Navy, Bucknell tie for first in Patriot League Preseason Baseball Poll

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Bucknell senior pitcher Ryan Ebner
Bucknell senior pitcher Ryan Ebner

Feb. 15, 2012

2012 Patriot League Preseason Poll
T-1. Navy..............39 (5)
T-1. Bucknell..........39 (4)
3. Army................38 (1)
4. Holy Cross..........29 (2)
5. Lafayette...........17
6. Lehigh..............16

-- Bucknell and Navy are tied atop the 2012 Patriot League Preseason Baseball poll, announced Wednesday by the Patriot League.

Both the Mids and the Bison received 39 points in the poll voted on by the League's coaches and sports information directors.

Army narrowly missed being first, as well, earning 38 points, creating a log-jam at the top of the poll featuring the last three Patriot League Champions.

Defending champion Navy earned five first-place votes, while 2010 champion Bucknell picked up four. Army, which won the 2009 championship, had one first-place vote and Holy Cross nabbed a pair of first-place votes to collect 29 points and finish fourth. Lafayette (17) and Lehigh (16) rounded out the poll.

In 2011, the Midshipmen, who finished 33-25-1 overall and 12-8 in the League, defeated the Black Knights in the Patriot League Championship three-game series 2-1 to earn the bid to the NCAA Tournament. Army finished second in the League standings with an 11-9 record, 22-26 overall. The Black Knights took out Lafayette in the semifinals last season to advance to the championship series against the Mids, who defeated Bucknell in the semifinals.

Bucknell enters the season as one of the preseason favorites, and for Bison coach Gene Depew, a title would mean that he goes out on top. The 1971 graduate of Bucknell, who has been with the program for more than 40 years and 31 as the head baseball coach, announced Monday that he will retire at the end of the 2012 season. Depew has led the Bison to six regular-season championships and five Patriot League Tournament titles.

Depew returns the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year, senior Ryan Ebner, who completed an outstanding junior season for the Bison, posting a 6-1 record while leading the Patriot League with a 4.01 earned run average and a .229 opponents batting average. He was even better in five Patriot League starts, finishing with a 3-0 record while leading all starting pitchers with a 3.00 ERA and .230 opponents batting average.

Ebner is one of four All-Patriot League honorees returning for the Bison, who went 25-28 overall and 10-10 in the League. He joins outfielder Bob Donato, designated hitter Matt Lamore and relief pitcher Alex Cillo, who was one of three Patriot League pitchers named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list.

Navy returns the 2011 Patriot League Tournament MVP, junior starting pitcher Ben Nelson, who earned the victory in Game 1 of the championship with just two earned runs allowed in 8⅓ innings after pitching 10 scoreless innings in his start in the semifinal series against Bucknell. Nelson's 18⅓ innings tied a Patriot League Tournament record, and he set a mark with 18 strikeouts in the tourney.

Nelson joins a trio of All-League players, including first-team DH Dave Milanes, who batted .295 with 14 doubles, three homers and 48 RBIs. Navy junior first baseman Greg Dupell and junior pitcher Johnny Schoberl also return for the Mids. Navy also brings back its closer, junior Joel Rinehart, who with nine career saves, was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list.

Army senior Kevin McKague was the third pitcher named to the watch list. He's just five saves away from tying the Patriot League record and he joins a pair of All-League players on the 2012 squad. Senior second basemen Zach Price and senior catcher J.T. Watkins also return for the Black Knights, who graduated three first-team All-League players.

Holy Cross returns 10 pitchers and five batters from last year's squad that went 24-23-1 overall and 9-11 in the League. That includes catcher/DH Stephen Wadsworth, who in 44 games batted .310 with five homers and 24 runs scored. The Crusaders also bring back right-handed pitcher John Colella, who went 3-2 with nine saves in 42 innings with a 3.00 ERA.

Lafayette, which went 18-30 overall and 10-10 in the League, loses a pair of big bats in A.J. Miller and Rob Froio, but the Leopards bring back a trio of players who all had 20-plus RBIs last season -- Kevin Casey, Scott Kelleher and Bobby Fargnoli. The Leopards also return two of their main starting pitchers from 2011, Ethan Perro (3-4, 5.37 ERA) and John Gentile (2-7, 5.50 ERA). Relief pitcher Jeff Snell, who led the Leopards in ERA with a 1.67 in 27 innings while recording six saves, also returns.

Lehigh returns six starters -- three batters and three pitchers -- from last season's 24-21 team. The Mountain Hawks went 8-12 in the League and finished sixth. Lehigh loses four .300 hitters from last year's squad, but senior infielder Brendan McGaheran (.317 in 45 games) returns. He had 13 doubles, three homers, a team-best 30 RBIs and 38 runs scored last season. Lehigh does bring back its top four pitchers from last season, including senior Cory Kent who was 5-2 with a 3.82 ERA in 37⅔ innings of work. He also had a team-best eight saves. Dan Ciccone (1-0, 2.97 ERA, 30⅓ innings), Thomas O'Malley (3-0, 3.13 ERA, 23 innings) and Nick Cassell (1-1, 4.25 ERA, 29⅔ innings) also return.

The season opens on Friday with Navy at North Carolina A&T and Army at High Point, while Bucknell will open Saturday against La Salle in Davidson, N.C. The Patriot League slate will begin March 31 with Army at Navy, Lafayette at Lehigh and Holy Cross at Bucknell, all four-game series.