FAIRFIELD, Conn – The Sacred Heart baseball team has been selected to finish second in the Northeast Conference this season, according to the 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll, announced Thursday by the conference. The Pioneers received one first place vote and were picked to finish behind the Bryant Bulldogs, the team that beat them to win the NEC title last May. SHU was a game away from winning a third straight NEC title after tying a program record with 34 wins, finishing the season 34-24.
The Pioneers, led by Head Coach Nick Giaquinto in his 26th season, will have a solid group returning as they attempt to win a third NEC title in four years. Sacred Heart won back-to-back Northeast Conference Championships in 2011 and 2012.
As always, Sacred Heart's main strength will be pitching as the Pioneers will return three fourths of its weekend starting rotation from a year ago. Senior right-hander, Kody Kerski (Waterbury, CT), and left-handers, Jeff Stoddard (Branford, CT) and captain Nick Leiningen (Millwood, NY) all return from a pitching staff that was second in the NEC last season with a 3.66 earned run average (ERA). Stoddard led the Pioneers last season with eight wins and seven complete games, to go along with a 2.64 ERA in 78.1 innings. As the Sunday starter, Kerski went 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
Behind the dish, captain Derick Horn (Valatie, NY) returns to lead this experienced pitching staff. Horn batted .245 with 12 RBI last season, while only making two errors in 34 games behind the plate.
On offense, SHU returns two-time All-Northeast Conference DH, Dan Perez (Seymour, CT). Perez batted .313 in 179 at bats last season with 28 RBI and 3 homers. Junior Keaton Flint (Charlton, NY) also returns at the top of the order, after hitting .276 last season with 27 RBI and 12 doubles a year ago.
Sophomore third baseman Jesus Medina (New York, NY) will also be back after an impressive rookie season at the hot corner. Medina batted .282 in 177 at bats, while also playing terrific defense. Another sophomore, Jayson Sullivan (Charlton, NY), will also return after a stellar debut season in right field.
A key storyline for Sacred Heart in 2014 will be how they replace its best pitcher and two best hitters from a year ago. Right-hander Troy Scribner, shortstop John Murphy, and first baseman Dave Boisture all graduated in May. Murphy was selected in the sixth round of last year's MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, while Scribner was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Houston Astros.
The 2014 NEC Tournament returns to Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut, the site of the Pioneers' last two conference championships. Last season, the tournament was played at First Energy Park in Lakewood, New Jersey.
Sacred Heart opens its season in Louisiana on February 28th against Tulane. As they did last year, the Pioneers will play eight games down on the bayou to begin the 2014 campaign.
- Bryant (6)
- Sacred Heart (1)
- LIU Brooklyn
- Mount St. Mary's
- Fairleigh Dickinson