Church named to Preseason All-Conference USA team

WKU junior infielder Ryan Church catches the ball to get Louisville infielder Sutton Whiting during WKU’s 5-3 lost against Louisville at the Bowling Green Ballpark in Bowling Green, Ky on Wednesday March 26, 2014. (Jeff Brown/HERALD)

John Reecer

With the college baseball season starting in just under two weeks, Conference USA released its preseason baseball coaches’ poll and awards, last Wednesday. WKU was picked to finish ninth in its inaugural season in the 12-team conference.

WKU matched or bested its predicted order of finish in five of its last seven seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, including both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The top eight finishers in the regular-season standings qualify for the double-elimination C-USA Baseball Championship in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Though the team was not picked to finish in the top half of the league, senior first baseman Ryan Church was selected to the Preseason All-Conference USA team, standing alone as the Hilltoppers’ sole selection.  

Church was a Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection as a junior in 2014, leading WKU with 38 RBIs, 21 multiple-hit games, seven homers, 102 total bases and a .371 batting average with runners in scoring position, in his first season on the Hill.

He headlines a 2015 Hilltopper offense that returns six of its top nine hitters from last season, a group that brings back 67.2 percent of its hits along with 65.5 percent of its runs, 66.4 percent of its RBIs and 63.5 percent of its extra-base hits.

Defending C-USA Champion and preseason No. 13 Rice was unanimously selected to win the league crown again this year. The Owls feature one of NCAA’s premier pitchers in junior All-American lefty Blake Fox. Rice has either won the C-USA regular-season or tournament title in nine consecutive seasons. 

League coaches voted Fox as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year, while fellow Rice senior catcher, John Clay Reeves was chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year.

First pitch takes place Feb. 13 against No. 14 Maryland, as the Hilltoppers take part in Coastal Carolina’s Baseball at the Beach Tournament.