By John Nichols, Sports Writer
The baseball program is ranked No. 1 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics preseason coaches’ poll and the Sooner Athletic Conference after finishing last season with 47 wins and 12 losses.
The team hopes to continue its tradition of dominance in 2012 but will have to do so under the pressure of being the top team, Coach Denney Crabaugh said.
“Teams will judge themselves on how they compete against us,” he said. “We don’t have nearly the strength this year as we have had in the past, but that just means we need to play small ball.
“Defense is the biggest question mark this year, but our pitching staff is the strength of the team.”
Senior Left Fielder Rich Hawkins said the pressure is not a burden, but an opportunity for him and his teammates to show their true grit on the field.
“Being ranked in the top spot this pre-season is an honor, but that just means we have a target on our back to be beat by every team we play this year,” he said. “Other teams will put their best on the field, but that is what I am hoping for.
“Now it is our responsibility to show the nation why we are No. 1 every game.”
Staying No. 1 is the biggest obstacle this season as the team looks ahead, Crabaugh said.
They have 56 scheduled contests in 2012 with 40 of them on their home field.
Three more of the NAIA’s top 25 teams are in the SAC. The teams include:
Lubbock Christian University, ranked No. 4, and
Oklahoma Baptist University, ranked No. 9, and
Rogers State University, ranked No. 19.
Crabaugh said he is confident in his team’s ability to win.
“We’ve got a team that can contend for the championship,” he said.
Hawkins said he also hopes to leave a mark during his final year.
“I’m obviously looking for a national championship,” he said. “But I’m hoping to have the best time of my life winning with a great group of guys.
“I’m leaving it all on the field every time I toe the rubber.”
The Stars start their baseball season against Hastings College at 10 a.m. Feb. 4 at Jim Wade Stadium.