Phil Clabaugh doesn’t disagree much with the Lone Star Conference South Division’s preseason baseball poll — except his thinks his Eastern New Mexico University squad might have been picked higher than he expected.
The Greyhounds were tabbed for fourth place in the five-team circuit, just one point ahead of rival West Texas A&M. Abilene Christian, which has posted six consecutive 40-win seasons but finished second behind Tarleton State after winning the previous three titles, was given’s the favorite’s nod, followed by TSU and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“For the most part we’ve got a lot of new faces,” said Clabaugh, whose club struggled through a 12-39 season in 2003. “For us to be picked anywhere out of the cellar surprises me.”
Still, Clabaugh said he’s happy with what he saw from his team during the fall and since practice resumed about a week ago.
“I’ve been around the league for 13 years, and I think this bunch of kids is a little more athletic (than past teams),” Clabaugh said. “If we’ve got experience anywhere, it’s on the pitching staff with (senior left-hander Ian) Thurman-Kelly and (junior right-hander Trevor) Davis.”
Clabaugh said the only returning starting position players this spring are sophomore first baseman Mike McDuffie and senior outfielder Boyd Erickson. The biggest loss to graduation was catcher Dallas McMann, a three-year starter who set the school single-season batting average record (.433) in 2002.
The softball poll was also released by the conference office this week, and ENMU was tabbed for fifth out of six teams.
Defending co-champions Angelo State, beginning just its third season of competition, and Tarleton State were picked 1-2. ENMU, coming off a 24-28 campaign under interim coach Ron Landschoot, was tabbed for fifth, just ahead of ACU.
First-year coach Kevin Blaskowski said he wasn’t disappointed by that, but hopes his team can surprise.
“My biggest task has been to stablize the program,” he said. “We’ve had three coaches in a calendar year (Landschoot was hired when Kathleen Rodriguez left in January 2003 for Texas-El Paso), and that’s very difficult.”
Blaskowski, one of four new coaches in the South, has faced some of the LSC teams in a five-year coaching stint at Southern Arkansas.
“From what I know of the Lone Star, with everybody Angelo and Tarleton have back, it was a no-brainer to pick those two teams at the top,” he said. “I think we have as good a chance of winning it as anybody. I just didn’t want a target on our back going into the season.”
LSC South polls
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Abilene Christian (11) 63
2. Tarleton State (2) 47
3. Texas A&M-Kingsville 38
4. Eastern New Mexico 24
5. West Texas A&M 23
1. Angelo State (11) 95
2. Tarleton State (5) 85
3. Texas A&M-Kingsville (1) 59
4. Texas Woman’s 55
5. Eastern New Mexico 35
6. Abilene Christian 28