Horizon League Preview

Wright State and UIC will battle things out at the top of the conference


Feb. 16, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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Did you see some of the Ws this league pulled last year in non-conference play? Ask teams like Ole Miss, Long Beach State and Tennessee if these guys can play or not. For 2008 the Horizon adds Valparaiso to its roster and also a weird league schedule where every team will face off with the six others in five games each. Oh well, it still should be an interesting race to the No. 1 seed as most of the squads face major overhauls. But as you know, the spoils go only to the team that gets hot at the right time. The non-conference slates are remarkably tough, but we see how that paid off for UIC in the Regionals last June. So more power to 'em.

 

Favorites: Wright State, UIC

Contender: Butler

Darkhorse: Youngstown State

 

Butler (22-33, 10-20)

 

The Good News:

Butler was second in the league with a 4.78ERA. They'll have senior slingers Jon Dages (6-7, 3.40) and Bryan Bokowy (3-6, 4.36) back in uniform to head the staff. SS Joe Pauley (.324) is a senior do-it-all to watch.

 

The Bad News:

The Bulldogs haven't had a winning season since 2003, nor won the conference since 1998. Five of the top nine starters have moved on. The `pen must get better after the Bulldogs were outscored by 35 runs from the 6th inning on last year.

 

Schedule Note:

Series with Youngstown and Milwaukee will ease Butler into Horizon play before UIC and Wright State are up next to start the April grind.

 

Cleveland State (14-44, 10-17)

 

The Good News:

The pitching was good, with a 5.34 ERA and led the league in strikeouts (351). Josh Hungerman is a valuable two-way tool (.278 and 2-9, 3.82) whose numbers will improve and Bobby Cash (.272, 11SBs) is one of the few offensive threats returning.

 

The Bad News:

Nobody hit lighter (.246) and fielded worse (.933) in the Horizon than the Vikings. Two weekend starters and the ace reliever must be replaced. Twenty-six of the 42 players on the roster are newbies.

 

Schedule Note:

Gah! What a grind! For a team that only won 14 games, you'd figure teams like Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Evansville wouldn't be the welcoming committee to their season.

 

Milwaukee (25-32, 16-14)

 

The Good News:

Other than a 5th place finish in 2004, UW-M has been in contention for the Horizon every year. 3B Josh Groves (.396, Wallace Award candidate) and 2B Jesse Hart (.360) solidify a good infield. San Francisco transfer Jeff Gordon (3svs in '06) will be a needed shot in the arms.

 

The Bad News:

Despite consistent contender status, the Panthers haven't won the HL since 2002. The staff needs re-vamping as part-time starter Andy Hetebrueg (2-3, 5.35, 5starts) is the only returning hurler with more than 30 innings of work last year.

 

Schedule Note:

Unusually longer than normal, UW-M won't open its home slate until April 11th (I'll have to check to see if that's the latest home opener in the country). But after that, the Panthers will play 21 of their last 28 at home, including their last 13 straight Horizon games.

 



 
 

UIC (35-21, 21-6)

 

The Good News:

There's no doubting that Mike Dee's program is the top dog in the Horizon, especially after his team showed up huge in the NCAA tournament last June, including a win over No. 1 seed Long Beach State. SS Jake Carr (.306-6-29), OF Ty Rubio (.253) and RHP Adam Worthington (4-1, 6.00) will be the base to build a new team around. Oh and there is new field turf laid down on Les Miller Field.

 

The Bad News:

There's a lot of bad news here. Coach Dee has almost nothing left over to work with in the experience department, since there are only two field starters and no weekend mound hurlers around. A team with so many newcomers will probably result in an up-and-down season.

 

Schedule Note:

Well here we go again. Same old perversely intolerable slate for the Flames in the pre-Horizon portion. This year they'll open at Tulane, play a tournament at Baylor and take on Top 10 Vanderbilt for three games. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Then again... they can beat these teams too.

 

Valparaiso (22-34, 10-10 in Mid-Continent Conference)

 

The Good News:

A new conference affiliation may bring a new energy to the program. A pair of 5th-year senior OFs, Jason Brunelli (.298) and Zach Rodeghero (.295) will provide good gloves and bats. Weekend arm Elliott Gibbs (2-7, 5.81) was granted a 6th year of eligibility.

 

The Bad News:

Not a lot of winning tradition. In fact, the last NCAA tourney appearance was back in 1976. Six of the top eight hitters, two of the weekend starters and relief ace Dallas Cawiezell (40th round pick of the Indians) will be hard to replace.

 

Schedule Note:

Valpo will play 11 of its last 14 games on the road in May, including a tough three-gamer at UIC to close things out.

 

Wright State (36-22, 21-9)

 

The Good News:

What? You wanna doubt the Horizon now? How about the shockwaves these guys sent by taking two of three at Ole Miss last February? It all starts with two of the best athletes in the Horizon, SS Justin Parker (.379-5-38) and 1B Jeremy Hamilton (374-9-62), a pair of all-league performers. WSU hopes to have the best defense in the HL again (.965 fielding).

 

The Bad News:

The mound will have a lot of greenhorns on it, as all three starters and top reliever Jason Bennion have moved on. Scott Ruthven (1-1, 5.92, 2svs) is the only pitcher with more than 20 innings of work that is back. The leadership of Ross Oeder (.408) will be missed as well.

 

Schedule Note:

Will get another shot at an SEC big-wig when the Raiders open at Arkansas. They'll also criss-cross the country with trips to Washington State and The Citadel Shootout, all in the first three weeks.

 

Youngstown State (19-37, 9-21)

 

The Good News:

New coach Rich Pasquale has every starting pitcher to work with and seven field starters, including talents like All-American candidate OF John Koehnlein (.434) and seniors Lucas Engle (4-6, 5.24) and Adam Kalafos (4-7, 5.72).

 

The Bad News:

YSU has had either a winning mark or a tournament title every year in the Horizon since 2002, until last year's collapse. To contend again, YSU must shore up the 6.08 ERA and awful .945 fielding percentage.

 

Schedule Note:

The Penguins will host the Horizon post-season tournament in May, giving some home cooking-type hope to YSU's chances of returning to the Big Dance.

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