INDIANAPOLIS – Valparaiso is the favorite to win the 2013 Horizon League Baseball Championship in balloting by the conference’s five head coaches. The Crusaders, who captured last season’s regular season and tournament title, received three first place votes. Milwaukee, which finished second in the poll, received the other two first place votes.
Youngstown State third baseman Drew Dosch was named the Preseason Player of the Year in voting of the coaches and Milwaukee’s Cale Tassi was voted as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Wright State finished in third in the preseason poll, behind Valparaiso and Milwaukee. UIC was fourth and Youngstown State rounded out the poll in fifth.
Valparaiso returns its entire infield, catcher and one outfielder from last season’s championship squad. The 2012 team won the Horizon League for the first time in program history and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 44 years. The Crusaders placed five players on the Preseason All-League team, the most of any program in the conference. Tanner Vavra (second base), Spencer Mahoney (shortstop), Chris Manning (outfielder), Andrew Bain (utility) and Kyle Wormington (pitcher) were all honored on the preseason squad. Vavra hit .332 last season for the Crusaders, driving in 20 runs and finishing third in the conference with 15 steals as he was named First-Team All-League in his first year with the Crusaders. Mahoney joined Vavra on last season’s First-Team All-League squad as he batted .348 and drove in 23 runs in his freshman season. Bain (.318 avg.) and Manning (.283 avg., 44 runs scored) were both Second-Team All-League selections last season, while Wormington (102.2 IP, 3.33 ERA) was on the All-Newcomer team and was named Co-Newcomer of the Year.
Milwaukee has the Preseason Pitcher of the Year in Tassi, who is joined on the Preseason All-League team by outfielder Luke Meeteer. Tassi was a First-Team All-League selection last season after leading the League in ERA (2.74) and finishing second in strikeouts (69) and opponents’ batting average (.249). Meeteer got off to a great start in his rookie year of college ball, batting .331 and leading the League in steals with 16 as he was named First-Team All-League and was a member of the All-Newcomer squad. Will Fadness (C; .316 avg., 4 HRs, 30 RBIs, league-leading 21 doubles) and Michael Porcaro (2B; .316 avg.) were Second-Team All-League members last season and also return for the Panthers.
Wright State was picked third in the preseason poll after losing the 2011 Player of the Year (Jake Hibberd) and the 2012 Player of the Year (Tristan Moore) from last season’s 37-21 squad. The Raiders had six players earn First-Team or Second-Team designation last season, but only one of those players (SS-Justin Kopale) returns this season. Kopale had a .281 batting average last season and drove in 45 RBIs for the Raiders. Catcher Garrett Gray is also back for the Raiders after batting .354 last season with three home runs and 34 RBIs. Gray was the long Wright State player to make the Preseason All-League team. Also returning for WSU is sophomore third baseman Michael Timm, an All-Newcomer selection last season, after batting .308 and driving in 24 runs.
UIC is picked fourth in the preseason poll. The Flames finished fourth in the regular season last year, but advanced to the championship game of the postseason tournament. UIC is led by Preseason All-League honoree Alex Grunenwald. The first baseman finished fourth in the League last season with a .345 batting average, while also posting five home runs and 39 RBIs. Designated Hitter Ryan Boss (7 HRs) and outfielder Jon Ryan (.302 avg., 6 HRs, 40 RBIs) were also selected for the Preseason All-League team.
Youngstown State rounded out the poll in fifth. Dosch, the League’s Preseason Player of the Year, is the leading returnee for the Penguins. The junior is the League’s returning leader in batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.527) and home runs (8). He was a First-Team All-League selection at third base last season and during the summer played in the Cape Cod League where he was named to the All-Star team. Outfielder Jason Shirley was also named to the Preseason All-League team. The sophomore hit .303 last season for YSU and led the team with nine stolen bases.
All five conference teams open the 2013 year the weekend on Friday. Conference play begins the weekend of March 16.
The 2013 Horizon League Baseball Championship is slated for May 22-25 at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio. The event will feature the League’s top five schools in a double-elimination format at the home field of Youngstown State. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2013 Horizon League Preseason Baseball Poll
1. Valparaiso (3)
2. Milwaukee (2)
3. Wright State
5. Youngstown State
2013 Preseason All-Horizon League Team
C- Garrett Gray, Wright State
1B - Alex Grunenwald, UIC
2B - Tanner Vavra, Valparaiso
SS - Spencer Mahoney, Valparaiso
3B - Drew Dosch, Youngstown State
OF - Luke Meeteer, Milwaukee
OF - Jon Ryan, UIC
OF - Chris Manning, Valparaiso
OF - Jason Shirley, Youngstown State
DH - Ryan Boss, UIC
UTIL - Andrew Bain, Valparaiso
P - Cale Tassi, Milwaukee
P - Kyle Wormington, Valparaiso
* - ties are not broken
Preseason Player of the Year: Drew Dosch, Youngstown State
Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Cale Tassi, Milwaukee