20. MONTEVALLO FALCONS (34-20)

MONTEVALLO FALCONS (34-20)
Despite not getting a whole bunch of traction in the rankings last season the Falcons were easily one of the most dangerous teams on the diamond. UM won games over top teams such as St. Leo, UNC Pembroke, Alabama-Huntsville, Lander and USC Aiken. Despite the impressive list of wins, as well as reaching the PBC Championship game, the Falcons were denied an opportunity to play in the extended NCAA postseason.  It’s not going to be any easier this season as the Falcons still play in one of the toughest conferences and will once again have to fight for a spot in a crowded Southeast Region; however Head Coach Chandler Rose can use the snub to help fuel an all ready talented team to go even further this season.

The offense has a quartet of top hitters from last season back to plate runs. Vinny Rodriguez nearly hit the .400 plateau last season, finishing the year at .396 with a team leading 20 doubles and seven homeruns. He was a second team PBC player and over the summer he was an all star in the Great Lakes League.  Jackson Slaid batted .329 last spring and also finished the season with seven homeruns. Over the summer he was an all star in the Northwoods League and broke his team’s home run record while batting .326. Zach Willoughby has been touted as potentially being the team’s best player provided he can stay healthy. Despite missing much of last season due to injury, Willoughby earned second team All PBC status after hitting .331 with six homeruns. Will Fulmer has been a valuable asset since arriving on campus and could end his career in a big way after an impressive showing in the Cape Code League over the summer. In 2012 Fulmer established a PBC record with 52 hits during conference play. His numbers dipped a little bit last season, batting .321 after finishing at .361 the year before, but will still looked upon to create runs and for senior leadership.

The pitching staff was solid last season, but didn’t have any breakout performers, which elevated it to an elite level. That could change this season with several players poised for breakout success. Outgoing senior Alex Guiford has the best numbers statwise last year and will looking to complete his career on campus with his best season. Last year Guiford was 7-4 with a 3.93 ERA and pitched 91.2 innings with 68 strikeouts and only 17 walks. Ed Brandsema is another experienced senior starter who appeared in 18 games, pitching in 72.2 innings with a 4.71 ERA. As a freshman last year Cody Hughes showed that he has the ability and moxie to get outs. He appeared in 20 games for the Falcons, earning a save in nine of the appearances. He fanned 23 batters in 25 innings and followed up his impressive debut with a strong performance in the Northwoods League.  He has shown the ability to be an effective closer, but may be moved to the rotation as his skill set grows.  An incoming player to definitely keep an eye on is Trent Higginbotham. Higginbotham was initially drafted by the Twins in 2011 and signed but was released and is now a freshman eligibility-wise. Coaches are also big on incoming freshman Alex Pondick who excelled as high schooler and could provide dividends as a starter immediately.