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Colonial title race filled with intrigue

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HOW THEY STACK UP

1. James Madison – The Dukes could use some improvement on the mound, but have an offense that would scary every team around the country.

2. UNC Wilmington – The Seahawks welcome back a productive offensive lineup. But as with JMU, you wonder a bit about the pitching staff.

3. Georgia State – The Panthers lost some talented players, but still should build off what was an impressive '09 campaign for the program.

4. Northeastern – The Huskies very much could continue where they left off last season with another fourth-place finish.

5. Old Dominion – The Monarchs have a chance to return to respectability this season with the return of a few talented pitchers.

6. Delaware – The Blue Hens certainly have some questions to answer at the plate, but the pitching staff is in great shape entering the season.

7. George Mason – The Patriots head back to the drawing board with the departures of several key offensive players.

8. Virginia Commonwealth – The Rams at least should take a small step forward with the return of a few talented players both on the mound and at the plate.

9. Towson – The Tigers return enough talented offensive players to have a very productive lineup this season.

10. William & Mary – The Tribe returns a couple of solid pitchers, but needs the offense to rise to the occasion to take a step forward this season.

11. Hofstra – The Pride returns just three position starters from a team that finished last season with a dismal 11-32 record.

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C Cody Stanley, UNC Wilmington

1B Trevor Knight, James Madison

2B Ryan Soares, George Mason

SS David Herbek, James Madison

3B Jake McAloose, Old Dominion

OF Matt Townsend, James Madison

OF Kevin Collins, Towson

OF Alex Foltz, James Madison

DH Matt Browning, James Madison

SP Kevin Crum, George Mason

SP Ryan Moore, Georgia State

SP Rich O'Donald, Delaware

RP Kevin Munson, James Madison

RISING STOCK

James Madison – The Dukes finished seventh in conference last season, but that won't be the case this season barring a major surprise. The Dukes still have some questions to answer on the mound. However, their offense has a chance to be one of the nation's best this season.

Georgia State – The Panthers took a step forward last season by notching an NCAA regional berth. Sure, the Panthers are expected to move back a couple of spots in the standings this season. However, there's no reason for this program not to consistently contend for the conference crown.

Northeastern – The Huskies surprised some by compiling a winning record and a fourth-place conference finish last season. Now, the Huskies hope to establish some consistency with the return of some key players this season.

FALLING STOCK

George Mason – There's a good chance its slide only is temporary, but the Patriots have some major offensive holes to fill this season. It would be a surprise of the Patriots finished in the top four of the CAA.

Old Dominion – It's an important season for the Monarchs. It wasn't too long ago we thought ODU might be an up and coming mid-major program. Now, after sputtering the past few seasons and finishing last season with a 22-27 record, we're wondering what is wrong with the Monarchs.

Hofstra – The Pride hopes to silence some doubters this season. Accomplishing that goal could be difficult, though. The Pride is picked to finished last in conference. But more disappointing is the fact the pitching staff is coming off a campaign where it had a dismal 9.78 ERA. That must change this season.

BEST PITCHER

RHP Ryan Moore, Georgia State

The Panthers made a statement last season with a regional appearance. But they hope to prove even more this season with the return of Moore and others. The senior right-handed pitcher is coming off a fantastic junior campaign. He made 13 starts and appeared in 16 games last season. He had a 7-2 record and compiled a 4.41 ERA in 85 2 2/3 innings. He also struck out 64 and walked 29 and limited opposing teams to a .259 batting average. GSU needs Moore to have another strong campaign.

BEST HITTER

OF Matt Townsend, James Madison

The Dukes are expected to have a very productive campaign with the return of Townsend and others. Townsend is coming off a fabulous offensive campaign as a junior last season. He batted .390 with 17 doubles, one triple, 17 homers and 59 RBIs. He also recorded a .732 slugging percentage and a .484 on-base percentage. Also worth noting, Townsend finished last season 17-for-22 in stolen bases.

REGIONAL CONTENDERS

James Madison, UNC Wilmington

There's a great chance the CAA once again will be a one-bid league this season. James Madison leads the way when it comes to regional contenders. The Dukes are favored to win the conference title and could tally enough wins to earn an at-large berth even with a loss in the CAA tournament. UNC Wilmington is a longer shot to make a regional. The Seahawks don't have a challenging early-season non-conference schedule, so they must win the regular season title or finish second and win the conference tournament title to advance to a regional. Outside of the Dukes and Seahawks, the CAA likely won't have a regional contender this season.

QUICK HITS

• Hofstra doesn't have much to be excited about this season, but keep an eye on second baseman Matt Prokopowicz. Prokopowicz arrived on the national scene a couple of seasons ago with a strong freshman campaign. He also is coming off a campaign in which he batted .344 with nine homers, three homers and 30 RBIs. He also finished last season with a .416. Prokopowicz definitely is a player that could earn all-conference honors at the conclusion of the season.

• James Madison returns an outstanding offensive lineup, but won't be able to make too much of a statement in the postseason if its pitching staff doesn't improve. The Dukes welcome back talented pitchers such as Kevin Munson, Tuner Phelps and Trevor Knight. However, this unit as a whole finished last season with a dismal 6.84 ERA. That must change this season if the Dukes hope to make some noise in the postseason.

• Northeastern made some interesting personnel changes this season, but sophomore left-handed pitcher Andrew Leenhouts moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation is the most notable change. The Huskies expect Leenhouts to be the No. 3 starter. Last season, Leenhouts made 16 appearances and had a 2.37 ERA in 30 1/3 innings. He also recorded three saves and held opposing teams to a .268 batting average.

• Towson returns a solid offensive lineup, but there's a reason it isn't slated to finish in the top half of conference. The Tigers have some issues on the mound. Weekend starters Spence Patton, Tyler Austin and Nate Curd each finished last season with ERAs over six. Also, middle reliever Wes Shifflett and closer Drew Permison had ERAs of 6.44 and 6.24, respectively. That's unacceptable for a team wanting to step forward.

• UNC Wilmington's success this season hinges on its pitching staff. The Seahawks welcome back a solid offensive lineup, but there are some questions to answer on the mound. For instance, Tyler McSwain is switching roles this season, moving from reliever to the No. 1 starting pitcher. Also, No. 3 starter Daniel Cropper has upside but finished last season with a 5.46 ERA in 59 1/3 innings. The Seahawks will have a very big year if McSwain and Cropper rise to the occasion.