NEWS

Swedes picked to repeat as KCAC baseball champions

Neil Fuller

Defending champion Bethany College received six first-place votes and was picked to finish atop the 2008 KCAC baseball standings by conference coaches on Wednesday.

The Swedes won the KCAC regular-season title, their second in four seasons, with an 18-6 record last year.

This will be a new-look Bethany team, however.

“I feel pretty good about our chances, but we did lose 22 seniors,” Swedes coach Matt Tramel said. “We are a whole new team. We feel like we’ve got a good mix of players.”

Seven of those 22 seniors were first-team All-KCAC selections.

“When you lose that many people and you’re still picked to win your conference, I think it says a lot about your program,” Tramel said.

Tramel was named KCAC Coach of the Year for 2007 after guiding Bethany to a 36-16 overall record and the final game of the NAIA Region IV tournament.

The Swedes return catcher Joel Sundquist and relief pitcher Phil Kueber -- two first-team All-KCAC picks from last season. Other key returnees include third baseman Silvester Hernandez and pitcher Chris Atkins.

Hernandez and Atkins both earned spots on the All-KCAC second team last year.

Bethany earned 48 points in the preseason poll, seven more than Friends University.

Friends was selected to finish second -- but did receive one first-place vote.

The Falcons finished one game behind the Swedes in the KCAC final standings last season. Friends was 32-20 overall and 17-7 in conference play. Kansas Wesleyan received 36 points and was picked to finish third in the conference standings. The Coyotes turned heads by winning the KCAC tournament championship last season, downing the University of Saint Mary 15-4 in the final round to claim the title.

Saint Mary and Ottawa University earned 25 points each, leaving both teams deadlocked in fourth place.

The Spires finished four games behind Bethany last season, going 14-10 in KCAC play and 20-23-1 overall.

“The level of competition has improved so much in our conference,” Tramel said. “The caliber of the teams has just taken off since I arrived here at Bethany. With the level of talent and coaching that we have, any of the teams are capable of winning the conference title.”

Sterling College (12 points) was picked to finish sixth and Tabor College was selected to finish last, earning only nine votes.

Three KCAC schools -- Bethel College, McPherson College and Southwestern College -- do not offer baseball as a varsity sport.