedule begins March 10.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 24-27 at Conway, S.C. (Coastal Carolina).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
* 2005 conference leader

C--Alan Robbins, Sr., Winthrop (.289-3-30). 1B--Aaron Grijalva, So., Liberty (.367-11-39). 2B--Chris Carrara, Jr., Winthrop (.327-4-34, 28 SB). 3B--Kelly Sweppenhiser, Sr., Virginia Military (.370-12-40). SS--Matt Repec, Sr., Winthrop (.285-4-45). OF--Jacob Dempsey, Sr., Winthrop (.362-11-57); Dom Duggan, Jr., Coastal Carolina (.348-4-27); Phillip Laurent, Sr., Liberty (.330-7-30). DH--Brandon Hynick, Jr., Birmingham-Southern (.296-9-38). P--Josh Evans, Sr., Charleston Southern (8-4, 3.60, 90 IP/83 SO); Brandon Hynick, Jr., Birmingham-Southern (8-5, 3.34); Heath Rollins, Jr., Winthrop (11-6, 3.33, 130 IP/114 SO).

Player of the Year: Jacob Dempsey, of, Winthrop.
Pitcher of the Year: Heath Rollins, rhp, Winthrop.

Top Newcomers: 1. Alex Wilson, rhp, Winthrop (Fr., HS--Hurricane, W.Va.). 2. Travis Risser, rhp, Coastal Carolina (Jr., 5-3, 3.69, 4 SV at James Madison). 3. Matt Henson, ss, UNC Asheville (Jr., .358-0-39 at Young Harris, Ga., JC).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS

1. Heath Rollins, rhp/of, Winthrop.
2. Eammon Portice, rhp, High Point
3. #Blake Martin, lhp, Birmingham-Southern.

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter--Kelly Sweppenhiser, VMI. Best Raw Power--Jacob Dempsey, Winthrop. Best Strike-Zone Discipline--Kelly Sweppenhiser, VMI. Best Athlete--Heath Rollins, Winthrop. Fastest Runner--Chris Carrara, Winthrop. Best Baserunner--Chris Carrara, Winthrop. Best Defensive Catcher--Alan Robbins, Winthrop. Catcher/Best Arm--Alan Robbins, Winthrop. Best Defensive First Baseman--Aaron Grijalva, Liberty. Best Defensive Second Baseman--Chris Carrara, Winthrop. Best Defensive Third Baseman--Kelly Sweppenhiser, VMI. Best Defensive Shortstop--Matt Repec, Winthrop. Infielder/Best Arm--Matt Repec, Winthrop. Best Defensive Outfielder--Tommy Lentz, Winthrop. Outfielder/Best Arm--Jacoby Fields, VMI. Best Fastball--Eammon Portice, High Point. Best Breaking Ball--Heath Rollins, Winthrop. Best Control--Heath Rollins, Winthrop.

SHORT HOPS

• The Big South might have enjoyed its best year in 2005, with Coastal Carolina earning the conference's first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament—as an at-large entry, no less—and finishing the season ranked No. 23. The Chanticleers' .758 winning percentage ranked sixth nationally. Winthrop, the conference tournament champion, also earned a regional bid. Coastal 1B/RHP Mike Costanzo (.379-16-67; 8-1, 2.13, 14 SV), the first player in league history named both player and pitcher of the year, was drafted by the Phillies in the second round. Besides leading the conference in batting, ERA and saves, Costanzo also led the nation with 68 walks and ranked fifth with a .525 on-base percentage. Along with Costanzo, Coastal lost three other starting position players and three more key pitchers. A pair of transfers have come in to replace all that Costanzo brought to the team. UNC Wilmington transfer Matt Sutton, who didn’t play last year but hit .328-5-36 in 2004, takes over at first base. RHP Travis Risser, who went 1-2, 1.93 in the Cape Cod League, comes from James Madison to replace Costanzo as closer.

• Winthrop also spent time in the Top 25 during the year and earned a No. 2 seed. The Eagles produced a pair of second-rounders as well in OF Daniel Carte (.346-18-73) and RHP Kevin Slowey (13-2, 2.26, 136 IP/134 SO). Still, Winthrop returns seven offensive starters, including LHP/OF Heath Rollins, who moves to right field after playing first base last season. He led the league with 29 steals a year ago and batted .341-2-29, but he's even better on the mound. He beat Georgia Tech last season with an 87-90 mph fastball and an above-average slider and curveball. His 11 wins ranked third in the conference behind Slowey and Coastal's Ricky Shefka. Senior RHP Mike Honce was slated to be the No. 2 starter, but will miss the season after surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. That puts a larger load on freshman RHP Alex Wilson. He was the West Virginia high school player of the year at Hurricane High, the same school that produced Carte. Freshman 2B/3B Phil Carey was a 25th-round pick of the Blue Jays out of London, Ontario, and a member of the Canadian junior national team.

• Birmingham-Southern 1B Adam Tucker was leading the nation with 25 home runs until Florida's Matt LaPorta clubbed No. 26 at the College World Series. Tucker and two other infield starters are gone, so the Panthers' strength lies in its pitching staff. Keep an eye on 6-foot-3 sophomore LHP Blake Martin. He struck out 58 batters in 44 innings in the Northwoods League over the summer thanks to a low-90s fastball. He’ll team with junior RHP Brandon Hynick (8-5, 3.34) and senior RHP David Horne (8-4, 4.44) to give the Panthers three solid starters.

• Charleston Southern coach Jason Murray begins his second season with an overhauled roster that includes 28 newcomers and is heavy on junior college transfers. Five such players are penciled into the everyday lineup and three more rank among the club's top five pitchers, with LHPs Mike Mead (Seminole, Fla., CC) and Ryan Rowland (Garden City, Kan., CC) heading the list. They join what should be a strong rotation behind senior LHP Grant Evans (8-4, 3.60) and senior RHP Ryan Sowers (7-2, 4.54). The Buccaneers will play the season with heavy hearts after freshman RHP Grant Ringenburg died in November after being assaulted on campus by another student.

• High Point sophomore RHP Eammon Portice possesses the best arm in the league. His lively fastball pushes the mid-90s, and the Fort Lauderdale High product used it strike out 10 batters in six innings in his college debut at Miami. He went 6-4, 4.01 and ranked third in the conference with 90 strikeouts in 94 innings. Portice turns 21 on June 18, so he'll be draft-eligible this spring

• VMI senior RHP J.J. Hollenbeck went 4-5, 3.73 a year ago, working off a four-pitch mix that includes an 88-92 mph fastball and a plus split-finger.

• Liberty freshman 1B Shawn Teufel figures to start immediately at DH. He's the son of former Mets second baseman and current Class A St. Lucie manager Tim Teufel.