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Service Academy Baseball Preview: Air Force, Army, and Navy look to make noise in 2020

MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It always feels a little odd previewing baseball season in the middle of February. Many baseball diamonds still have snow piled along the fence and heaters are still in high demand in the dugout. Still, I wouldn’t want it any other way as college baseball is one of my favorite sports to track as there is something about that Road to Omaha and it officially gets underway today!

So where do the service academies stand coming into the 2020 season? Will Army represent the Patriot League in the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row? Can Air Force win its first Mountain West tournament title in school history? Will Navy continue its regular season dominance only to fall short of extending its postseason play? While we can’t give you answers to those questions in mid-February, let’s see how each service academy baseball program stacks up heading into their 2020 campaign.

Air Force

The Falcons finished the 2019 season with a .500 overall record (26-26) which included going 12-14 in conference play. Head Coach Mike Kazlausky’s team failed to qualify for the MWC tournament and current MWC baseball coaches feel like the Falcons show more of the same in 2020.

As voted on by the league’s eight head coaches, Air Force was picked to finish tied with San Jose State for sixth place and only the top four programs reach the MWC tournament. Two players made the Preseason All-Conference team including Ashton Easley, a senior outfielder who was named Second-Team All-Mountain West in 2019 and has the distinct honor as serving as team co-captain in 2020. Easley racked up a .327 average last year and contributed 66 hits, 46 runs, and 30 RBIs. The Flower Mound, TX native also boasts 47 career steals and 17 home runs.

Sophomore Nathan Price was also named to the Preseason All-Conference team which is an appropriate honor considering he was named to Collegiate Baseball News’ Freshman All-American team last season. Price will undoubtedly serve as the glue on the mound looking to improve upon an already impressive career so far. The 6’1” right-hander finished 2019 with the fourth best ERA in the Mountain West and the fourth best for a rookie in program history.

Series to watch: at UNLV April 9-11. The Rebels are picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West and if the Falcons can take this series just a few days after likely beating Boise State they could be in the driver’s seat to make the MWC tournament. The first six games of conference play may be the most important.

Army West Point

The Black Knights represented the Patriot League for the last two years in the NCAA tournament and are the preseason favorite to do so again this year. With votes coming from head coaches and their respective sports information directors the Black Knights finished atop the preseason poll with the most first-place votes (5 of 12). Head Coach Jim Foster hopes that not only comes into fruition but also looks to continue the Patriot League way by making some noise at a NCAA Regional tournament.

Army is primed to make a splash this season due to the experience and play of senior Jacob Hurtubise. The Zionsville, Indiana native was selected as the 2020 Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year after finishing second in NCAA (D1) on base percentage (.541) and third in stolen bases with 45. Hurtubise was drafted by the Seattle Mainers in the 2019 MLB draft before coming back to West Point for his senior season where is draft stock is expected to improve in 2020.

Third-baseman Anthony Giachin and utility infielder Jeremiah Adams also earned preseason All-League honors. Giachin was second on the team in batting average (.316) last season and led the team in RBIs with 67. Adams finished 2019 with 50 hits and a .248 batting average.

Series to watch: at Texas A&M Feb 21-23. The cliché answer here is to tell you to watch the three-game Army-Navy series at Citizens Bank Park in April (and trust us, we will tell you to watch that), but it isn’t every year that a service academy program secures a three-game series with an SEC foe.

Navy

For all the noise Army has made (and earned) this preseason, Navy is not far behind in the Patriot League battle. The Midshipmen earned the second-most first-place votes (3) in the preseason poll and finished just two total points behind the Black Knights. Navy was the last school not named Army to earn an NCAA tournament berth out of the Patriot League and 2020 is likely going to feature one of these programs as the Patriot League representative at an NCAA Regional tournament.

Navy Head Coach Paul Kostacopoulos enters his 15th season at the helm and his 2020 squad features three preseason All-League players. Second-baseman Zach Biggers is the only fielder to earn such honors based upon his impressive .322 career batting average and stellar play in the infield. Biggers is a two-time All-Patriot League First Team player (2018 and 2019) and shows no signs of slowing down in 2020.

The Midshipmen arguably feature the strongest pitching staff in the Patriot League and are led by starting pitcher Jared Leins and reliver Trey Braithwaite. Each pitcher earned preseason All-League honors and Braithwaite was also a 2019 First Team All-Patriot League selection while earning ten saves and earning 33 strikeouts in less than 30 innings. Leins will be called upon to fill big shoes as replacing Song as the primary weekend starter. The Raleigh, NC native has an 8-3 career record with a 3.25 ERA.

Series to watch: vs. Air Force Feb 21-23. There is something about the annual Freedom Classic held at Historic Grainer Stadium in Kinston, NC each year. This year marks the tenth Freedom Classic and every year it features all the flyovers, pomp and circumstances that it deserves. If you live in the mid-Atlantic states it is an experience worth the weekend trip.