With temperatures hovering just above freezing and winds whipping off the Cooper River on Friday afternoon, the College of Charleston baseball team hit the field for its first practice of the season under less than ideal conditions.
Cougar Quick Facts
College of Charleston Baseball
2013 Record: 31-26, 18-11 in SoCon
Last NCAA appearance: 2012
Last conference title: 2012, SoCon
Position players returning: 8
Starting pitchers returning: 1
Season Opener: at North Carolina, Feb. 14
Players to Watch: SS Gunnar Heidt, Jr. (.349, 4 HR, 54 RBI); OF Brandon Murray, Sr. (.306, 9 HR, 54 RBI); 1B/3B Carl Wise (.321, 10 HR, 30 RBI); P Nathan Helvey, So. (5-3, 3.12 ERA, 30 Ks).
That didn't seem to bother Cougars head coach Monte Lee.
"It's not baseball weather yet, but that doesn't make any difference to me," Lee said. "Baseball season is right around the corner and to me, that's the best time of the year."
Like the rest of the teams at College of Charleston, the Cougars embark on their first campaign through the Colonial Athletic Association. The Cougars came from the Southern Conference, which is widely considered to be one of the top mid-major baseball conferences in the country. In 14 years in the SoCon, the Cougars were 286-148-1 with five conference championships and five NCAA Tournament trips.
The CAA is no slouch either as the league produced three NCAA tournament teams a year ago in UNC Wilmington, William & Mary and Towson. The league ranked ninth in overall RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com.
"We have a pretty good feel for a lot of the teams in the CAA," Lee said. "We've played Wilmington every year, so we have a lot of respect for those guys."
The Cougars, who were 31-26 and 18-11 in the SoCon last season, were picked to finish second in the CAA behind UNC Wilmington in the coaches' preseason poll. The Cougars received one of eight first-place votes.
Charleston returns nearly all of its offensive production from last year. Among the leaders are preseason All-CAA candidates Gunnar Heidt (shortstop) and Brandon Murray (outfield).
Murray, a senior from Nassau, Bahamas, was an All-SoCon second-team pick in each of the last two seasons. Last season, he hit .306 with nine home runs and 54 RBI.
Heidt led the Cougars with a .349 batting average last season, and also had 54 RBI. He recorded a team-high 17 doubles and a SoCon-best seven triples for a slugging percentage of .534.
The Cougars open the season at North Carolina for a three-game series beginning Feb. 14.