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Air Force Baseball 2012: Falcons Look For Continued Improvement In Reduced Mountain West

The Air Force Falcons prepare for the 2011-12 NCAA Baseball Season, bringing in a slew of returning pitchers and their top offensive weapon, OF Garrett Custons.

The Air Force Falcons kick off their 2011-2012 baseball season on Friday, looking to improve on the 19-36 record from last season.

The team will have all four its top starting pitchers returning for 2012: Senior Evan Abrecht (85 IP, 7.09 ERA in 2010-11), senior Michael Ceci (40 IP, 5.40 ERA), junior Sean Carley (82.3 IP, 3.94 ERA) and junior Ben Bertelson (62.3 IP, 5.78 ERA).

The team is also fortunate to have its top slugger returning as well. Outfielder Garrett Custons led the team in 2011 with an impressive .330/.412/.545 slash for a .957 OPS, hitting 6 homers over his 55 games played. As a whole, the team hit .276/.346/.394 for a .740 OPS in 2011, so Custons' contributions in 2012 will likely be key to the team's offensive success.

In Baseball America's preview of the 2012 Mountain Conference, analyst Aaron Fitt projects another rough season for the Falcons, but thinks the program is making progress:

UNLV and Air Force are both moving in the right direction under second-year coaches Tim Chambers and Mike Kazlausky, respectively... Air Force posted its highest wins total since 2002 and cut its staff ERA from 11.31 to 6.09.

The Air Force Falcons kick off their first game of the season Friday, February 17, against the No. 12 LSU Tigers and Alcorn St. Braves in an LSU Tournament double header.

For more on the Mountain West Conference, drop by the SB Nation blog Mount West Connection. And stay tuned to SB Nation Denver for more Air Force baseball previews and recaps.