22. ST. EDWARD’S HILLTOPPERS (37-16)
Final 2012 Ranking: 27
St. Edward’s completed the regular season with a second place finish in the Heartland Conference and earned an invite to the South Central Regional. While playing in Warrensburg the Hilltoppers advanced the farthest in a DII regional in school history, earning wins over the host UCM and Angelo State before a pair of close one-run losses ended the SEU’s season. While the Hilltoppers will be returning to the diamond without a pair of their top batters and sixth round draft pick Stephen Johnson, Head Coach Rob Penders does have a host of returning players which could challenge last season’s success and take St. Edward’s to the next level.
Four of six ‘Topper batters who hit over .300 are slated to be back in the opening day lineup. Taylor Johnson wields the most prolific bat on the roster. Last season he was named to the First Team All Conference Team after batting .320 led the team with both eight homeruns and 17 stolen bases. Also back in Austin are fellow HC First Teamers Wes Koenig, Beau Rogers and Ransom LaLonde who batted .320, .318 and .312 respectively. The coaches are especially optimistic for a big season from LaLonde who was described as the player who most improved his game over the offseason and feel he could contend for the Tino Martinez Award. The lineup could also get a jolt from Oklahoma State transfer John Alexander who is looking finish his college career strong after mixed success at OSU and Panola Junior College.
The head hurler for SEU is Brad Nasis who won ten games and had a 3.44 ERA. The lefty, who lists competitive eating and interpretive dance as his hobbies on the St. Edward’s website, gave up 67 hits while recording 67 strikeouts last season. Another established arm back on campus is Matt Davis who will rejoin the rotation after going 7-4 last season in a dozen starts with a 4.54 ERA. One of the open spots in the rotation may be taken by Texas Tech transfer Brannon Easterling. Easterling has an imposing 6’5” presence on the hill and earned a 12-3 record in two seasons at Temple JC before joining the Red Raiders. Coach Penders also expects a step up in the game of Paul Smith who had a 3.68 ERA in a dual role last season. If the remaining mound vacancies are filled the Toppers will be in a good position to once again contend for a conference title and earn their third regional bid.