College of Charleston baseball has been picked second in the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Poll, according to a vote of the league's baseball coaches.
The Cougars enter the CAA after a tremendous 14-year run in the Southern Conference, where CofC posted a cumulative conference record of 286-148-1 with five conference championships and five NCAA Tournament trips.
Charleston went 31-26 and 18-11 in conference last season, finishing second in the SoCon regular season before bowing out in the conference tournament. It marked the fifth-straight season in which fifth-year head coach Monte Lee has won at least 30 games and finished in the top five of the conference.
The coaches of the CAA recognized the potency of the first-year Cougars, voting CofC second with 41 total points and one first-place vote. Reigning regular season champion and regional rival UNCW was picked to win the league with 48 points and six first-place votes.
Charleston returns nearly all of its offensive production from last year with eight of nine position starters back, and seven of the top eight hitters by batting average. CofC will look to a dynamic incoming class of true freshman and sophomores to make up for the pitching departures of Matt Pegler, Jake Zokan, Ryan West, Drew Freie, Jimmy Revan and Dre Watts, who accounted for 66.6 percent of all decisions and 70.2 percent of innings pitched.
Junior Gunnar Heidt and senior Brandon Murray return to lead the offense after posting outstanding seasons in 2013. Murray was an All-SoCon Second Team selection with nine home runs and 54 RBIs, while Heidt led the Cougars in hitting (.349), doubles (17), steals (13) and total bases (124).
Sophomore Carl Wise returns after a Freshman All-American campaign, garnering postseason All-American honors from the NCBWA, Baseball America and Perfect Game. Despite only starting 38 games, Wise led the team with 10 home runs and posted a slugging percentage of .606, which ranked 39th in the nation.
Sophomore Blake Butler won All-SoCon Second Team honors after hitting .321 with a team-best 51 runs scored. On the mound, sophomore Nathan Helvey was a member of the All-SoCon Freshman team with an ERA of 3.12 and a 5-3 record, holding opponents to a .245 batting average.
William & Mary, who earned an NCAA at-large bid in 2013, was picked third in the league, while 2013 CAA tournament champion Towson was picked fourth. Northeastern, JMU, Hofstra and Delaware rounded out the league's preseason poll.
The CAA is coming off one of its best baseball seasons ever as three teams received NCAA Tournament berths for the first time since 2001 and seven teams reached the 30-win mark for the first time in league history. The league ranked ninth in overall RPI according to WarrenNolan.com.
2014 CAA BASEBALL PRESEASON PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. UNCW (6 first-place votes) 48
2. College of Charleston (1 first-place vote) 41
3. William & Mary 35
4. Towson (1 first-place vote) 31
5. Northeastern 21
6. James Madison 17
7. Hofstra 16
8. Delaware 15