INDIANAPOLIS – Milwaukee is the favorite to win the 2014 Horizon League Baseball Championship in balloting by the conference’s six head coaches. The Panthers, who captured last season’s regular season title, received three first place votes. UIC, which finished second in the poll, received one first place vote and Wright State, who finished third in the poll, received two first place votes.
Milwaukee second baseman Mike Porcaro was named the Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year in voting of the coaches and Wright State’s Travis Hissong was voted as the Horizon League Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Valparaiso, which has won the tournament title each of the last two years, was picked to finish fourth. Newcomer Oakland was fifth and Youngstown State rounded out the poll in sixth.
Milwaukee returns its catcher, first baseman, second baseman and entire outfield and enters the season with a home winning streak of 16 games - the longest active streak in the NCAA. The 2013 team won the Horizon League regular season for the first time since 2000. The Panthers placed four players on the preseason all-league team, the most of any program in the conference. Porcaro (second base), Mitch Ghelfi (catcher), Sam Koenig (third base) and Derek Peake (outfield) were all honored on the preseason squad. Porcaro, who was named last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year as a sophomore, was voted this season’s preseason player of the year. He finished the 2013 season ranked among the league leaders in batting (.364, first), RBI’s (43, second) and runs (41, second). Ghelfi, the 2013 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year and a member of the Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American Team, had the second-best batting average among league catchers with a .322 clip while sporting a .995 fielding percentage, good for third-best in the league. Koenig was ninth in the league in both slugging percentage and on base percentage at .429 and .391, respectively, while batting .286. Peake, a first team all-league selection in 2013, hit .327 and was tied for the best on base percentage (.434) in the league while also swiping 16 bags.
Wright State had the second most honorees with three, and has the preseason pitcher of the year in Travis Hissong, who is joined on the preseason all-league team by outfielder Kieston Greene and first baseman Michael Timm. In 25 appearances last season, Hissong posted a 2.39 ERA with a 4-1 record coupled with five saves while holding opponents to a miniscule .176 batting average. Greene, who was a first team all-league selection as well as an all-newcomer honoree last season, posted a .335/.340/.492 clip and was top-ten in the league in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored (36), total bases (91), hits (62), triples (3), home runs (4), and steal attempts (12). Timm crossed the plate 26 times for Wright State and had 33 RBIs in 2013 while hitting .242.
Valparaiso placed pitcher Karch Kowalczyk, outfielder Chris Manning and utility Bryce Hara on the preseason all-league team. After sitting out 2012 due to elbow surgery, Kowalczyk was named the 2013 Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the year after a season that included 12 saves in 24 relief appearances. He allowed five runs during the season and limited opponents to a .189 batter average. Manning, a 2013 first team all-league selection, batted .304, scored 38 runs and knocked in 34 for the Crusaders last season. He was also fourth in the league in stolen bases (14). Hara batted .249 last season and was top-eight in the league in sac bunts (7, sixth), walks (24, eighth), and sac flies (6, second).
UIC and Oakland each placed one player on the preseason all-league poll, with shortstop Alex Lee representing the Flames and designated hitter Chris Van Dyke representing the Golden Grizzlies.
Lee, who received a medical redshirt in 2013, saw action in 32 games in 2012 and batted .300/.373/.350 for UIC. He was also named to the all-newcomer team and enters the season on a 23-game reached-base streak. Van Dyke appeared in 27 games for Oakland and sported a .258 batting average while hitting two home runs.
Youngstown State returns 2013 second-team all-league honorees Josh White and Phil Lipari and all-newcomer honoree Nick DiNello.
Five of the six league teams open the 2014 season on Friday, with Oakland taking the field Feb. 21. Conference play begins March 14.
The 2014 Horizon League Baseball Championship is slated for May 21-24 at Kapco Park in Mequon, Wis. The event will be hosted by Milwaukee and will feature the League’s six schools in a double-elimination format. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Milwaukee (3) -33
2. UIC (1) – 28
3. Wright State (2) – 27
4. Valparaiso – 19
5. Oakland – 11
6. Youngstown State – 8
*- First Place Votes in Parenthesis
Preseason All-League Team
C – Mitch Ghelfi, Milwaukee
1B – Michael Timm, Wright State
2B – Mike Porcaro, Milwaukee
SS – Alex Lee, UIC
3B – Sam Koenig, Milwaukee
OF – Kieston Greene, Wright State
OF – Chris Manning, Valparaiso
OF – Derek Peake, Milwaukee
DH – Chris Van Dyke, Oakland
UTIL – Bryce Hara, Valparaiso
P – Travis Hissong, Wright State
P – Karch Kowalczyk, Valparaiso
Preseason Player of the Year: Mike Porcaro, Milwaukee
Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Travis Hissong, Wright State