For the fourth consecutive year, Coastal Carolina University’s baseball team has been voted the Big South Conference’s preseason favorite by the League’s Head Baseball Coaches, it was announced today by the Conference office. In addition, the coaches voted Chanticleers’ redshirt-junior second baseman Tommy La Stella (Closter, N.J.) the Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year and Coastal Carolina junior Anthony Meo (Cranston, R.I.) the League’s Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Coastal was the unanimous selection to win the Big South crown in 2011, as the Chants received all 10 first-place votes. Coastal Carolina is coming of its fourth consecutive Big South Championship and NCAA Tournament berth, as well as its second NCAA Super Regional appearance in three seasons. Led by 16-year head coach Gary Gilmore – the Big South’s second-winningest baseball coach with a record of 608-304 ( =.667 percent), the Chanticleers won a League-record 55 games in 2010 and was 25-0 in Conference play. The Chants, who have won 35 consecutive regular-season Big South games, return seven starters and 17 letterwinners from last year’s record-breaking club. Coastal enters the 2011 campaign ranked No. 17 in the College Baseball Lineup preseason Top 30, No. 19 in the Rivals.com preseason Top 25 and No. 24 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason rankings.
Liberty, last year’s Tournament runner-up, was second in the preseason poll with 90 points. Winthrop was picked third with 68 points, while High Point finished fourth in the voting with 63 points. VMI and Radford tied for the fifth spot with 61 points each, while Gardner-Webb garnered seventh-place (39 points). Charleston Southern finished at No. 8 (30 points), followed by UNC Asheville (26 points). Presbyterian College, which is eligible for the League’s regular-season championship but not the Conference tournament, rounded out the voting with 12 points for the 10th and final spot in the poll.
La Stella earned First-Team All-Big South and Big South All-Tournament Team honors in his first season with the Chanticleers last season. He led Coastal with a .378 batting average, tied for fifth in the Conference, and his 93 hits ranked second in the League and were the fourth-most in a single-season in school history. La Stella struck out just 15 times in 246 at-bats in 2010 to rank 29th in the nation in “toughest to strikeout” (once every 16.4 at-bats). La Stella, who enters 2011 ranked as the 47th-best player in NCAA Division I on the 2011 Preseason College Baseball Daily Top 100, belted 14 home runs and drove in 66 runs last season to rank among the Big South leaders. He added 14 doubles and two triples and was second in the Big South with 153 total bases. He was fourth in the Conference with 64 runs scored and fifth with a .622 slugging percentage. In League games, La Stella batted .442 with a team-high nine home runs and 34 RBI. He also batted a combined .421 in the postseason with four doubles, three home runs, 14 RBI and 13 walks, and was the only Chanticleer not to strikeout. Defensively, La Stella set a CCU record for second baseman with a .977 fielding percentage.
La Stella received eight first-place votes and 17 points in the voting. Liberty third baseman Tyler Bream was second in the voting with two first-place votes and six points, followed by Charleston Southern’s Nick Chinners (three points).
Meo was the unanimous Big South Pitcher of the Year in 2010, and was the unanimous selection for the 2011 preseason honor. He posted a 13-2 overall record with a 2.61 earned run average in 18 starts for the Chanticleers. In Big South games last year, Meo was 8-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched. He was a semifinalist for both the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award, earned First-Team All-America honors by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association – in addition to being its District IV Player of the Year, and collected All-America accolades from Collegiate Baseball and the ABCA.