INDIANAPOLIS -- Wright State is the favorite to win the 2016 Horizon League Baseball Championship in balloting by the League’s seven head coaches. The Raiders, who captured last season’s regular season and tournament title, received six of seven first place votes. UIC was runner-up in the poll for the third consecutive year. Coaches were not allowed to place their own team in the poll and were not allowed to vote for their own players for the preseason all-league team.
Wright State junior catcher Sean Murphy was chosen the Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year, with UIC junior Jake Dahlberg was picked as the League Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Valparaiso edged Milwaukee by one point for the fourth spot. Youngstown State is fifth, newcomer Northern Kentucky sixth and Oakland rounded out the poll in seventh.
The preseason favorite Raiders tied with Valparaiso for the most players on the preseason All-League team with four. WSU’s contingent was led by Murphy. He earned First Team All-Horizon League honors last season as he hit .329 with 36 RBI and 52 runs scored. Behind the plate, Murphy threw out 17 would-be base stealers, 11 of those coming during league play. In 29 League games, Murphy hit .325 with 18 RBI and 22 runs scored.
Murphy was joined on the preseason team by shortstop Mitch Roman (.339 BA, 12 2B, 41 RBI), outfielder Ryan Fucci (.288 BA, 15 HR, 49 RBI, .587 SLG%) and pitcher Jesse Scholtens (7-4, 3.08 ERA, 90.2 IP, 72 K)
Dahlberg was the preseason pitcher of the year. The 2015 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year started 14 games last season and finished with an 8-2 record and a 3.31 ERA in 106.0 innings pitched. He finished the season with an HL-best four complete games. He lowered his ERA to 2.81 in HL play and finished with a 6-1 record against Horizon League competition.
Also on the preseason All-League team from the Flames was third baseman Mickey McDonald (2015 HL First-Team selection, .305 BA, 37 RBI) and designated hitter Gabe Dwyer (2 HR, 12 RBI)
Valparaiso finished third in the poll, but had four players earn preseason recognition. First baseman Nate Palace (team leader with .329 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBI, .579 SLG%), outfielder Nolan Lodden (.327 BA, .441 on-base%, 10 SB, 45 R), pitcher Dalton Lundeen (3.75 ERA, 93.2 IP, 94 K) and relief pitcher Bryce Yoder (2-0, 6 SV, 3.86 ERA).
The rest of the preseason All-League team was composed of one player each from Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky and Oakland.
Outfielder Luke Meeteer represented UWM. The senior was the only Panther to start all 59 games for UWM last season and finished with a .321 batting average. He set career highs with 57 runs scored, 79 hits, 19 doubles, three triples, three HR and 30 runs batted in and shattered the old UWM single-season record of 24 as he swiped 37 bases. Trey Ganns was the lone Norse to make the preseason team. The sophomore batted .296 with 50 hits in his freshman campaign and clubbed 11 doubles and four home runs. Oakland’s Ian Yetsko was the preseason team’s second baseman. The senior led the Horizon League with 22 doubles last season and finished the season with a .295 batting average and a team-high 28 RBI.
All seven League teams open the 2016 season on Friday, and Horizon League play begins Friday, March 18, with three series beginning that evening.
The 2016 Horizon League Baseball Championship is slated for May 25-28 at the site of the highest seed that meets the criteria to host the event. The championship will feature the top-six teams in the standings with the third through six seeds playing single-elimination games on the first day. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds earn a bye to the double-elimination portion of the tournament beginning on May 26. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll (first place votes in parenthesis)
1. Wright State (6) – 36
2. UIC (1) – 27
3. Valparaiso – 25
4. Milwaukee – 24
5. Youngstown State – 15
6. Northern Kentucky – 13
7. Oakland – 7
Preseason All-League Team
C – Sean Murphy, Wright State
1B – Nate Palace, Valparaiso
2B – Ian Yetsko, Oakland
SS – Mitch Roman, Wright State
3B – Mickey McDonald, UIC
OF – Ryan Fucci, Wright State
OF – Nolan Lodden, Valparaiso
OF – Luke Meeteer, Milwaukee
DH – Gabe Dwyer, UIC
UTIL – Trey Ganns, Northern Kentucky
SP – Jake Dahlberg, UIC
SP – Dalton Lundeen, Valparaiso
SP – Jesse Scholtens, Wright State
RP – Bryce Yoder, Valparaiso
Preseason Player of the Year: Sean Murphy, Wright State
Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Jake Dahlberg, UIC