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December 20, 2007

Conference Previews: Summit and Horizon

MORE: Rivals.com Countdown to First Pitch

The new NCAA legislation and its fallout wasn't the only shakeup during the offseason.

The conference formerly known as the Mid-Continent changed its name to the Summit League. The league also added three new members South Dakota State, North Dakota State and IUPU-Fort Wayne.

The Horizon League also endured change, as Valparaiso joined it after a stint in the Mid-Continent (Summit).

Oral Roberts leads the charge in the Summit League, while Wright State has the inside track in the Horizon League.

We preview the Summit and Horizon Leagues.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN
SUMMIT LEAGUE
After finishing last season with just one loss in conference play, Oral Roberts hopes to continue its domination this spring. Though the Golden Eagles have a few key players to replace, they welcome back a plethora of talented players. ORU will rely on sophomore right-hander Jerry Sullivan to lead the rotation. The Eagles are led at the plate by veteran outfielder Brendan Duffy, who hit a team-leading .356 last season In addition to having another great team, ORU coach Rob Walton earned the highest honor a few weeks ago he was named the head coach of Team USA, which will spend the summer of 2008 entrenched in international
competition Western Illinois and Centenary should fight for second place in the league. However, Southern Utah could surprise The Thunderbirds need to improve on the mound, but welcome back some key offensive contributors with Bucky Aona, Keli'i Zablan and Chester Wilson South Dakota State prepares for its first season in the Summit League. They will be ready. Like most teams this time of year, the Jackrabbits have some holes to fill. However, they do welcome back talented catcher Tony Martin North Dakota State is led by weekend starter Jake Laber, while IUPU-Fort Wayne hopes to make an immediate splash Oakland is another team to watch. At first glance, history indicates the Golden Grizzlies will struggle. However, new coach John Musachio should have this team ready for business. The Grizzlies welcome back talented outfielder Justin Wilson in addition to senior left-handed pitcher Matt Trausch. Oakland could lead the way in the surprise department by season's end.
Rivals.com predicted order of finish
1. Oral Roberts
2. Western Illinois
3. Centenary
4. Southern Utah
5. South Dakota State
6. Oakland
7. North Dakota State
8. IUPU-Fort Wayne


Preseason All-Conference team
1B. Bucky Aona, Southern Utah
2B. Keli'i Zablan, Southern Utah
3B. Chester Wilson, Southern Utah
SS. Adam Younger, Oral Roberts
OF. Brendan Duffy, Oral Roberts
OF. Justin Wilson, Oakland
OF. Kelly Minissale, Oral Roberts
C. Tony Martin, South Dakota State
SP. Jerry Sullivan, Oral Roberts
SP. Matt Trausch, Oakland
SP. Jake Laber, North Dakota State
RP. Dakota Robinson, Centenary
DH. Brian Van Kirk, Oral Roberts
HORIZON LEAGUE
Wright State doesn't have much coming back in the way of pitching, but the Raiders should be in good shape at the plate. WSU welcomes back first baseman Jeremy Hamilton and shortstop Justin Parker two of the Horizon League's best hitters Like WSU, Wisconsin-Milwaukee should be in good shape at the plate with three players earning All-Conference honors If Illinois-Chicago finds a way to win the league this spring, it will be a tremendous coaching job by Mike Dee. The Flames lost key pitchers Steve Crnkovich, Ryan Zink and Zach Peterson. Additionally, they are without key offensive contributors Larry
Gempp, Nick Rainwater and Micky Pingree (who transferred to Lewis-Clark State). They do welcome back reliever David Cales, who compiled great numbers last season. Despite their losses, the Flames are still a team to watch Butler veteran pitcher Jon Dages is arguably the league's top returning pitcher, while fellow veteran Joe Pauley gives the Bulldogs an offensive threat Youngstown State could be the leading candidate in the surprise department. With new coach Rich Pasquale taking charge, the Penguins return six position starters in addition to two weekend starters. Outfielder John Koehnlein is one of the league's best hitters, while Erich Diedrich is a productive catcher. The Penguins are led on the mound by Lucas Engle, who finished last season with two complete games in 14 starts Valparaiso joins the Horizon League after finishing 22-34 last season While Valpo hopes to make a positive first impression, Cleveland State hopes to avoid the cellar with pitcher Josh Hungerman leading the charge.
Rivals.com predicted order of finish
1. Wright State
2. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
3. Illinois-Chicago
4. Youngstown State
5. Butler
6. Valparaiso
7. Cleveland State

Preseason All-Conference team
1B. Jeremy Hamilton, Wright State
2B. Jesse Hart, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
3B. Josh Groves, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
SS. Justin Parker, Wright State
OF. John Koehnlein, Youngstown State
OF. Nick Wichser, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
OF. Jason Brunelli, Valparaiso
C. Erich Diedrich, Youngstown State
SP. Jon Dages, Butler
SP. Josh Hungerman, Cleveland State
SP. Lucas Engle, Youngstown State
RP. David Cales, Illinois-Chicago
DH. Joe Pauley, Butler

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.