NEW YORK, N.Y. – Creighton, one of three conference newcomers this season, is the narrow favorite in BIG EAST baseball in 2014, according to the coaches poll announced on Thursday. The Bluejays claimed a poll-topping 32 points with two first-place votes, edging out Seton Hall and St. John’s for No. 1.
There was more good news for Creighton, as a league-high four players earned Preseason All-BIG EAST honors. Among them were senior outfielder Mike Gerber, who was named the Preseason Player of the Year, and sophomore hurler Tommy Strunc, who picked up Preseason Pitcher of the Year accolades.
Seton Hall claimed two first-place votes and finished with 31 points for second, while St. John’s was close behind with 29 points and three first-place ballots. Rounding out the poll were Xavier with 21 points, Georgetown with 12 and a tie for sixth between Butler and Villanova with 11.
Voting was conducted by the conference’s seven head coaches who could not cast ballots for their own players.
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Creighton – 32 points (2 first-place votes)
2. Seton Hall – 31 (2)
3. St. John’s – 29 (3)
4. Xavier – 21
5. Georgetown – 12
6. Butler – 11
Villanova – 11
Gerber, a unanimous choice for Preseason Player of the Year, hit .328 last season with team highs of five home runs and six triples to go with 31 RBI in helping the Bluejays to a 30-win campaign. He posted those numbers despite missing 15 games following an appendectomy. Gerber was the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 2012, a year after earning Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America laurels.
Strunc was a unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST selection after earning All-MVC Honorable Mention accolades in 2013. He logged a 7-3 record in 14 starts with a 4.14 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 71.2 innings of work, and held opposing hitters to .201 at the plate.
Gerber and Strunc head up a list of a league-best four Preseason All-BIG EAST picks for Creighton (30-18, 13-8 MVC). The Bluejays are coming off a season in which they captured the No. 3 seed to the MVC Tournament. Head coach Ed Servais welcomes back junior second baseman Jake Peter, a second-team and defensive all-conference selection from last year who led the squad with a .350 batting average and 35 RBI, while contributing on the mound with six saves. Senior Bryan Sova (1-2, 2.34 ERA, 4 saves) earned Preseason All-BIG EAST honors as a reliever. Servais enters his 11th season in the Creighton dugout, and last guided the Bluejays to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Seton Hall (37-19, 18-6 BIG EAST) took second in the poll and logged the second-most preseason All-BIG EAST selections with three. The Pirates started last season 0-9 but won 37 of its last 47 before falling in the BIG EAST Tournament. Junior first baseman Sal Annunziata was a third-team All-BIG EAST pick last season and finished fourth on the team, hitting .319 with a team-high six home runs, 38 RBI and 14 doubles. Senior outfielder Chris Selden (.320, 2 HR, 33 RBI, 17 SB) and senior starting pitcher Josh Prevost (5-2, 3.24 ERA, 58.1 innings) also earned preseason all-conference citations. Head coach Rob Sheppard guides the Pirates into his 10th season in South Orange, N.J.
Senior hurler James Lomangino and junior outfielder Zach Lauricella are the two Preseason All-BIG EAST picks from St. John’s (23-35, 10-14). Lauricella led the Red Storm last season in on-base percentage (.419) and was second in hitting (.320) and slugging (.497) while playing in all but one game. He smacked four home runs and drove in 40 while tying for the team high with 21 doubles. Lomangino tossed to a 3.79 ERA and a 2-6 record in 15 starts across 90.1 innings. Nineteenth-year head coach Ed Blankmeyer is the program’s all-time winningest skipper with 612 victories.
Xavier (32-26, 16-8 Atlantic-10) enters the BIG EAST coming off a third-place finish at last season’s A-10 championship. Junior first baseman Joey Forney is a Preseason All-BIG EAST selection after hitting .313 with one home run and 22 RBI to go with 57 hits, which tied for second on the Musketeers. Juniors Alex Westrick (3-3, 2.79 ERA, 61.1 innings, 12 appearances and seven starts) and Jacob Bodner (6-2, 3.23 ERA, 24 appearances) are two of the top returning arms for ninth-year head coach Scott Googins.
Georgetown (25-28, 5-19) is seeking a rebound year under head coach Pete Wilk, who enters his 15th season on The Hilltop. The Hoyas won 10 BIG EAST games in 2012 and saw that number dip to five a season ago. Sophomore Nick Collins is a Preseason All-BIG EAST selection at both catcher and designated hitter, and looks to build off a rookie season in which he hit three homers, 30 RBI and six doubles while leading the team in batting average (.333), slugging (.441) and on-base percentage (.383).
Butler joins the BIG EAST after going 25-26 in 2013 and 12-12 in the A-10. Junior lefthander Eric Stout earned Preseason All-BIG EAST citations after pitching to an 8-5 record last season with a 5.21 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. Senior outfielder Marcos Calderon hit .268 with two home runs and 23 RBI, while junior outfielder Michael Fries hit .265 with 24 RBI and a team-high 13 doubles. Steve Farley enters his 23rd season in the Bulldog dugout.
Another club looking for a bounce back in 2014 is Villanova (14-39, 5-19). Sophomore Kevin Jewitt hit .212 in 47 games (38 starts) with five steals in seven tries and was named Preseason All-BIG EAST at third base. Classmate Eric Lowe made 40 starts, all in the middle infield including 29 at shortstop, and hit .242 with 11 runs scored. Junior Josh Harris will anchor the weekend rotation after posting a 5-7 record with a team-best 3.75 ERA a year ago. J.J. Godri enters his 13th season as head coach.
All seven programs open the season on Friday, Feb. 14. Butler opens play with Wright State at 12:30 p.m. and Saint Joseph’s at 3 p.m. in Cary, N.C. Creighton starts its season with a three-game series at Arkansas-Little Rock, with Friday’s first pitch set for 4 p.m. Georgetown opens with three games in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Friday’s tilt against Marshall set for noon. St. John’s starts a three-game series at Pepperdine on Friday at 5 p.m. Seton Hall’s campaign begins with a three-game series at Oklahoma, with Friday’s opener scheduled for 4 p.m. A three-game series awaits Villanova at Charleston Southern with Friday’s game at 4 p.m. Xavier travels to Greenville, S.C., for three games against as many opponents. Friday’s tilt versus Toledo is set for 4 p.m.
The 2014 BIG EAST Baseball Championship is set for May 23-25 at MCU Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. The top four teams in the regular-season standings will advance to the tournament. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The championship game on May 25 will air on FOX Sports 1 beginning at 1 p.m.
2014 Preseason Baseball All-BIG EAST Team and Awards
Preseason Player of the Year – Mike Gerber, Creighton, Sr., OF ^
Preseason Pitcher of the Year – Tommy Strunc, Creighton, So., SP
Preseason All-BIG EAST
Nick Collins, Georgetown, So., C/DH
Sal Annunziata, Seton Hall, Jr., 1B
Joey Forney, Xavier, Jr., 1B
Jake Peter, Creighton, Jr., 2B
Kevin Jewitt, Villanova, So., 3B
Mike Gerber, Creighton, Sr., OF ^
Chris Selden, Seton Hall, Sr., OF
Zach Lauricella, St. John’s, Jr., OF ^
James Lomangino, St. John’s, Sr., SP
Josh Prevost, Seton Hall, Sr., SP ^
Eric Stout, Butler, Jr., SP
Tommy Strunc, Creighton, So., SP ^
Bryan Sova, Creighton, Sr., RP
^ - Unanimous selections