CCU tops Big South preseason baseball coaches' poll

CONWAY, SC - For the fifth consecutive year, Coastal Carolina University's baseball team has been voted the Big South Conference's preseason favorite by the League's Head Baseball Coaches, it was announced today by the Conference office.

In addition, the coaches voted Presbyterian sophomore catcher/first baseman Brad Zebedis (Rock Hill, S.C.) the Conference's Preseason Player of the Year and Coastal Carolina junior Josh Conway (Smithsburg, Md.) the League's Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Coastal was the near-unanimous selection to win the Big South crown in 2012, as the Chants received 10 of the 11 first-place votes and finished with 120 out of a possible 121 total points.  Coastal Carolina is coming of its fifth consecutive Big South Championship (League record) and NCAA Tournament berth.  Led by 17-year head coach Gary Gilmore -- the Big South's second-winningest baseball coach with a record of 650-324 ( =66.7 percent), the Chanticleers went 42-20 overall and 20-7 in Conference play in 2011.  The Chants return eight starters (four position players, four pitchers) and nine total letterwinners from last year's club.

Liberty was second in the preseason poll with 98 points and received the remaining first-place vote.  Radford was picked third with 97 points -- the Highlanders' highest position in the preseason ranking since being picked third in 1996.  Winthrop finished fourth in the voting with 76 points, while Gardner-Webb, last season's Tournament Runner-up, was chosen fifth with 66 points.  Charleston Southern landed in the sixth spot with 65 points, just one point ahead of seventh-place VMI (64).  High Point garnered eighth-place (59 points), followed by Campbell (ninth, 31 points), Presbyterian College (10th, 30 points) and UNC Asheville (11th, 20 points).  PC is eligible for the League's regular-season championship but not the Conference tournament due to its final year of transitioning to Division I.

Already named a preseason All-American by the NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball, Zebedis was the Big South's Freshman of the Year in 2011 after leading the Big South with a .425 batting average -- the highest batting average by a freshman in League history.  He also received All-America honors last season from Collegiate Baseball, ABCA, Baseball America and the NCBWA.  Zebedis tied the Conference-freshman record with 13 home runs in 2011, and was among the League leaders last season in home runs, hits (90), slugging percentage (.717), RBI (57) and doubles (23).  He was named a national semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy in 2011 and ended the season with a 15-game hitting streak.  In Big South games, Zebedis batted .406 with seven home runs, 27 RBI and slugged .703 in 27 contests, in addition to recording seven of his 16 multiple-RBI games against Conference foes.  Zebedis received eight first-place votes and 17 points in the voting, ahead of Coastal Carolina first baseman Rich Witten (one first-place vote and four points).

Conway appeared in 20 games last season with 12 starts, and went 8-2 with three saves and a 2.69 earned run average.  He struck out 70 batters in 77.0 innings pitched, and held opponents to a .241 batting average while walking just 23.  Conway ranked fifth in the Big South with his eight wins.  In League games in 2011, Conway was 3-0 with two saves in nine appearances (seven starts), tossed 42.2 innings, struck out 35 hitters and had a 2.95 earned run average.  The junior was named Big South Pitcher of the Week March 8 after fanning 12 batters in 5.2 innings in a win over No. 18-ranked College of Charleston.  During the summer, Conway made the 2011 Cape Cod All-Star team, going 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in six games (five starts) and getting 28 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.  He was listed as the 19th-best prospect in the Cape Cod League by Baseball America and 30th by Perfect Game USA.  Conway collected four first-place votes and 14 total points in the voting, ahead of Radford starter Eddie Butler (four first-place votes and 11 points).

The 2012 Big South baseball season begins Friday, February 17 with all 11 teams in action.  The first Conference meeting is set for the weekend of March 16-18, while the 2012 Big South Baseball Championship tournament is slated for May 22-26 and will be hosted for the first time by High Point University at Williard Stadium in High Point, N.C.