9. SAINT EDWARD’S HILLTOPPERS (44-18)

SAINT EDWARD’S HILLTOPPERS (44-18)
St. Edward’s had a banner season last spring, winning a school record 44 games and made a 2-2 appearance in Cary.  In order to make the DII finals the Hilltoppers dramatically won a pair of elimination games on the last day of the South Regional to advance to the College World Series for the first time in team history. Had a late inning rally against Minnesota State in the semifinals not fell short SEU could have very easily been the last team standing once the final out was made in North Carolina. The core of last year’s team remains much of the same and a return trip east will unquestionably be the goal for Head Coach Rob Penders and the rest of the team.

The team most valuable player, who won the inaugural Josh Willingham Award, was All American hurler Brannon Easterling. Easterling led the nation in innings pitched with 132.2, complete games with 14 and finished the season with a 2.10 ERA and 14-3 record. In the opening round of the CWS Easterling threw a 1-0 shutout against Grand Canyon. Along with Easterling, the ‘Toppers will have two others top starters back in the rotation as well. Collin Sherrod was 6-1 with a 2.18 ERA and Cody Ellerbee was 5-4 with a 2.62 ERA.  Also back for another season is Brad Nasis who pitched well as both a starter and reliever. In a dozen appearances Nasis fanned 40 batters in 40.2 innings and held hitters to a .237 batting average.  One arm that will be missed severely is closer AJ Rataic who had 11 saves in seventeen appearances. Had Easterling not thrown so many complete games Rataic may have led the nation in saves last season. Cam Hatch make six appearances out of the Maryland bullpen last season, limiting teams to a .238 batting average and could be a boon as a transfer to SEU.

Senior shortstop Ransom LaLonde stepped up his game last spring and coaches contend he may have one of the best off-season’s to elevate his game even further. Last season he batted .322 and led the team with 100 total bases.  CJ Manning will be back behind the plate and was the Hilltoppers second leading hitter, batting .339. Cutter Runte and Dylan Watts are another pair of hitters who finished ’13 over .300, batting .309 and .320 respectively. Sophomore Watts may be the team’s best bet to take over the middle of the lineup power hitting role as he was second on the team in home runs and slugger percentage; although that isn’t saying much considering one player, the departed Marshall Buford, hit more than half of the team’s 19 homeruns last season. John Alexander, a transfer from Oklahoma State who was also recruited by Rice and UT-Arlington could be the knockout hitter the ‘Toppers need in the lineup, as could Pepe Santos, a transfer from Clarendon College.