By Chris Whitaker/Delta Democrat Times
CLEVELAND — Delta State will enter the 2012 baseball season as one of the top teams in the country.
But being ranked 32nd in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason poll was not good enough for coach Mike Kinnison, who is entering his 16th season with the Statesmen.
“It’s disappointing, but it is what it is,” said Kinnison. “We can change it one game at a time. I don’t think it’s justified. I think we have a better ball club than that. We just have to prove it.”
DSU has missed the regionals the last three years and has not appeared in the World Series since 2005.
The Statesmen were 30-19 overall last season and 14-6 in the Gulf South Conference. They were eliminated by eventual national champion West Florida 2-0 in the GSC Tournament.
West Florida enters as the No. 1 team in the poll, and North Alabama is No. 38. The two teams are ranked 19th and 9th, respectively, by College Baseball Lineup.
“There’s certainly some positives from last year’s season,” said Kinnison. “I think we lost some games late that hurt us. There were some one- and two-run games if we could have pulled out a few wins, that would have been a difference maker.”
DSU lost three of its five All-Conference players from last season, but return pitchers Josh Branstetter and Aaron Newcomb.
Branstetter, a junior, was a unanimous First Team pick last year. He had a 7-2 record and five complete games to go with a 2.59 earned run average.
Newcomb, a senior, was 7-7 with a 4.43 ERA.
The Statesmen return five position starters, including junior Michael Vinson (.338 BA, 8 2B, 31 RBI) and senior Brent Kakwitch (.287 BA, 19 RBI).
DSU was sixth in the GSC in batting and pitching. It had the most complete games pitching and the least amount of strikeouts at the plate. The Statesmen were third defensively.
“Traditionally and historically, we’re a program capable of winning a national championship every year. It’s disappointing we don’t reach that goal. The last three years we have fallen a bit short.
“We’ve had good years, but not special years. We play in a tough conference and just being a good team isn’t going to get you in the playoffs. We have a team with great character as well as talent, and that’s what we’re trying to return to this year,” Kinnison said.
The Statesmen open the season Feb. 10-12 at Montevallo.