Feb. 15, 2008
Starkville, MS - Three WCC pitchers were among the 40 players named to the initial watch list for the fourth annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Stopper of the Year Award, the association announced Thursday.
San Diego preseason All-American AJ Griffin and Santa Clara right-handers Jeff Lombard and Mark Willinsky were each named to the preseason watch list for the award, which is presented to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball. Santa Clara joins Arizona as the only two programs with multiple players named to the list.
Griffin, a first-team All-WCC selection last year, quickly became a big help for the Toreros as a freshman, serving as USD's primary closer in 2007. The right-hander etched his name into the single-season record books at USD having recorded 11 saves on the season to place second in that category. Griffin posted an overall record of 6-2 with a team-leading 2.70 ERA. Griffin also fanned 65 batters and issued only 23 walks in 34 appearances.
Lombard emerged as one of the top closers in the conference last season, and returns for his senior year after nailing down 10 saves in 30 relief appearances in 2007. Lombard went 3-5 with a 4.06 ERA out of the bullpen for the Broncos, and struck out 34 batters in 37.2 innings of work. He ranked third in the conference in saves, and tied for the league lead with five saves in WCC play.
Willinsky was named to the list after redshirting last season. The sophomore enjoyed an outstanding freshman campaign in 2006, saving nine games in 28 appearances to rank second in the WCC. Willinsky also struck out 38 batters in 39.1 innings, and posted a 2-4 record with a 5.49 ERA.
With all five of the finalists for the 2007 honor having concluded their collegiate careers, a wide-open race for this year's Stopper of the Year Award in anticipated. Sam Houston State relief ace Luke Prihoda, a 24th-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, claimed last year's award. Eight of the nominees were included in the 2008 NCBWA Preseason All-America Team announced by the organization in December.
Nineteen different conferences are represented on this year's talent-filled watch list, with the Pac-10 Conference leading the way with five selections. The Big East and the Big 12 both have four pitchers each on this year's watch list while the Big Ten, SEC and the West Coast Conference are presented by three players each.
Nominations for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award were made by baseball sports information contacts. The initial list will be updated with a mid-season release the week of April 14, including national saves leaders. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Division I national saves leader and four other relief pitching standouts will be selected as finalists and released Wednesday, May 28, prior to start of NCAA regional tournament competition.
The NCBWA's All-America Committee will then select the winner, with this year's recipient to be announced Wednesday, June 4, before the opening of NCAA super regional play.
Texas hurler J. Brent Cox won the inaugural Stopper of the Year Award in 2005, with Don Czyz of Kansas claiming the honor in 2006 and Luke Prihoda of Sam Houston State topping the field in 2007.