LEBANON, Tenn. – Cumberland University is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 2011 NAIA Baseball Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll released this week. The defending national champions garnered 16 of the 20 first-place votes and totaled 556 points in the poll of head coaches representing each of the 25 conferences, independents and unaffiliated groups.
Cumberland is ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since March 30, 2005 and the fourth time overall dating to 1998. The Bulldogs were No. 2 in the 2005 Preseason Poll after claiming the 2004 national title.
The Bulldogs return three position starters and seven pitchers from last year’s 58-9 national championship club, including Preseason All-American hurler Aaron Wilkerson. He posted a 14-1 record with a 2.13 earned-run-average and 125 strikeouts in 101.1 innings last season. The Waco, Texas, native appeared in 17 contests with 15 starts, tossing 11 complete games with three shutouts. He posted 14 straight victories after losing his first start of the year.
Wilkerson was especially dominant in the postseason, tossing a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts against Bethel University in the TranSouth Championships in Paducah, Ky., and then striking out 17 in another complete game shutout versus Campbellsville University in the NAIA Championships Opening Round in Joliet, Ill.
He recorded a pair of victories in the NAIA World Series, striking out 13 and giving up just one run in eight innings versus Embry-Riddle in the opener for CU. Then in the championship game, Wilkerson tossed eight innings of four-hit ball before running into trouble in the ninth but still escaping, starting a game-ending doubleplay in the Bulldogs 4-3 triumph against Lee University.
Catcher David Fanshawe, first baseman Greg Appleton and second baseman T.J. Murphy are the Bulldogs three returning position players.
Fanshawe batted .342 with 15 doubles, 13 home runs and 49 RBIs while catching more than 90 percent of the innings last season. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Bulldogs great pitching staff in 2010, which posted a 3.76 team ERA, struck out 464 and walked just 150. He threw out 34 percent of potential base stealers and also drove in all four runs in championship game.
Appleton played mostly first base but also saw action at second and third last season. He batted .361 with 13 doubles, 17 homers and 58 RBIs, part of the Bulldogs potent offense that belted a school-record 141 home runs.
Murphy played in 48 games with 36 starts last year, batting .315 with three doubles and 10 RBIs. He scored 23 runs, walked 16 times and was also hit six times. He started everyday during the last month of the season, as the Bulldogs won 29 of their last 30 games to end the year.
Cumberland's No. 1 ranking dethrones Lewis-Clark State's seven-poll hold on the top ranking dating to the first 2010 regular-season poll. The first-regular season poll of the 2011 season will be announced on March 29.