Seven Pioneers Earn All-Northeast Conference Baseball Honors
May 20, 2009
NEW BRITAIN, CT - Seniors Jeff Hanson (Woodstock, NY) and Tyler Santos (Johnson City, NY), and junior Jeff Heppner (Aquebogue, NY) were all named First Team All-Northeast Conference by a vote of league coaches today. Four other Pioneers were selected for the second team. The selections were announced during a pre-tournament barbecue at New Britain Stadium tonight.
Catcher Jeff Heppner drove in a NEC-high 58 runs in 51 games. The right-handed power hitter produced a .344 batting average and slugged .600 in helping Sacred Heart raise its team batting average by 56 percentage points from one year ago. Heppner crushed seven of his 11 home runs during NEC play where he saw his average shoot up to. 381 and his slugging percentage to .676. Heppner's play behind the plate was equally impressive. The senior backstop posted a .991 fielding percentage and made only two miscues in 50 starts.
First baseman Jeff Hanson had just as much to do with Sacred Heart's surge up the NEC standings as Heppner. All-NEC honors are nothing new for Hanson. He earned a place on the 2006 Second Team before moving up to the top unit in 2007. An injury limited him to only 11 games in 2008, but Hanson came back in a big way. He homered in each of season's first five games and was a three-time Akadema NEC Player of the Week by week three.
Hanson, who has hit no lower than .333 in any of his last three full seasons, won the NEC batting title (.420) in leading a trio of Pioneers who ranked amongst the Conference's Top 10. Sacred Heart's No. 3 hitter posted the league's top slugging percentage (.728), too, while driving in 48 runs over 45 games. He is SHU's all-time leader in RBI with 138, and doubles with 58. He is also just the third player to amass 200 hits in his Sacred Heart career.
Across the diamond, senior Tyler Santos played a key role in the Pioneers' power surge. The first team all-NEC third baseman steady Santos was the league's only player to connect on more than 20 doubles. His 21 two-baggers, six home runs, and one triple resulted in a .562 slugging percentage. Joining Heppner and Hanson in exceeding the 40-RBI mark, Santos drove in 43 runs. The steady Santos, who has started 105 games in the past two seasons, batted a career-high .367 to rank seventh in the NEC. His 77 hits this season is a school single-season record.
Sacred Heart occupies one-third of the 2009 All-Northeast Conference Second Team. Junior left-handed pitcher Jared Balbach (Pine Bush, NY) is one of the four Pioneers on the 12-man unit. Setting the tone for Sacred Heart's pitching staff, which lowered its team ERA by nearly two runs from last season to the current campaign, Balbach (8-2, 4.08 ERA) cut 1.05 runs off his 2008 earned-run average. The SHU southpaw threw three complete games on his way to a 4-1 NEC record.
Pioneer senior Phil Tantillo (Blue Point, NY) is the Second Team shortstop. No other NEC shortstop had a better average than Tantillo's .370 mark, which ranked fifth amongst overall league leaders. The SHU senior pounded out 67 hits, five homers and 39 RBI in 47 games - all career highs.
Junior outfielder Mike Drowne (South Hadley, MA) was named to the Second Team outfield. He was one of five SHU hitters to rank amongst the NEC's Top 20 in batting average. Drowne posted the league's 11th-highest average (.354). He exponentially increased his run production when the NEC season started, tallying 21 of his 23 RBIs against league foes. He also led the Pioneers in stolen bases this season with 17.
The second-team designated hitter is a freshman for the second consecutive year. CCSU's Pat Epps held the honor last year, but moved up to the First Team this season to make room for SHU rookie Mike Olszyk (Hamden, CT). The lone freshman on either of the two all-NEC teams, Olszyk batted .263 and hit eight home runs. Two of his long balls came in a pair of victories over CCSU.
The Pioneers, the runner-up to Wagner in the NEC standings, had the largest number of representatives on the all-NEC teams. Seven Pioneers claimed all-NEC accolades for their efforts bringing SHU back to the postseason following a two-year absence and a seventh-place NEC finish in 2008. Twenty-four student-athletes received recognition through the 2009 All-NEC First and Second Teams. Each unit consists of 12 members - two pitchers, one catcher, one first baseman, one second baseman, one third baseman, one shortstop, three outfielders, a utility, and a designated hitter.