Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview

By Bryan App - May 23, 2007

It's a safe bet that Stetson won't lack motivation when the Atlantic Sun tournament begins today.

Not only could the Hatters become the first team to three-peat as conference champs this weekend since former A-Sun member Central Florida did it from 1995 through 1997, but the tournament also presents a last-ditch opportunity for Stetson to push for the improbable opportunity to host an NCAA Regional.

The campaigning will begin when the top-seeded Hatters host sixth-seeded Lipscomb at 7 p.m. in the first-round nightcap of the six-team, double-elimination tournament.

Second-seeded Mercer will begin play at Stetson's Conrad Park in DeLand, Fla., against fifth-seeded Gardner-Webb at 11 a.m., before No. 3 seed Belmont faces fourth-seeded Jacksonville at 3 p.m.

Florida State seems to be the only lock to host a Regional in the state, as perennial powers like Miami and Florida are experiencing down seasons. But Stetson hurt its case dropping five of its last eight games.

Still, Hatters coach Pete Dunn has said he would feel good about his team's chances if Stetson (39-17, 21-6 A-Sun) were to break the 40-win mark and capture the tournament title. Both conditions seem to be within reach.

The Hatters won the A-Sun regular season crown for the first time since 1996 this season, have dropped just one conference series this year -- losing two of three to Belmont during the weekend -- and fielded more than half of the all-conference first team.

Junior right-hander Corey Kluber (10-2, 2.09 ERA), a unanimous selection for A-Sun Pitcher of the Year, and senior lefty Chris Ingoglia (9-4, 2.94 ERA) allow the fewest runs in the league and will lead Stetson on the mound.

Lipscomb boasts its own ace in lefty Rex Brothers (7-4), who was named A-Sun Freshman of the Year after holding opponents to a conference-low .208 batting average. And the Bison (28-28, 12-15) have proven they can play with anybody, as evidenced by a 5-3 win against No. 1 Vanderbilt in April.

All-conference first-team shortstop Billy Shaughnessy (.343, 11 stolen bases) and second-team catcher Josh Thompson (.327, 10 homers, 49 RBI) will lead Mercer (32-23, 17-10) against a hot Gardner-Webb team.

The Bulldogs have won eight of their last 11 games, which coupled with a season-ending three-game losing streak by Eastern Tennessee State gave them a tournament berth. Gardner-Webb is led by all-conference second-team second baseman Matt Rizzuto (.298, eight homers and 40 RBI).

In perhaps the most intriguing first-round matchup, Belmont (31-24, 16-11) will face Jacksonville (30-25, 15-12), the only current A-Sun team other than Stetson to have won the conference tournament in the last 24 years, with titles in 2003 and 1999.

Watch out for Belmont right-hander Charles Lee (8-1, 6-0 A-Sun, 3.51 ERA), one of five Bruins on the all-conference teams, and Jacksonville leftfielder Pete Clifford. Clifford, who won the A-Sun Player of the Year honor, leads the Dolphins in 13 offensive categories and leads the conference with 53 RBI, is second with 11 homers and bats .360, third-best in the league.

Belmont won two of three games against Jacksonville in March.

Posted by Bryan App at 04:24 AM on May 23, 2007

Post A Comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

The Slogger... Posts By Site More Baseball Archives...