.- The Aurora Spartans were picked to win the 2012 Northern Athletics Conference Baseball Championship according to the preseason coaches' poll. Aurora received seven of 13 first-place votes for 139 poll points, six points ahead of last season's champ, Concordia Chicago, which received 133 points and four first-place nods. Benedictine (115) was picked third, followed by Rockford (104), which received the remaining first-place vote. Edgewood was fifth in the poll with 97 points, followed by a tie for sixth with Concordia Wisconsin and Marian, as each team tallied 76 points. The complete poll results are listed below.
Last season the Spartans (30-14, 18-4 NAC) finished second in the conference standings, but went on to defeat CUC in the NAC Tournament final to secure a bid to the NCAA Championship Tournament. The Spartans return a number of team members who elevated the team to one of the top offenses in the nation last season. In the final NCAA III Statistical Rankings, Aurora finished the season fifth in scoring (8.9 runs per game), sixth in hits with 541, eighth in total runs (393) and 11th with a .339 team batting average. Additionally the team was fifth in the nation and first in the NAC with 142 stolen bases.
Returning to lead the potent offense is senior outfielder Josh Davidson, a D3baseball.com Preseason All-American, who led the Spartans' offense with a .429 batting average, 72 total hits, a school-record 64 singles, 48 runs and was fifth in the nation with 39 stolen bases on 44 attempts. Defensively the Spartans had a league-best .961 fielding percentage and also return NAC Co-Pitcher of the Year Drew Gay to the mound. Gay, a junior right-hander, tied for a league-best seven wins and had a 2.84 ERA and a 7-3 record in 12 starts with a 60-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season.
The 2012 NAC Tournament takes place at Herr-Baker Field in Fond du Lac, Wis., hosted by Marian, May 10-12. The conference tournament has been expanded to a six-team double-elimination tournament, from a four-team tournament in prior years. The top six teams in the standings qualify for the tournament, with the tournament champion earning the conference's automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA III Championship Tournament.
2012 Northern Athletics Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Aurora (7), 139
2. Concordia Chicago (4), 133
3. Benedictine, 115
4. Rockford (1), 104
5. Edgewood, 97
6. Concordia Wisconsin, 76
7. Marian, 76
8. Lakeland, 54
9. Wisconsin Lutheran, 52
10. Dominican, 47
11. MSOE, 31
12. Maranatha, 12
first-place votes in parentheses voted by the conference's 12 head coaches 12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point scale used