Jan. 3, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame baseball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2008 BIG EAST preseason baseball poll as determined by a vote of the league's 12 head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own teams. The Irish received a total of 80 points.
Notre Dame returns 19 monogram winners, six position starters and four starting pitchers from last season's squad that finished 28-28. The Irish also welcome a recruiting class that was ranked sixth-best in the country according to Baseball America.
Junior right-handed pitcher David Phelps, who has already been named to Wallace Award National Player of the Year Watch List, earned a place on the preseason team after being named to the All-BIG EAST first team last season. Phelps concluded 2007 with an 8-5 record and 1.88 ERA. In 110.1 innings, he allowed only 96 hits, 23 earned runs, held opponents to a .236 batting average and recorded 102 strikeouts.
He became one of two Irish pitchers ever to post 100-plus strikeouts and an ERA under 2.00 during the same season. Phelps joined former All-Americans Aaron Heilman (in '99) and Chris Niesel (in '03) as the youngest Notre Dame pitchers ever named to the BIG EAST's top team (each earned the honor as sophomores). Heilman is the only other Notre Dame pitcher ever to reach 100 Ks while also having a sub-2.00 ERA in the same season (111 Ks, 1.74 ERA; as a senior in 2001).
In 2007 regular-season BIG EAST games, Phelps finished second in ERA (2.14, trailing only Seton Hall's Keith Cantwell) plus first in strikeouts (67) and innings (71.1), second in Ks looking (26) and pickoffs (4), third in wins (5-3) and 10th in opponent batting average (.242).
St. John's, which won 41 games and claimed a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title last year, was chosen as the favorite to win the 2008 conference championship. Junior pitcher Scott Barnes was one of two unanimous selections to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team. Barnes finished the '07 campaign with a 7-2 record, a 2.93 ERA and 99 strikeouts. He was also named to the All-BIG EAST first team last year. The Red Storm was also represented with the selection of sophomore outfielder Brian Kemp. Kemp finished last season with a .348 average, 34 RBIs and was named to the All-BIG EAST third team.
Louisville, fresh off a College World Series appearance, swept both 2008 preseason individual honors as sophomore third baseman Chris Dominguez was honored as Preseason Player of the Year and senior Zack Pitts was selected as Preseason Pitcher of the Year. The Cardinals earned the second-place poll spot with five first-place votes and 113 points. Louisville finished the '07 campaign with a 47-24 overall record, a third-place league finish and a 19-8 mark in BIG EAST play. Pitts was the only other player to earn a unanimous selection after being named 2007 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year. He finished the season with a 10-3 record, a 2.52 ERA and 91 strikeouts. Dominguez, meanwhile, was MVP at the NCAA Columbia Region last season. He finished the year with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs.
The Cardinals placed a total of four players on the preseason team, the most of any league school. Along with Pitts and Dominguez, sophomore pitcher Justin Marks and junior catcher Derrick Alfonso were honored. Marks was named the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year last spring and finished the '07 campaign with a 9-2 record, a 2.67 ERA and 87 strikeouts. Alfonso finished his sophomore season with 32 runs scored, 30 RBIs and a .975 fielding percentage behind the dish. Both earned All-BIG EAST second team honors after the '07 campaign.
USF, with a total of 92 points, was picked to finish third in 2008. The Bulls finished last season in fifth place with a league mark of 13-14 and an overall record of 32-24. Representing USF on the preseason team is senior second baseman Dexter Butler. He finished 2007 with a .324 average, 44 RBIs, 45 runs scored and All-BIG EAST third team honors.
Rutgers, which earned a share of the 2007 regular-season league title, was 20-7 in the BIG EAST, 42-21 overall and was selected to finish fourth in 2008. The Scarlet Knights (91 points) earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the regional round to Oregon State, which went on to win its second consecutive NCAA title. Junior first baseman Tom Edwards was the lone RU representative on the 2008 preseason team. He finished his sophomore campaign hitting at a .340 clip with 48 RBIs and seven home runs. Edwards was named to the All-BIG EAST third team last season.
Connecticut is also expected to improve on last season's 34-27 (10-14 BIG EAST) record and was projected to finish sixth this season, with 66 points. Senior Matt Karl was selected as the preseason team's designated hitter. Karl finished '07 with a .301 average, 19 RBIs, 17 runs scored and four home runs. He flourished in conference play, hitting at a .358 clip. Karl had a .453 slugging percentage, drove in nine, scored seven runs and struck out only six times in 53 at bats.
Pittsburgh received 59 points and was picked to finish seventh in 2008. The Panthers finished last season with a 27-27 (15-11 BIG EAST) record and in fourth place. Senior Sean Conley earned one of three outfield spots on the preseason squad. In 2007, he hit .283, with 44 runs scored and 26 RBIs. During league play, Conley hit .376 with a .515 slugging percentage, 23 runs scored, 13 RBIs and only 12 strikeouts.
After finishing sixth last season with a 29-25 (12-15 BIG EAST) mark, Villanova was picked to finish eighth with 51 points in 2008. The Wildcats return 25 lettermen from last year's squad.
With three players on the preseason squad, Cincinnati is the second-most represented team. The Bearcats ended last season in 10th place with a 28-28 (9-15 BIG EAST) record and garnered 41 points in the preseason poll. Left-handed pitcher Dan Osterbrock made the preseason staff after earning All-BIG EAST first team honors last season. The junior posted a 9-1 record and 2.67 ERA with one shutout and five complete games in 2007. He struck out 82 batters while issuing only 25 walks in 94.1 innings. Junior Josh Harrison was selected as the team's shortstop. He had a .327 average, 59 runs scored, 56 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and nine home runs en route to an All-BIG EAST second team selection in `07. Senior outfielder Tony Campana was an All-BIG EAST second team honoree in 2007 while posting a .329 average, 51 runs scored, 18 RBIs and 60 stolen bases.
West Virginia was tabbed to finish 10th with 39 points after a '07 campaign in which it finished 29-22 (10-16 BIG EAST). League coaches slotted Seton Hall to finish 11th with 31 points following a 25-25 (9-15 BIG EAST) season. Georgetown rounds-out the preseason poll with 12 points after a 21-34 (8-19 BIG EAST) season.
The first weekend of the 2008 baseball season begins February 22, with 11 of the 12 squads in action. The first weekend of league play is March 14-15 when Seton Hall visits USF. The 2008 BIG EAST Baseball Championship will return to Bright House Networks Field in Tampa, Fla., May 20-24, with the championship game to be televised on ESPNU.
Preseason Poll Team Points (First Place Votes) 2007 Record 1. St. John's 117 (7) 41-19, 20-7 2. Louisville 113 (5) 47-24, 19-8 3. USF 92 34-26, 13-14 4. Rutgers 91 42-21, 20-7 5. Notre Dame 80 28-28, 11-15 6. Connecticut 66 34-27, 10-14 7. Pittsburgh 59 27-27, 15-11 8. Villanova 51 29-25, 12-15 9. Cincinnati 41 28-28, 10-16 10. West Virginia 39 29-22, 10-16 11. Seton Hall 31 25-25, 9-15 12. Georgetown 12 21-34, 8-19-- ND --