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South Region Preview

By Allan Simpson
January 22, 2003

Atlantic Sun | Conference USA | Southeastern | Southland | Southwestern Athletic | Sun Belt

Conference power ranking in parentheses. Team's 2003 national ranking in parentheses. 2002 NCAA regional teams in bold. & denotes 2002 tournament champions. * denotes 2002 conference leader. # denotes eligible for 2003 draft.

Atlantic Sun (13)

How They’ll Finish
1. Stetson (18)
2. Florida Atlantic (24)
3. &Central Florida (40)
4. Jacksonville
5. Troy State
6. Samford
7. Georgia State
8. Mercer
9. Campbell
10. Jacksonville State
11. Belmont
12. Gardner-Webb

Projected NCAA Teams (3): Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Stetson.
Conference Schedule: 33 games. Schedule begins Feb. 28.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 21-24 at DeLand, Fla.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Chris Westervelt, Jr., Stetson (.403-*18-46). 1B—Brian Zenchyk, Jr., Stetson (.383-11-64). 2B—Brian Snyder, Jr., Stetson (.379-14-54). 3B—Mike Cox, Sr., Florida Atlantic (.331-*18-65). SS—Derek Barrows, Sr., Campbell (.290-3-24). OF—Mike Appalucci, Sr., Mercer (.325-17-53); Dee Brown, So., Central Florida (.397-3-56); Jeff Fiorentino, So., Florida Atlantic (.301-12-53). DH—Wade Miller, Jr., Troy State (.393-10-53).

Util—Andy Wilson, Sr., Stetson (.369-11-59; 3-1, 4.45, *12 SV).

P—Danny Core, Sr., Florida Atlantic (8-6, 3.72); Roger Lincoln, Sr., Stetson (*12-3, 3.99, 95 IP/95 SO); Chris Pillsbury, Jr., Florida Atlantic (10-3, 4.60). RP—Matt Fox, So., Central Florida (0-0, 4.91).

Player of the Year: Chris Westervelt, c, Stetson.
Pitcher of the Year: Chris Pillsbury, rhp, Florida Atlantic.
Freshman of the Year: Drew Butera, c, Central Florida.

Top Prospects
1. Brian Snyder, 3b/2b, Stetson. 2. Chris Pillsbury, rhp, Florida Atlantic. 3. Travis NeSmith, lhp, Florida Atlantic (7-2, 4.98). 4. #Matt Fox, rhp/ss, Central Florida. 5. Chris Westervelt, c, Stetson. 6. #Taylor Cobb, rhp, Central Florida (1-2, 4.70). 7. #Jeff Fiorentino, of, Florida Atlantic. 8. #Clay Timpner, of, Central Florida (.361-5-47). 9. #Dee Brown, of, Central Florida. 10. Eric Wikstrom, rhp, Troy State (5-4, 3.88).

Top Newcomers
1. Matt Ryan, of, Florida Atlantic (Jr., Tr.—Louisburg, N.C., JC). 2. Randy Beam, lhp, Florida Atlantic (Jr., Tr.—Manatee, Fla., CC). 3. Jeff Stovall, lhp, Campbell (Sr., Tr.—Furman). 4. Drew Butera, c, Central Florida (Fr., 48th round/Blue Jays, 2002 draft). 5. Cy McCuen, rhp, Stetson (Jr., Tr.—Indian River, Fla., CC).

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter
—Chris Westervelt, Stetson. Best Raw Power—Brian Snyder, Stetson.

Fastest Runner—David Mann, Central Florida. Best Baserunner—Matt Ryan, Florida Atlantic.

Best Defensive Catcher—Chris Westervelt, Stetson. Catcher/Best Arm—Jason Brown, Campbell. Best Defensive First Baseman—Brian Zenchyk, Stetson. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Andy Wilson, Stetson. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Brian Snyder, Stetson. Best Defensive Shortstop—Rusty Beale, Stetson. Infielder/Best Arm—Matt Fox, Central Florida. Best Defensive Outfielder—Clay Timpner, Central Florida. Outfielder/Best Arm—Rob Evans, Samford.

Best Fastball—Matt Fox, Central Florida. Best Breaking Ball—Darren Truty, Jacksonville. Best Control—Roger Lincoln, Stetson.

Short Hops
Stetson returns its starting infield intact for a third straight season, though junior 3B Brian Snyder (.379-14-54) and senior 2B Andy Wilson (.369-11-59), who also doubles as the Hatters’ closer and led the Atlantic Sun with 12 saves a year ago, have switched positions. Snyder earned all-conference honors last spring, then was named the Cape Cod League’s all-star third baseman . . . Former big leaguers Frank Viola and Sal Butera formed a battery for the Twins in 1982 and again in 1987. Now their sons could do the same at Central Florida. Frankie Viola is a 6-foot-5 freshman righthander for the Golden Knights, while Drew Butera is a freshman catcher . . . The Atlantic Sun’s Freshman of the Year in 2002 was 5-foot-11, 235-pound Central Florida OF Dee Brown (.397-3-56), the son of former NFL all-pro defensive tackle Jerome Brown, who was killed in a car accident in 1992 at age 27. Brown also plays football and was the second-leading rusher on the Central Florida football team in the fall . . . Gardner-Webb (N.C.), new to the conference, and Troy State have new coaches. Rusty Stroupe, formerly of Division II Lander (S.C.), takes over the Bulldogs, while Bobby Pierce steps up from D-II Alabama-Huntsville to take over the Trojans.

Conference USA (5)

How They’ll Finish
1. Houston (11)
2. Tulane (26)
3. South Florida (41)
4. Southern Mississippi
5. &East Carolina
6. Louisville
7. Texas Christian
8. Cincinnati
9. Memphis
10. Charlotte
11. Saint Louis
12. Alabama-Birmingham

Projected NCAA Teams (3): Houston, South Florida, Tulane.
Conference Schedule: 30 games. Schedule begins March 14.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 21-25 at New Orleans.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Devin Ivany, So., South Florida (.322-10-56). 1B—Brett Cooley, Sr., Houston (.339-18-56). 2B—George Sandel, Sr., Charlotte (.374-4-39). 3B—Darryl Lawhorn, So., East Carolina (.416-19-68). SS—Myron Leslie, Jr., South Florida (.310-7-50). OF—Michael Bourn, Jr., Houston (.327-1-23, *32 SB); Jon Kaplan, Sr., Tulane (.333-4-31, 30 SB); Terry Trofholz, Sr., Texas Christian (*.441-3-40, 22 SB). DH—Mark Jurich, Jr., Louisville (.365-16-60).

Util—Michael Aubrey, Jr., Tulane (.316-7-52; 8-1, 4.45).

P—Corey Lawson, Sr., Saint Louis (8-3, 3.29); Bob McCrory, Jr., Southern Mississippi (7-3, 2.57); Brad Sullivan, Jr., Houston (*13-1, *1.82, 129 IP/*157 SO). RP—Joey Charron, Sr., Tulane (3-4, 3.38, 67 IP/77 SO, 9 SV).

Player of the Year: Michael Aubrey, 1b/lhp, Tulane.
Pitcher of the Year: Brad Sullivan, rhp, Houston.
Freshman of the Year: J.R. Crowell, lhp, Tulane.

Top Prospects, 2003 Draft
1. Brad Sullivan, rhp, Houston. 2. Michael Aubrey, of/1b, Tulane. 3. Michael Bourn, of, Houston. 4. Myron Leslie, ss-3b, South Florida. 5. Bob McCrory, rhp, Southern Mississippi. 6. Danny Zell, lhp, Houston (8-2, 2.86). 7. Brett Cooley, 3b-1b, Houston. 8. Anthony Giarratano, ss, Tulane (.238-2-20). 9. Cory Hahn, rhp, Tulane (Tr.—Kentucky). 10. Mark Jurich, of, Louisville.

Top Prospects, 2004 Draft
1. Garrett Mock, rhp, Houston (Tr.—Grayson County, Texas, CC). 2. Devin Ivany, c, South Florida. 3. Zach Jackson, lhp, Louisville (10-3, 4.77). 4. Darryl Lawhorn, 1b/3b, East Carolina. 5. Wes Swackhamer, of, Tulane (Tr.-Florida).

Top Newcomers
1. Garrett Mock, rhp, Houston (So., 14th round/Twins, 2002 draft). 2. Wes Swackhamer, of, Tulane. 3. Cory Hahn, rhp, Tulane. 4. Ron Braun, c, Louisville (Tr.—North Carolina). 5. Don Rogers, 3b, Saint Louis (Tr.—Wichita State).

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter
—Michael Aubrey, Tulane. Best Raw Power—Brett Cooley, Houston.

Fastest Runner—Michael Bourn, Houston. Best Baserunner—Jon Kaplan, Tulane.

Best Defensive Catcher—Devin Ivany, South Florida. Catcher/Best Arm—Devin Ivany, South Florida. Best Defensive First Baseman—Brett Cooley, Houston. Best Defensive Second Baseman—George Sandel, Charlotte. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Hyung Cho, Houston. Best Defensive Shortstop—Anthony Giarratano, Tulane. Infielder/Best Arm—Anthony Giarratano, Tulane. Best Defensive Outfielder—Jon Kaplan, Sr., Tulane. Outfielder/Best Arm—Aaron Moll, Cincinnati.

Best Fastball—Brad Sullivan, Houston. Best Breaking Ball—Brad Sullivan, Houston. Best Control—Brad Sullivan, Houston.

Short Hops
Conference USA has two of the top five college prospects for the 2003 draft: Houston RHP Brad Sullivan and Tulane 1B/LHP Michael Aubrey. Both players excelled for Team USA last summer, with Sullivan (7-0, 0.72) being selected Baseball America’s Summer Player of the Year, and Aubrey (.405-6-26) earning the nod from USA Baseball as that organization’s amateur athlete of the year . . . Louisville also had a profound impact on Team USA as Cardinals coach Lelo Prado and OF Mark Jurich also were on the team. Prado served as the team’s head coach, leading it to a runner-up finish to Cuba at the inaugural World University Championship in Italy . . . Aubrey plans to go both ways again for Tulane, even though back problems last year adversely affected both his hitting and pitching. He hit .361 with 13 home runs in 2001 when he was BA’s Freshman of the Year; last year, he hit .316 with seven homers. "The key for him is to stay healthy," Green Wave coach Rick Jones said. "How much he pitches will depend on his back." Aubrey, 11-2 for his career, has been penciled in as Tulane’s No. 2 starter . . . Texas Christian returns senior OF Terry Trofholz, whose .441 average in 2002 set a conference record . . . The conference’s top two returning home run hitters, Houston’s Brett Cooley (18 homers) and East Carolina’s Darryl Lawhorn (19 homers), will try their hand at third base this year after spending most of the 2002 season at first . . . East Carolina’s Randy Mazey is the conference’s only new head coach this season. He succeeds Keith LeClair, whose affliction with Lou Gehrig’s disease forced him to step down after the 2002 season. LeClair led the Pirates to four consecutive regional appearances and the 2002 league title in their first year in C-USA . . . The conference has an unusually high number of four-year transfers who should assume prominent roles immediately. The biggest beneficiary appears to be Tulane, where junior RHP Cory Hahn (3-8, 4.83 at Kentucky) steps in as the No. 1 starter and sophomore OF Wes Swackhamer (.333-0-4 at Florida) starts in left field . . . Other significant transfers include Louisville junior C Ron Braun (.307-13-46 at North Carolina); Texas Christian junior 1B Chris Neuman (.211-0-5 at Texas) and junior RHP Tim McGough (1-0, 3.93 at Texas); Cincinnati junior C Josh Romero (.295-2-12 at Indiana) and junior closer Brian St. Jean (2-1, 5.22 at Tennessee); and Saint Louis 3B Don Rogers (.333-1-11 at Wichita State). The best transfer of the lot, though, may be Houston sophomore RHP Garrett Mock, a 14th-round pick of the Twins in the 2002 draft. A product of Texas’ Grayson County CC, Mock was one of the top juco pitchers in the country last year.

Southeastern (3)

How They’ll Finish
1. South Carolina (14)
2. Georgia (29)
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky
1. Louisiana State (9)
2. Mississippi State (17)
3. Auburn (21)
4. Mississippi (30)
5. &Alabama (38)
6. Arkansas

Projected NCAA Teams (7): Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina.
Conference Schedule: 30 games. Schedule begins March 14.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 21-25 at Hoover, Ala.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Landon Powell, Jr., South Carolina (.292-12-53). 1B—Matt Brinson, Jr., Mississippi State (.316-14-71). 2B—Matt Tolbert, Jr., Mississippi (.271-2-16). 3B—Lee Mitchell, Jr., Georgia (.286-14-55). SS—Aaron Hill, Jr., Louisiana State (.329-9-47). OF—Ben Harrison, Jr., Florida (.342-8-38); Javon Moran, Jr., Auburn (.365-3-41); Seth Smith, So., Mississippi (.402-4-52). DH—Bobby Huddleston, Sr., Auburn (.355-11-50).

Util—Mickey Westphal, So., Georgia (.286-0-0; 5-6, 6.35).

P—Paul Maholm, Jr., Mississippi State (10-3, 3.43); Jeremy Sowers, So., Vanderbilt (6-5, 4.37); Taylor Tankersley, So., Alabama (8-5, 2.62, 69 IP/65 SO). RP—Brian Wilson, Jr., Louisiana State (10-5, 3.54).

Player of the Year: Landon Powell, c, South Carolina.
Pitcher of the Year: Paul Maholm, lhp, Mississippi State.
Freshman of the Year: Brad Corley, of, Mississippi State.

Top Prospects, 2003 Draft
1. Landon Powell, c, South Carolina. 2. Paul Maholm, lhp, Mississippi State. 3. Aaron Hill, ss/3b, Louisiana State. 4. Javi Herrera, c, Tennessee (.200-0-7). 5. Ben Harrison, of, Florida. 6. Brian Wilson, rhp, Louisiana State. 7. Lee Mitchell, 3b, Georgia. 8. Javon Moran, of, Auburn. 9. Todd Nicholas, lhp, Mississippi State (redshirt in 2002). 10. Jon Papelbon, rhp, Mississippi State (3-4, 2.92, 5 SV).

Top Prospects, 2004 Draft
1. Jeremy Sowers, lhp, Vanderbilt. 2. Alan Horne, rhp, Mississippi (5-2, 4.97). 3. Seth Smith, of, Mississippi. 4. Taylor Tankersley, lhp, Alabama. 5. Clint Sammons, c, Georgia (.242-7-31).

Top Newcomers
1. Brad Corley, of, Mississippi State (Fr., 16th round/Rockies, 2002 draft). 2. Josh Bell, c/3b, Auburn (Fr., 5th round/Cardinals, 2002 draft). 3. Clete Thomas, of, Auburn (Fr., 5th round/Twins, 2002 draft). 4. Matt Horwath, ss, Louisiana State (Fr., undrafted in 2002). 5. Justin Tordi, ss, Florida (Fr., 46th round/Blue Jays, 2002 draft).

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter
—1. Aaron Hill, Louisiana State. 2. Seth Smith, Mississippi. Best Raw Power—1. Lee Mitchell, Georgia. 2. Hank Parks, South Carolina. 3. Matt Brinson, Mississippi State.

Fastest Runner—Javon Moran, Auburn. Best Baserunner—1. Javon Moran, Auburn. 2. Jordan Czarniecki, Tennessee. 3. Aaron Hill, Louisiana State.

Best Defensive Catcher—Landon Powell, South Carolina. Catcher/Best Arm—Landon Powell, South Carolina. Best Defensive First Baseman—Matt Brinson, Mississippi State. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Tug Hulett, Auburn. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Lee Mitchell, Georgia. Best Defensive Shortstop—Matt Maniscalco, Mississippi State. Infielder/Best Arm—Adam Pavkovich, Alabama. Best Defensive Outfielder—Javon Moran, Auburn. Outfielder/Best Arm—Ben Harrison, Florida.

Best Fastball—1. Brian Wilson, Louisiana State; 2. Colby Paxton, Auburn. 3. T.J. Beam, Mississippi. Best Breaking Ball—1. Jake Tompkins, Louisiana State. 2. Paul Maholm, Mississippi State. 3. Jeremy Sowers, Vanderbilt. Best Control—1. Paul Maholm, Mississippi State. 2. Jake Tompkins, Louisiana State. 3. Lane Mestepey, Louisiana State.

Short Hops
The SEC, which has turned over eight coaches in the last three years, welcomes Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt and Dave Van Horn at Arkansas. Corbin, a former assistant at Clemson, replaces Roy Mewbourne, who went 655-608 in 24 years. Van Horn returns to his alma mater after serving five years as head coach at Nebraska, where he went 214-92 and led the school to its first two College World Series appearances. Van Horn succeeds Norm DeBriyn, who wrapped up a 33-year stint as Arkansas coach with 1,161 career wins, and 15 NCAA and four CWS appearances . . . The SEC returns just two of its top 10 hitters—Mississippi sophomore OF Seth Smith (.402-4-52) and senior SS Chad Sterbens (.376-4-49). Smith is also the only returning all-conference performer as LSU’s Lane Mestepey (11-5, 2.59) had offseason surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to miss 2003 . . . Even without Mestepey, the Tigers will have a deep pitching staff with the return of senior RHPs Jake Tompkins (7-1, 2.68) and Bo Pettit (9-7, 3.35) and junior RHP Brian Wilson (10-5, 3.54), and three drafted newcomers, led by junior closer Brandon Nall, a 31st-round pick of the Braves . . . LSU will miss 3B Wally Pontiff (.339-6-46), a three-year starter who died last summer of a heart abnormality. Aaron Hill (.329-9-47), a possible first-round pick in this year’s draft, is expected to play third . . . Alabama 2B/OF Peter Stonard (.411-5-42), the SEC’s No. 2 hitter, was one of two Alabama players kicked off the team in November for disciplinary reasons. Stonard transferred to San Diego State . . . Auburn, which started four freshmen last year on its way to earning a regional bid, will count on two more freshmen to start this year. Unsigned fifth-round picks 3B/C Josh Bell and OF Clete Thomas will be joined as impact newcomers by 6-foot-5, 225-pound DH Karl Amonite, a Canadian who hit .420-18-85 a year ago at Connors State, Okla., JC . . . Tennessee welcomes back junior C Javi Herrera (.200-0-7), who missed most of the 2002 season with shoulder surgery and a broken hand. Herrera hit .296-7-45 and earned second-team Freshman All-America honors in 2001 . . . Mississippi State junior LHP Paul Maholm (10-3, 3.43) is a possible first-round pick, but scouts say the sleeper on the staff is 6-foot-2 sophomore LHP Todd Nicholas, who redshirted in 2002 after going 0-0, 8.31 in 2001 . . . Florida faces a massive rebuilding job after losing eight players to the draft. The Gators are counting on a big season from holdover OF Ben Harrison (.342-8-38) and sophomore RHP Justin Hoyman, a transfer from Brevard (Fla.) CC and a 43rd-round pick of the Rockies.

Southland (16)

How They’ll Finish
1. Southwest Texas State
2. McNeese State
3. Texas-Arlington
4. Northwestern State
5. &Lamar
6. Louisiana-Monroe
7. Texas-San Antonio
8. Nicholls State
9. Southeastern Louisiana
10. Sam Houston State

Projected NCAA Teams (2): McNeese State, Southwest Texas State.
Conference Schedule: 27 games. Schedule begins March 14.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 21-24 at Hammond, La.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Ran Prince, Sr., McNeese State (.360-8-47, 25 SB). 1B—Anatole Vincent, Sr., Northwestern State (.361-11-60). 2B—Jacob Spencer, Sr., Southwest Texas State (.367-13-54). 3B—Ryan Roberts, Sr., Texas-Arlington (.362-10-60). SS—Chuck Hickman, Sr., Nicholls State (.396-8-46, 26 SB). OF—Andy Chance, Sr., UL Monroe (.318-7-38); Tommy Eubanks, Sr., McNeese State (.290-11-*71); Phil Gentry, Sr., Texas-San Antonio (.369-5-27). DH—Marc Coles, Sr., Southwest Texas State (.362-12-60).

Util—Cory Covert, Sr., Southwest Texas State (.304-4-15; 6-5, 4.20).

P—Josh Gray, Jr., Lamar (6-5, 3.72); Casey Johnson, Sr., Northwestern State (*11-1, 2.70); Bobby Sawicki, Jr., Southwest Texas State (*11-2, 3.57, 118 IP/124 SO). RP—Ronnie Baron, Jr., McNeese State (Tr.—Blinn, Texas, JC).

Player of the Year: Ran Prince, c, McNeese State.
Pitcher of the Year: Bobby Sawicki, rhp, Southwest Texas State.
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Crew, ss, Texas-San Antonio.

Top Prospects
1. Josh Gray, lhp, Lamar. 2. Mark Weinmunson, lhp, Southeastern Louisiana (3-5, 5.66). 3. *Brooks Shankle, 3b, Texas-San Antonio (Tr.—Tulane).4. Ronnie Baron, rhp, McNeese State. 5. Lance Dawkins, ss, McNeese State (Tr.—Meridian, Miss., JC).

Top Newcomers
1. Brooks Shankle, 3b, Texas-San Antonio. 2. Ronnie Baron, rhp, McNeese State. 3. Lance Dawkins, ss, McNeese State. 4. Kasey Baker, ss, Texas-Arlington (Jr., Tr.—San Jacinto, Texas, JC). 5. Derek Brehm, lhp, Texas-Arlington (Tr.—Baylor).

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter
—Jacob Spencer, Southwest Texas State. Best Raw Power—Tim Lemke, McNeese State.

Fastest Runner—Blake Justice, Lamar. Best Baserunner—Blake Justice, Lamar.

Best Defensive Catcher—Joey Wolfe, UL Monroe. Catcher/Best Arm—Joey Wolfe, UL Monroe. Best Defensive First Baseman—Mark Cooper, Southwest Texas. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Blake Justice, Lamar. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Josh Fontenot, McNeese State. Best Defensive Shortstop—Ignacio Suarez, Southwest Texas State. Infielder/Best Arm—Ignacio Suarez, Southwest Texas State. Best Defensive Outfielder—Steve Adams, Northwestern State. Outfielder/Best Arm—Shaun Stanton, Lamar.

Best Fastball—Cory Covert, Southwest Texas State. Best Breaking Ball—Bobby Sawicki, Southwest Texas State. Best Control—Bobby Sawicki, Southwest Texas State.

Short Hops
Preseason favorite Southwest Texas State returns its top three hitters, all seniors—2B Jacob Spencer (.367-13-54), 3B Marc Coles (.362-12-60) and SS Ignacio Suarez (.323-1-22)—along with ace junior RHP Bobby Sawicki (11-2, 3.57)

. . . Texas-San Antonio has replaced 2002 SLC player of the year Mark Schramek (.416-11-49), a supplemental first-round pick of the Reds, at third base with sophomore Brooks Shankle, who hit .276-4-22 as the starting third baseman at Tulane in 2002 . . . Two coaching changes in the league have former Rice assistant Chris Rupp replacing John Skeeters at Sam Houston State, and former Louisiana State assistant Dan Canevari replacing Greg Marten at Southeastern Louisiana.

Southwestern Athletic (27)

How They’ll Finish

1. Jackson State
2. Alabama State
3. Alcorn State
4. Alabama A&M
5. Mississippi Valley State
1. &Southern
2. Texas Southern
3. Grambling State
4. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
5. Prairie View

Projected NCAA Teams (1): Southern.
Conference Schedule: 32 games. Schedule begins Feb. 21.
Conference Tournament: Four teams, May 1-4.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Eric Duff, Jr., Alabama State (.329-10-37). 1B—Kevin Vital, Sr., Southern (.362-9-53). 2B—Rickie Weeks, Jr., Southern (*.495-*20-*96). 3B—Antoin Gray, Sr., Southern (.449-19-77). SS—Fernando Puebla, Jr., Southern (.382-3-55). OF—Robert Felton, Sr., Jackson State (.338-2-44, 23 SB); Kris Peters, Sr., Alcorn State (.329-3-32, 29 SB); Andrew Toussaint, So., Southern (Tr.—Cal Poly). DH—Brandon Mason, So., Southern (.403-4-46).

P—Dewan Day, Sr., Southern (0-1, 5.40); Brian Nichols, So., Alabama State (7-4, 4.06); Cory Poret, Jr., Southern (7-2, 4.53).

Player of the Year: Rickie Weeks, 2b, Southern.

Top Prospects
1. Rickie Weeks, 2b, Southern. 2. Brian Nichols, rhp, Alabama State. 3. Dewan Day, rhp, Southern. 4. Andrew Toussaint, of, Southern. 5. Damian Ursin, rhp, Southern (2-0, 2.51, 32 IP/30 SO).

Top Newcomer
Andrew Toussaint, of, Southern.

Short Hops
Southern is heavily favored to win its 10th league title in the last 13 years as it returns three .400 hitters from a team that led NCAA Division I in batting with a .378 average—32 percentage points ahead of its closest competitor. Besides junior 2B Rickie Weeks, the nation’s defending batting champion and top prospect, the Jaguars feature senior 3B Antoin Gray, who hit .449-19-77, and sophomore OF Andrew Toussaint, a Cal Poly transfer who was a 10th-round pick out of a Los Angeles high school.

Sun Belt (9)

How They’ll Finish

1. South Alabama (23)
2. Florida International (45)
3. Louisiana-Lafayette
4. New Orleans
5. Middle Tennessee State
6. &New Mexico State
7. Arkansas State
8. Western Kentucky
9. Arkansas-Little Rock

Projected NCAA Teams (2): Florida International, South Alabama.
Conference Schedule: 24 games. Schedule begins March 21.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 20-24 at Lafayette, La.

Players To Watch

All-Conference Team
C—Beau Blacken, Sr., New Mexico State (.317-5-45). 1B—Josh Archer, So., Middle Tennessee State (.345-9-34). 2B—Josh Touchstone, Jr., South Alabama (.338-11-40). 3B—Skip Adams, Sr., Florida International (.323-9-47). SS—Brett Parker, Sr., South Alabama (.304-6-33). OF—Ryan Mulhern, Sr., South Alabama (.351-17-64); T.J. Touchstone, Sr., South Alabama (.316-2-35); Gabe Trevizo, Sr., New Orleans (.299-8-51). DH—Jansen Rayborn, Jr., South Alabama (.362-4-41).

Util—Corey Coles, Jr., UL Lafayette (.368-6-45, 24 SB; 5-2, 3.35).

P—Derek DeCarlo, So., Florida International (*11-0, 3.53, 94 IP/92 SO); Clark Girardeau, Jr., South Alabama (8-6, 5.71, 99 IP/95 SO); Andy Gros, Sr., UL Lafayette (*11-4, 2.59, 125 IP/111 SO). RP—Matt Wilhite, Sr., Western Kentucky (8-2, 2.20, 45 IP/42 SO, *7 SV).

Player of the Year: Corey Coles, of/lhp, UL Lafayette.
Pitcher of the Year: Derek DeCarlo, rhp, Florida International.
Freshman of the Year: Adam Lind, 1b, South Alabama.

Top Prospects
1. Clark Girardeau, rhp, South Alabama. 2. Josh Banks, rhp, Florida International (3-2, 2.65, 34 IP/47 SO). 3. #Derek DeCarlo, rhp, Florida International. 4. Ryan Mulhern, of, South Alabama. 5. John Williams, lhp, Middle Tennessee State (5-2, 3.53, 64 IP/71 SO). 6. Caleb Crosby, rhp, South Alabama (2-0, 6.14). 7. Corey Coles, of/lhp, UL Lafayette. 8. Andrew Edwards, rhp, Florida International (0-0, 2.25). 9. #Josh Archer, 1b, Middle Tennessee State. 10. Matt Rogelstad, ss, Arkansas State (Tr.—Southeastern Louisiana).

Top Newcomers
1. Adam Lind, 1b, South Alabama (Fr., 8th round/Twins, 2002 draft). 2. Matt Rogelstad, ss, Arkansas State. 3. Billy Becher, 1b, New Mexico State (Jr., Tr.—Chandler-Gilbert, Ariz., JC). 4. Austin Faught, lhp, UL Lafayette (Jr., Tr.—Houston). 5. Rocky Scelfo, ss, UL Lafayette (Jr., Tr.—Louisiana State).

Best Tools
Best Pure Hitter
—Corey Coles, UL Lafayette. Best Raw Power—Ryan Mulhern, South Alabama.

Fastest Runner—Dennis Diaz, Florida International. Best Baserunner—Dennis Diaz, Florida International.

Best Defensive Catcher—Troy Harp, Middle Tennessee State. Catcher/Best Arm—Troy Harp, Middle Tennessee State. Best Defensive First Baseman—Josh Archer, Middle Tennessee State. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Josh Touchstone, South Alabama. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Skip Adams, Florida International. Best Defensive Shortstop—Brett Parker, South Alabama. Infielder/Best Arm—Travis Brown, Western Kentucky. Best Defensive Outfielder—Corey Coles, UL Lafayette. Outfielder/Best Arm—Corey Coles, UL Lafayette.

Best Fastball—Clark Girardeau, South Alabama. Best Breaking Ball—John Williams, Middle Tennessee State. Best Control—Derek DeCarlo, Florida International.

Short Hops
Rocky Ward
returns as head coach at New Mexico State, after being replaced for two years by his father Gary, who led the Aggies to the Sun Belt tournament championship in 2002 and the school’s first-ever regional appearance. The Aggies lost their top six hitters from a team that averaged 9.4 runs a game, fourth-best nationally . . . Former big leaguer Keith Kessinger, who served as coach at Division II Carson-Newman (Tenn.) the last two years, is the new coach at Arkansas State. He has added transfer SS Matt Rogelstad, who hit .279-1-29 for Southeastern Louisiana in 2002 . . . No. 23 South Alabama returns seven of its top eight hitters and added freshman 1B Adam Lind, an unsigned eighth-round pick of the Twins, and junior OF Gabe Mayorga, who hit .440-16-71 at Central Arizona JC and was named MVP of the Junior College World Series . . . Florida International is counting on another big season from sophomore RHP Derek DeCarlo (11-0, 3.53), a Freshman All-American, but also is expecting greater contributions from junior RHP Josh Banks, who is coming off a big summer season in the Cape Cod League. He went 4-1, 2.05 with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings for Cotuit . . . Louisiana-Lafayette’s versatile OF-LHP Corey Coles is primed for a big junior season after hitting .368-6-45 with 24 stolen bases a year ago, while going 5-2, 3.35 on the mound.

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