Conference USA has announced its 2014 preseason baseball awards, as chosen by the league's 13 head coaches. East Carolina senior utility player Drew Reynolds and FIU junior catcher Aramis Garcia were chosen as the co-preseason Players of the Year, while Rice junior right-hander Zech Lemond was named the preseason Pitcher of the Year. Rice was chosen as the favorite to win the league's championship. The Owls have won either the regular season or tournament championship in each of its eight years as a member of C-USA.
The Pirates top utility player the past two seasons, Reynolds earned Second Team All-America and First Team All-Conference USA honors a year ago after leading ECU with a .322 average and 68 hits, while ranking second with 13 doubles and fourth with 30 runs scored. On the mound, he posted a 3-2 record with a 2.92 ERA and recorded a league and team-best 14 saves, which also ranked 14th nationally.
Garcia was one of the top defensive catchers in the country last season, throwing out 28 base runners, the second-highest total in Division I. One of 15 semifinalists for the 2013 Johnny Bench Award, Garcia threw out 42 percent of potential base stealers last season after throwing out 27 percent in his freshman season. Offensively, he tied for the team lead with 72 hits, while batting .321 with a team-leading with 11 home runs and was second on the FIU club with 51 RBI. Garcia was a first team All-Conference selection and gained honorable mention All-American recognition.
A year ago, Lemond finished as the Conference USA co-leader with 14 saves while posting a 7-2 record, 2.02 ERA and 1.018 WHIP. The right-hander struck out 71 in 75.2 innings and held opponents to a composite .207 batting average. C-USA head coaches voted Lemond as a first team all-conference reliever and he went on to earn ABCA all-region accolades and Third Team All-American honors. His 14 saves established a new Rice single season record.
Lemond is joined by junior RHP Jordan Stephens, senior IF Shane Hoelscher and senior OF Michael Aquino on the preseason All-Conference USA team, giving Rice a league-high four selections. Stephens was the 2013 NCAA Eugene Regional Most Valuable Player and ranked among the NCAA leaders with 17 starts (tied for 11th) and 100 strikeouts (tied 36th). He led the Owls in innings pitched (118.2), was second on the staff in wins (8) and strikeouts, and third in ERA (2.43) and appearances (21). Despite missing more than a month with an injury, Hoelscher led the team, and was fourth among the Conference USA league leaders, with the best batting average of his collegiate career (.320). He finished third on the team with a career-high on-base percentage (.401) and was fourth in slugging (.380). Aquino, the College Home Run Derby Champion last summer, played in 63 of the team's 64 games with a career-high 60 starts in 2013. He led the team in RBI (43), slugging percentage (.508) and total bases (126), while sharing the team lead in home runs (9) and triples (4). Aquino finished second on the squad in batting average (.315), hits (78) and doubles (13).
Reynolds and Garcia each have a teammate joining them on the preseason team. East Carolina, picked to finish third by the coaches, placed junior RHP Jeff Hoffman on the team, while FIU also has IF Edwin Rios, the lone sophomore on the squad. Hoffman went 6-7 with a 3.20 ERA, earning Second-Team All C-USA honors last season. The 2013 Robert A. McNeece Award winner for Outstanding Pro Prospect in the Cape Cod League, Hoffman led the Pirates in quality starts (11), innings pitched (109.2) and strikeouts (84), while ranking second in walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.46). Rios had a banner freshman season, tying for the team lead in hits with 72, while topping FIU with a .332 batting average, 52 RBI and 26 walks. Rios also led FIU with 15 multi-RBI games thanks to his nine home runs and 20 doubles.
Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, picked to finish second and fourth, respectively, each had a member of the preseason unit. The Owls representative is junior LHP Austin Gomber, who compiled a record of 8-4 with 103 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA in his sophomore campaign. Golden Eagles junior OF Mason Robbins led the team in hits (71) and RBI (40), while batting .317 with 10 doubles, two triples, two home runs and 31 runs scored.
-more- UTSA, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion each had one representative. Roadrunners senior R.J. Perucki, who batted a team-high .350 with 12 doubles, 12 homers and 48 RBI, is joined by 49ers junior Brad Elwood in rounding out the infield selections. Elwood was rated the third toughest to strikeout in the NCAA at end of regular season (10 K's in 233 at bats), batted .343 with a team-best 80 hits and 41 RBI (second on the team). Blue Raiders senior OF Ryan Stephens started all 56 games last year, leading the team in both batting average (.329) and triples (4), while finishing second in hits (70), RBI (33), stolen bases (7) and slugging percentage (.474). Monarchs junior OF Josh Eldridge was the team RBI leader with 50 and produced a team-best six sacrifice flies. He posted 15 doubles and four triples, while scoring 41 runs.
Conference USA's 19th baseball season gets underway on February 14. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 21-25 in Hattiesburg, Miss. C-USA's baseball schools have produced 73 NCAA appearances and 10 College World Series teams over the past 18 seasons.
2014 PRESEASON BASEBALL AWARDS
(as selected by C-USA's head coaches)
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Rice (12)
2. Florida Atlantic
3. East Carolina
4. Southern Miss
5. Tulane (1)
9. Middle Tennessee
10. Old Dominion
13. Louisiana Tech
(first place votes in parentheses)
PRESEASON PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Drew Reynolds, East Carolina (Senior, DH/RHP)
Aramis Garcia, FIU (Junior, Catcher)
PRESEASON PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Zech Lemond, Rice (Junior, Right-hander)
P Austin Gomber Jr. Florida Atlantic
P Jeff Hoffman Jr. East Carolina
P Jordan Stephens Jr. Rice
RP Zech Lemond Jr. Rice
C Aramis Garcia Jr. FIU
IF Brad Elwood Jr. Charlotte
IF Shane Hoelscher Sr. Rice
IF R.J. Perucki Sr. UTSA
IF Edwin Rios So. FIU
OF Michael Aquino Sr. Rice
OF Josh Eldridge Jr. Old Dominion
OF Ryan Stephens Sr. Middle Tennessee
OF Mason Robbins Jr. Southern Miss
DH/UT Drew Reynolds Sr. East Carolina