May 28, 2008
DALLAS, Texas - Five of college baseball's top relief specialists have been selected as finalists for the fourth annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, the NCBWA announced Thursday. The University of San Diego's AJ Griffin headlines the list of finalists.
This year's finalists include NCAA saves leader Tyler Conn of Southern Miss, Scott Bittle of Mississippi, Joshua Fields of Georgia, A.J. Griffin of the University of San Diego and Eric Pettis of UC Irvine. All five relief aces helped their respective teams advance to the 64-team field of the 2008 NCAA Baseball Tournament, which begins this weekend at 16 regional sites across the nation.
Conn, with an NCAA-leading and C-USA single season record-breaking 18 saves, was an automatic qualifier for this year's award. The senior southpaw from Ocean Springs, Miss., is 1-0 with a 1.02 earned run average and 42 strikeouts in 26 relief appearances (35-1/3 innings pitched). He has converted all 18 save opportunities while allowing but four earned runs and two extra-base hits in helping lead USM's Golden Eagles to a berth in the NCAA Baton Rouge (La.) Regional.
Bittle led the talent-laden field of NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award candidates with 118 strikeouts in 26 relief appearances. He tallied eight saves with a 6-1 mark and a 1.63 earned run average over 66-1/3 innings, helping the Rebels to a runner-up finish in the SEC Tournament and a berth in the NCAA Coral Gables (Fla.) Regional. Though working out of the bullpen, the junior right-hander from Texarkana, Texas, paced the Southeastern Conference in strikeouts while holding opponents to a .142 batting average.
Georgia relief ace Joshua Fields, a senior from Hull, Ga., was honored as the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year for 2008 after tallying 16 saves with a 2-2 record and a 1.52 earned run average. Fields, a right-hander, totaled 53 strikeouts in 28 trips out of the Georgia bullpen. He has allowed but five earned runs in 29-2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .092 batting average. The SEC career saves leader helped guide Georgia to the 2008 SEC title and a No. 8 national seed in the upcoming NCAA Baseball Tournament in Athens, Ga.
San Diego righty A.J. Griffin helped lead USD's Toreros to their second straight West Coast Conference title in 2008. Recently named to the 2008 Team USA squad, Griffin posted a 13-save mark with a 1-1 record and a 1.96 earned run average. He made 27 relief appearances, registering 43 strikeouts while allowing nine earned runs over 41-1/3 innings. A unanimous all-conference selection and school career saves record-holder as a sophomore, will continue competition in this weekend's NCAA Long Beach (Calif.) Regional.
UC Irvine sophomore right-hander Eric Pettis earned first-team Easton Big West All-Conference honors in 2008, concluding the regular season with 15 saves, second-most in a season at UCI. Pettis, from West Hills, Calif., made 28 relief appearances, compiling a 1.76 earned run average with a 4-2 record and 46 strikeouts in 41 innings. Pettis' exploits out of the bullpen have helped the Anteaters earn their third consecutive advancement to the NCAA Baseball Tournament with competition at the NCAA Lincoln (Neb.) Regional.
More than 50 of the nation's top collegiate relief pitchers were included in the selection process for this year's NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award, beginning with initial preseason nominations by baseball contacts at NCAA Division I schools. The NCBWA's All-America Committee will select the winner, which will be announced Wednesday, June 4, prior to the start of NCAA Super Regional competition.
In addition to the Stopper of the Year Award, the NCBWA, founded in 1962, also presents the Dick Howser Trophy to the nation's top player and selects a Division I All-America Team, Division I and III Players of the Week, Division I District Players of the year and Division III Players of the year.
Past recipients of the Stopper of the Year Award include J. Brent Cox of Texas in 2005, Don Czyz of Kansas in 2006 and Luke Prihoda of Sam Houston State in 2007.