Long Beach State Tabbed Preseason Favorite By Big West Coaches
Receiving 77 points and five first-place votes, Long Beach State has been selected to win its first Big West title since 2003, according to the 2008 Big West Conference preseason poll conducted by the league's nine head coaches. Cal State Fullerton placed second, while Cal Poly followed in third place.
Long Beach State returns practically the entire team that guided the 49ers to their 16th NCAA appearance last year, as they welcome back eight position player starters and four key pitchers. The 49ers are headlined by preseason All-American Danny Espinosa (.319, 7 HR, 38 RBI), Cape Cod League All-Star Shane Peterson (.327, 4 HR, 40 RBI), and fellow all-conference selections, catcher Travis Howell (.283, 20 R, 24 RBI), right-hander Andrew Liebel (9-3, 2.84 ERA, 59 K, 19 BB) and outfielder TJ Mittelstaedt (.296, 34 R, 8 RBI). The 49ers, who have claimed eight conference titles over the years, begins the season ranked in the top 25 among a variety of publications.
Cal State Fullerton, claiming six of the last eight league titles, earned the second spot with 74 points and four first-place nods. After concluding 2007 in Omaha, the Titans had some changes during the fall after 11-year head coach George Horton left Cal State Fullerton and former Titan pitching coach Dave Serrano signed on as the Titans' new skipper. Serrano, who guided Big West foe UC Irvine to its first-ever College World Series, takes over a squad that returns 18 letterwinners, including six position starters and eight starting pitchers. He also welcomes an incoming recruiting class ranked sixth-best in the nation, which includes nine JC transfers, one Division I transfer and seven true freshmen.
The Mustangs, picking up 58 points for third place, return eight position players who started at least 31 of the 56 games in 2007 and six pitchers who threw at least 20 innings. With outfielder Grant Desme as its only lost starter, Cal Poly returns its entire infield - first baseman Adam Buschini, second baseman Pat Pezet, third baseman Brent Morel, and shortstop Kyle Smith. In all, Cal Poly has 20 returning lettermen, including eight veteran starters and seven pitchers, along with eight newcomers and four others who were redshirts or did not play baseball last year. The 2008 pitching staff is led by junior right-hander Eric Massingham (3-1, 4.17 ERA) and sophomore southpaw Matt Leonard (3-5, 5.85 ERA).
Collecting 52 points to grab the fourth-place slot are the Anteaters of UC Irvine, who enter the year under the helm of first-year head coach Head Coach Mike Gillespie. The team returns 21 letterwinners, including All-Big West Conference selections Ollie Linton, Aaron Lowenstein, Sean Madigan and Ben Orloff. Linton enters the season as the team's top returner offensively with a .348 batting average and Lowenstein returns as the Anteaters' premier defensive player with a .993 fielding percentage at the catcher position. Madigan hit .333 and scored 24 runs and 26 RBI, while Orloff led the nation in sacrifice hits. UC Irvine's 2008 pitching staff is headlined by All-America Scott Gorgen, who registered a 13-3 record and 2.83 ERA in 136.2 inning pitched.
Defending Big West Champion UC Riverside snagged the fifth spot in the preseason poll with 51 points. UC Riverside welcomes back six starting position players and six pitchers with freshmen All-America selections rightfielder Joey Gonzales (team-leading .356, 41 R, 19 RBI) and relief pitcher Joe Kelly (3-1, 1.32 ERA, 6 saves, 27.1 IP) leading the way. Outfielder Carl Uhl also returns for his junior season after pacing the Highlanders with 60 runs and 15 stolen bases just a season ago. Helping out on the mound is junior Matt Montgomery (5-1, 2.96 ERA, 45.2 IP), who showed some promise late in the season after taking over the starting role for the injured Marc Rzepczynski.
UC Santa Barbara, returning six position players and two starting pitchers, is tabbed sixth and the Pacific Tigers were selected to finished seventh in the Big West Conference.
Cal State Northridge and first-year member UC Davis tied for eighth, respectively, with 20 points apiece. The league welcomed UC Davis as an official member on July 1, 2007, after the Aggies completed their four-year reclassification from Division II to Division I.
2008 Coaches Poll Results
1 .Long Beach State (5) - 77
2. Cal State Fullerton (4) - 74
3. Cal Poly - 58
4. UC Irvine - 52
5. UC Riverside - 51
6. UC Santa Barbara - 29
7. Pacific - 24
T8. Cal State Northridge - 20
T8. UC Davis - 20
( ) First-place vote