Big East preview: Louisville leads the way
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Not much has changed for the Big East.
Louisville once again carries the torch this season.
The Cardinals hosted an NCAA regional last season and finished the campaign with a fantastic record. Now, with the return of several key cogs both at the plate and on the mound, the Cards hope to find a way to reach the College World Series.
South Florida will be improved and finally could make a regional, while Connecticut is the prime candidate to be a pleasant surprise this season.
Also keep an eye on Notre Dame and St. John’s, two programs that have enough talent to make some noise in the Big East title race.
West Virginia is another potential contender.
Louisville, though, is the easy pick to win the conference crown.
HOW THEY STACK UP
4. Notre Dame
5. St. John’s
6. West Virginia
11. Seton Hall
C Erick Fernandez, Georgetown
1B Andrew Clark, Louisville
2B Adam Duvall, Louisville
SS Jedd Gyorko, West Virginia
3B Dan DiBartolomeo, West Virginia
OF George Springer, Connecticut
OF Jimmy Parque, St. John’s
OF Josh Richmond, Louisville
DH Phil Wunderlich, Louisville
SP Randy Fontanez, USF
SP Tony Zych, Louisville
SP Jarryd Summers, West Virginia
RP Gabriel Shaw, Louisville
The Huskies have a chance to make a huge statement this season. They finished sixth in the Big East last season, but welcome back several key hitters from a lineup that ended the ’09 campaign with a .318 batting average. The pitching staff certainly is a concern entering the season, but the Huskies, overall, are still in great shape. Connecticut could be the latest Northeastern team to make an NCAA regional.
The Pirates finished last season with a winning record, but accomplishing that goal this season could be incredibly difficult. The Pirates have the tough chore of replacing a pair of outstanding weekend starters. They also leave much to be desired with just one returning hitter that finished last season with a better average of .300 or better. The Pirates have much work to do to finish this season with a winning record.
Randy Fontanez, USF
The Bulls hope to take a step forward this season with an NCAA regional appearance. Fontanez has had a solid career for the Bulls. The junior finished last season with very good numbers. He made 13 starts and 14 appearances and had a 3.09 ERA in 99 innings. He also struck out 57 and walked 24 and limited teams to a .250 batting average. Fontanez also threw six complete games last season. The Bulls need Fontanez to have a great season to reach the postseason.
Jedd Gyorko, West Virginia
The Mountaineers have enjoyed Gyorko’s services the past two seasons. They look forward to having his services at least one more season. Gyorko had a stellar sophomore campaign last season. He batted .421 with 28 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 58 RBIs. He also slugged .658 and had a .487 on-base percentage. Gyorko also led the Mountaineers with 150 total bases.
Louisville, South Florida, Connecticut
Louisville is the Big East’s best bet for a College World Series contender. The Cardinals welcome back several players from last year’s club and are highly ranked to begin the season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cards finished the season in Omaha. USF also expects to be improved this spring, but the Bulls need some quality early-season wins to make an NCAA regional. Remember, last season the Bulls finished second in conference and still were on the outside looking in when it comes to a postseason bid. Connecticut could be the pleasant surprise. The Huskies could be this year’s Boston College if their pitching staff rises to the occasion.
• Louisville welcomes Stewart Ijames back to the lineup this season. Ijames missed last season because of an injury and gives UL a huge boost this season. Two seasons ago, the talented redshirt sophomore batted .351 with 11 doubles, two triples, eight homers and 39 RBIs. He also slugged .583 and had a .401 on-base percentage. Ijames’ return gives an already talented lineup a shot in the arm.
• Notre Dame has some good and bad news entering the season. First, the Fighting Irish will be without outfielder Golden Tate, who opted to enter the NFL draft. They also will be without Evan Danieli and Tommy Chase. Danieli will miss the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. Chase will miss the season after having offseason knee surgery. In terms of good news, the Fighting Irish welcome back Ryan Sharpley. Sharpley had a 3.03 ERA in 32 2/3 innings two seasons ago.
• West Virginia is known most for sluggers Jedd Gyorko and Dan DiBartolomeo, but keep an eye on ace pitcher Jarryd Summers this spring. Summers has had a solid career for the Mountaineers and took a huge step forward last season. He made 14 starts and had a 7-3 record and a 3.05 ERA in 94 1/3 innings. He also struck out 99 and walked 35 and limited teams to a .239 batting average.