Six Big South baseball players recently received Freshmen All-America honors, led by Big South Freshman of the Year Alex Close -- who was selected by the NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball. Also named to Collegiate Baseball's Freshmen All-America team were Gardner-Webb's Mitch Warner and Ryan Hodge, High Point teammates Joe Goodman and Ryne Rush, and Charleston Southern's Chase Shelton.
Close is one of 32 standout freshmen college baseball players from every part of the country featured on the 2012 NCBWA Freshman All-American Team. The team features players from 19 conferences and eight conference championship teams. The two All-American squads are also made up of 14 conference "Rookie of the Year" winners. The team is selected by a vote of the NCBWA's membership, which includes writers, broadcasters and publicists of the college baseball.
Close was selected as the squad's second team first baseman. Last week he was named to the 2012 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He hit .304 with 36 runs scored, 47 RBIs and 14 home runs during his first year with the Flames. The first baseman led the Big South Conference in home runs, setting new Big South and Liberty records for round trippers by a freshman. The Hoover, Ala., native added eight doubles and two triples, leading the Flames with 117 total bases and a .565 slugging percentage.
Close becomes the first Liberty player to be selected to the NCBWA Freshman All-American team. He is the fifth Liberty freshman in program history to be named to a Freshman All-American squad. Third baseman Tyler Bream was named to a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2009, while first baseman Aaron Grijalva was selected to the same team in 2005. In 2000, outfielder Keith Butler became the first Liberty player to be named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team. The same year, Baseball America selected shortstop Joey Monahan and Butler to its All-American squad.
Close played in 52 games, with 49 starts, during his first season at Liberty. The freshman posted 16 multiple-hit games and 14 multiple-RBI contests during the campaign. He had four games with four or more RBIs. His 11-game hit streak from March 30-April 16 tied for the longest consecutive game hit streak by a Flame this past season.
He completed the year by being named to the 2012 Big South All-Tournament team. Close hit .375 with five RBIs, four runs scored and two home runs over Liberty's four games in the Big South Baseball Championship.
Hodge and Warner are the first Gardner-Webb players to earn Freshmen All-America honors since catcher Jay McConnell in 2005.
Hodge had a strong season throughout for the Runnin' Bulldogs and finished the season by posting a team-high .315 batting average in 52 starts. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound standout led the team with 46 runs scored and 16 stolen bases, and added 11 doubles, two triples, one home run and 23 RBI. In Big South Conference games, Hodge batted a robust .368 and hit safely in 21 of 24 league contests to help Gardner-Webb to a fourth-place finish in the regular season standings. Counting the four conference tournament games in May, Hodge hit safely in 25 of 28 games played this past season against conference foes.
He enjoyed a 17-game hit streak midway through the season, batting a strong .500 (33-of-66) during that stretch. That streak was the longest by a Big South Conference player this season. Hodge was a second-team All-Big South Conference selection, and heated up in the Big South Tournament. He led the team with a .375 average in four games, helping the Runnin' Bulldogs advance to the semifinals.
Warner was outstanding out of the bullpen for Gardner-Webb, making 27 relief appearances for the Runnin' Bulldogs. He tied for the team lead with seven wins, going 7-2 with a team-low 2.48 ERA in 58.0 innings of work. Warner fanned 52 batters and walked just 13 - while allowing opponents to hit just .227 on the season.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound lefty was at his best against top teams, collecting wins over nationally-ranked opponents twice - a 7-4 win at No. 4 North Carolina on March 14 and at home in a 6-3 win over No. 27 Appalachian State on April 10. Warner had a three-win week in late April, picking up two relief wins in the VMI series.
Warner was part of a pitching staff that forged a sparkling, 1.77 ERA in four Big South Conference Tournament games this past May in High Point. Warner picked up a key relief win in that event, tossing 3.1 innings and striking out five in a 4-3 win over Charleston Southern.
Goodman went 5-1 with two saves for HPU this season. He led the team in ERA (2.23), strikeouts (58) and appearances (27). The right-hander from Ames, Iowa allowed just 14 earned runs in 54-1/3 innings pitched. He had a career-high six strikeouts in 2-1/3 innings against Radford on April 6. HPU set a single-game record with 17 strikeouts in that contest.
Rush started 58 games at third base in his rookie season. He hit .330 with a team-high 17 doubles. His 17 doubles is tied for ninth-most in a season in HPU history. Rush led the team with 72 hits and 100 total bases. The Asheboro, N.C. native drove in 37 runs and scored 32 while hitting three homers and stealing six bases. Rush's 72 hits are the most by an HPU freshman since Robby Kuzdale had 75 in 2007.
Goodman and Rush become the third and fourth Freshmen All-Americans for HPU. Kuzdale was a Freshman All-American in 2007 and Billy Alvino earned the honor in 2006.
Shelton led the Buccaneers with a batting average of .344. He appeared in 54 games with 49 starts, scoring 29 runs off 65 hits. Shelton led the team in doubles with 13 and tied for the team-lead with four homers on the year to collect 92 total bases. He boasted a slugging percentage of .487 and an on-base percentage of .400 to end the season. A native of Columbia, S.C., Shelton earned a spot on the 2012 Big South All-Conference Second Team. Additionally, he ranked as one of the toughest players to strike out in NCAA Division I, coming in 37th at the conclusion of the regular season.