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D1 Baseball - 2022 AAC SEASON PREVIEW


2022 AAC Season Preview
by D1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers
January 31, 2022

2021 CONFERENCE / OVERALL:
East Carolina 20-8 / 44-17
Tulane 17-10 / 31-24
South Florida 14-14 / 31-30
UCF 18-14 / 31-30
Wichita State 18-13 / 31-23
Houston 7-21 / 19-34
Cincinnati 18-14 / 29-26
Memphis 7-25 / 18-39

Projected Regional Teams (1): ECU
Player of Year: Bennett Lee, C, Tulane
Pitcher of Year: Carson Whisenhunt, LHP, ECU
Freshman of Year: Xavier Casserilla, 3B, Wichita State

Top Prospects/Impact Freshmen
*Asterisk indicates draft-eligible underclassman

TOP PROSPECTS, 2022 DRAFT
1 Carson Whisenhunt LHP ECU #
2 Alex Freeland* INF UCF
3 Orion Kerkering RHP South Florida
4 Connor Staine RHP UCF
5 Will Stevens RHP Wichita State
6 Tyler Hoffman RHP Tulane
7 Logan Clayton RHP Houston
8 Hunter Patteson LHP UCF
9 Jaycob Deese RHP Houston
10 Hunter Mink RHP South Florida
11 Jack Jasiak RHP South Florida
12 C.J. Mayhue LHP ECU #
13 Alex Makarewicz UTI ECU #
14 Dylan Carmouche* LHP Tulane
15 Zach Agnos UTI ECU #
16 Dalton Fowler LHP Memphis
17 Cristian Sanchez RHP Tulane
18 Bryson Worrell OF ECU #
19 Brad Lord RHP South Florida
20 Will Saxton LHP UCF
21 Chase Hopewell RHP Cincinnati
22 Chuck Ingram OF Wichita State
23 Carmine Lane 3B South Florida
24 Paul Komistek OF Cincinnati
25 Connor Shamblin RHP Memphis
26 LJ McDonough RHP Wichita State
27 Janson Reeder OF Wichita State
28 Skylar Brooks RHP ECU #
29 Jack Sigrist INF Wichita State
30 Dalton Kendrick LHP Memphis
31 Ryan Nicholson 1B Cincinnati
32 Roberto Pena INF South Florida
33 Joe Powell C Cincinnati
34 Ryan Hernandez 1B Houston
35 Garrett Kocis INF Wichita State
36 Griffin Merritt OF Cincinnati
37 Gephry Pena OF UCF
38 Derrick Cherry RHP Houston
39 Ben Brooks SS Memphis
40 Ben Sears RHP Houston

TOP PROSPECTS, 2023 DRAFT
1 Bennett Lee C Tulane
2 Josh Moylan 1B ECU #
3 Drew Brutcher OF South Florida
4 Cole Harting OF Cincinnati
5 Josh Grosz RHP ECU #
6 Cole Russo* C UCF
7 Merritt Beeker LHP ECU #
8 Zach Bennett RHP UCF
9 Garrett Harker RHP Cincinnati
10 Matt Ruiz SS South Florida
11 Jace Kaminska RHP Wichita State
12 Seth Stroh OF Wichita State
13 Chase Engelhard INF Tulane
14 Cameron Bye RHP Wichita State
15 John Montes INF South Florida
16 Nelson Rivera C South Florida
17 Ryley Johnson OF ECU #
18 Cam Nickens* OF Houston
19 Jacob Compton INF/DH Memphis
20 Michael Brooks 3B UCF

IMPACT FRESHMEN
1 Xavier Casserilla 3B Wichita State
2 Teo Banks UTI Tulane
3 Ryan McCrystal DH ECU #
4 Michael Massey RHP Tulane
5 Payton Tolle UTI Wichita State
6 Garrett Harker RHP Cincinnati
7 Marcus Brodil OF South Florida
8 Jake Hunter RHP ECU #
9 Jackson Linn UTI Tulane
10 Boston Smith C/DH Cincinnati
11 Merritt Beeker LHP ECU #
12 Robert Cranz RHP Wichita State
13 Brandon Burckel INF Houston
14 Jack Cebert UTI South Florida
15 Cam Nickens OF Houston
16 Cole Russo C/DH UCF
17 Landy Alligood UTI Tulane
18 Bobby Boser UTI South Florida
19 Lex Boedicker OF UCF
20 Ryan Taylor INF UCF
21 Jackson Mayo OF South Florida
22 Gavin Schulz INF Tulane
23 Tyler Harrington INF Memphis
24 Ty Howry UTI Wichita State
25 Austin Grause RHP South Florida
26 Wyatt Shenkman RHP ECU #
27 Trey Yesavage RHP ECU #
28 Brady Marget INF/OF Tulane
29 Jace Miner LHP Wichita State
30 Julian Balzer LHP UCF

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TULANE
Head coach: Travis Jewett
2021 Record: 31-24 (17-10)

Strengths: I like where this team is overall. The Green Wave got off to a strong start in 2021, was within striking distance of making the NCAA tournament last season, and now, they finally are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Tulane has a solid offensive nucleus with Bennett Lee, Luis Aviles and Jake LaPrairie leading the charge, while on the mound, there’s a plethora of front-line talent – it’s just a little inexperienced.

Question Marks: The Green Wave had a stout one-two punch in the weekend rotation, and an excellent closer last season in Keegan Gillies. And now, all three are gone, so naturally one of the question marks for this team is the pitching staff — particularly the weekend rotation. The good news? Tyler Hoffman showed elite stuff at times in the fall, lefthanded hurler Dylan Carmouche has SEC experience and a ton of upside and Michael Massey didn’t look like a typical freshman during fall workouts. Still, this unit needs to go out and prove it this spring. Tulane also has a question mark up the middle after losing talented Collin Burns to the draft. Trevor Minder will assume the role.

Star Power: Bennett Lee. What a ridiculous inaugural campaign Lee had for the Green Wave. Stepping in as a first-year player in one of the nation’s premier baseball conferences, Lee left little doubt. In addition to playing well behind the plate, he hit a team-best (by a significant margin) .440 with four home runs and 28 RBIs, along with a ridiculously good .527 OBP. It’s tough to ask Lee to emulate last season’s success, but if he does? Wow, indeed.

Glue Guys: I’m going to go with Lee, Aviles, Chase Englehard and Trevor Minder. Lee needs to have another productive campaign, Aviles has legitimate, big-time power. He just needs to be more consistent. Minder had an iffy 2021 campaign because of an injury, and then you have Englehard, who finished the ’21 campaign with a whopping nine home runs and 52 RBIs. He’s ready once again this spring.

Pick To Click: RHP Tyler Hoffman. As the Green Wave put together one of the better one-two punches in college baseball last season, Hoffman tallied a 4.24 ERA in 51 innings, along with 74 strikeouts and 35 walks. Hardly terrible numbers or anything like that, but not Friday night, No. 1 ace, type. This season, expect Hoffman to put up impressive numbers. He showed a fastball into the mid-90s with a quality slider and much more consistency with his command during fall workouts.

Top Newcomer: Michael Massey or Teo Banks. I lean with Massey here because he’s slated to be in the weekend rotation, but if the ultra-talented Banks has a larger role, this category could easily flip to him. He has insanely impressive raw talent. But Massey will be a relied upon starter and he showed a fastball 92-93 mph during fall workouts, along with a quality breaking ball. He will be a huge piece to this team’s success, especially early in the season with Hoffman and Carmouche getting their feet wet in those No. 1 and No. 2 roles.

Outlook: You can just tell there’s frustration in New Orleans, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tulane has been so, so close to making the NCAA tournament, but something at some point has gone against it. Now, the Green Wave, with a normal season expected, have a chance to finally punch that ticket back to the postseason. Travis Jewett will have this team ready, and the pieces are in both — offensively and on the mound — to make that move. We’ll see what happens.

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SOUTH FLORIDA
Head coach: Billy Mohl
2021 Record: 31-30 (14-14 American)

Strengths: There’s very little not to like about this team. I love how this lineup sets up top to bottom, and I think the pitching staff, while not just loaded with premier arms, has the front-line guys to make not only serious noise in the American, but beyond as well. The Bulls are confident this spring for a reason.

Question Marks: I think the biggest thing with this team is can they establish consistency? The pieces are all there. The offense looks well-stocked and retooled, while the starting rotation is in strong shape with Lord and Jasiak leading the way. Then, oh by the way, you a huge arm like Orion Kerkering at the backend of the bullpen. Consistency is needed for this team, but goodness are the pieces there.

Star Power: 3B Carmine Lane. Lane is already a proven commodity — he hit .306 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. And the word from fall camp for USF was that he got bigger and stronger during the offseason. That leads me to believe that Lane could put together a .300-ish season at the plate, along with 15-20 home runs. That’s a lot to ask for from any hitter, but Lane can do it.

Glue Guys: You could go so many different routes for this one. For me, I go with the two weekend starters in righthanded pitchers Jack Jasiak and Brad Lord. They will set the tone to each series for the Bulls. Jasiak put together an impressive 2021 campaign and I’d expect his stuff to take another step forward, while Lord is an older, experienced arm who walked few hitters last season. He’s up to 93-94 mph with his fastball with ease, along with three overall pitches for strikes. If those two guys pan out this season, everything else likely falls into place.

Pick To Click: Drew Brutcher. Brutcher was our pick to be the team’s top newcomer last season, and he was solid for much of the year — hitting .294 with eight home runs and 17 RBIs. But his impact was felt the most at the end of the season, particularly in the Austin Super Regional when he hit a towering home run late in the game against the Longhorns. The Bulls didn’t win the Super, but Brutcher’s statement was made. He’s going to hit for a whole lot more this spring, and he was already tooled up.

Top Newcomer: RHP Hunter Mink. The Bulls have a host of returning players on both sides, so newcomers won’t be needed too much. But they will be expected to make an impact on the mound between freshman two-way talent Jack Cebert and Florida righthanded transfer Hunter Mink. Mink didn’t work a lot of innings for the Gators last season, but he certainly has serious upside as the projected No. 3 starting pitcher. Mink was anywhere from 91-93 and up to 94 mph with his fastball in the fall, along with a low-to-mid 80s slider, upper-70s curveball and a low-80s changeup.

Outlook: The fact of the matter is that South Florida would’ve had zero shot to make the NCAA tournament last season if not for winning the conference tournament. However, you have to wonder if that conference tourney run, followed by the Regional run in Gainesville, is what gets this program shifted in the right direction. USF welcomes back several key pieces from last year’s team, both offensively and pitching-wise, and there’s zero reason why this team shouldn’t fully expect to return to the tourney.

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UCF
Head coach: Greg Lovelady
2021 Record: 31-30 (18-14)

Strengths: The Knights should have a productive offense. We talked plenty about Alex Freeland, but he’s not alone. Ben McCabe needs to be more consistent, but he’s a terrific power hitter, John Montes has big-time potential, Pablo Ruiz is an athletic guy who can really make things happen, Tom Josten is a power producer and Gephry Pena is a terrific defender out in center field and can not only hit with consistency, but also make things happen on the basepaths — he had 27 stolen bases for the Knights last season.

Question Marks: The Knights will hit in 2022, but where the concern lies is with the starting rotation. All of those commodities are unproven. Patterson is talented, but needs to prove it, Connor Staine has a huge arm, but did tally a 6.49 ERA in 34.2 innings of work at Maryland last season, and Will Saxton is a power-armed transfer who had an ERA around nine in 24 innings of work last season. Are all three of those guys talented? You bet. But also unproven.

Star Power: We mentioned him below, but this category goes to the supremely talented Freeland. Freeland is a solid middle infielder who, at the plate, can hit for some definite power from both sides. Last season, he finished with seven home runs and 37 RBIs, and I’d be shocked if those numbers don’t improve this spring. He’s ready to have a standout campaign.

Glue Guys: Give me Alex Freeland and David Litchfield for entirely different reasons. Freeland is the most talented position player on this roster, and he enters the season after having a soldi 2021 campaign. But he hit around .288 in ’21 and has the ability to hit for a much higher average. There’s also Litchfield, who’s the headliner in the bullpen. He’s the closer, and he has a ton of experience. He’s also coming off a campaign where he had a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings of work.

Pick To Click: LHP Hunter Patteson. For the second season in a row, I’m picking the talented lefthanded pitcher as my pick to click. Patteson entered last season with high hopes, but was inconsistent at times with a 5.50 ERA in 55.2 innings of work. Patteson spent the summer improving his craft at the Cape Cod League and is ready to rebound. He has a fastball in the low-90s with strong overall stuff. Now, he just needs to establish consistency.

Top Newcomer: 3B Michael Brooks. Brooks is very much an unknown right now. He transferred from Arkansas before last season and had to sit out a year. He’s expected to make a significant impact this spring. UCF head coach Greg Lovelady said in the fall that he had the best bat-to-ball skills on the team along with a very high baseball IQ. He’ll start at the hot corner for the Knights.

Outlook: UCF certainly had one of those 2021 campaigns to forget with an overall record just a hair above .500. But don’t let that deceive you when it comes to this team and its chances in 2022. The Knights have plenty of talent to not only compete for the top few spots in the league, but also make the. NCAA Regional round. They just need some key pieces on the mound and the plate to rise to the occasion. The raw talent is certainly there.

==========================

WICHITA STATE
Head coach: Eric Wedge
2021 Record: 31-23 (18-13 AAC)

Strengths: The upside with this Wichita State club is high. WSU should have a strong weekend rotation with Kaminska, Stevens and Tolle leading the way, while the offense at least has a solid nucleus. The bullpen has options, too, starting with power-armed McDonough. There are a lot more pluses than minuses with this club.

Question Marks: I think the biggest thing is just having more offensive balance. Andrew Stewart improved his offensive skills in the fall, but can he translate that to the spring? Chuck Ingram and Seth Stroh both have tools, but again, can they do it when the lights are on this spring? Those are the main question marks with this WSU team.

Star Power: RHP Jace Kaminska. The Shockers have some talented hitters who could fit this bill this spring, but give me the talented righthanded pitcher and No. 1 pitcher. Kaminska has massive upside and is coming off a season where he tallied a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings of work, along with 51 strikeouts and 19 walks. He also limited teams to a .225 batting average. Kaminska will sit in the upper-80s, low-90s with his fastball, along with a quality three-pitch mix.

Glue Guys: Give me those three older guys in the offensive lineup in catcher Ross Cadena, first baseman Garrett Kocis and second baseman Jack Sigrist. All three are very accomplished players with Cadena being a terrific leader in the field, Sigrist being a dynamic runner and hitter and Kocis being a big-time power hitter — he was leading the country in homers last season before he broke his wrist. If that trio excels this spring, it would bode well for WSU’s postseason chances.

Pick To Click: Seth Stroh. One thing is for certain, the Shockers have a talented outfield with Janson Reeder, Chuck Ingram and Stroh leading the way. Stroh struggled at times last season with a .231 average, .318 OBP and just three home runs and 14 RBIs. However, the toolsy outfielder is ready to take a step forward after hitting six home runs during fall workouts.

Top Newcomer: Xavier Casserilla. You could easily go with the two-way talent Payton Tolle in this category, but give me Casserilla. Casserilla is a 6-foot, 215-pounder, who was drafted in the 20th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. He put together a strong fall with a mature offensive approach and impressive bat-to-ball skills. He’s expected to be a big-time hitter in the middle of that lineup.

Outlook: Trying to rank the American teams in order outside of East Carolina is quite the chore, and this is a team that could easily finish in the two or three spot if everything falls right. The Shockers will have a strong weekend rotation with Jace Kaminska and Will Stevens leading the way, while LJ McDonough is a power arm at the end of games. The offense also is in great shape with the return of Garrett Kocis and plenty of others. Eric Wedge has a team that could make some serious noise.

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HOUSTON
Head coach: Todd Whitting
2021 Record: 19-34 (7-21)

Strengths: The Cougars will have one of the nation’s premier power hitters back this spring in first baseman Ryan Hernandez. Hernandez not even getting a sniff in the MLB draft was quite the surprise, as he his amazing raw power and has gotten better each year he has played off Cullen Blvd. The Coogs also have a ton of potential on the mound with the one-two punch of Logan Clayton and Jaycob Deese, while Derrick Cherry — assuming he’s healthy — provides a power arm and experience at the backend of the bullpen.

Question Marks: To be honest, we’re taking a leap of faith ranking Houston ahead of a team like Wichita State at this stage of the season, but it’s hard to see this program have another miserable campaign like it had back in 2021. The Cougars need some guys to develop offensively around Ryan Hernandez. Anthony Tulimero has experience and young Brandon Burckel and Cam Nickens are both exciting potential offensively catalysts. Burckel in particular was impressive during fall workouts. The offense will guide the season for Todd Whitting’s club.

Star Power: Ryan Hernandez. In college baseball, it’s always vital to have that one hitter that when he steps in the box, the other team is shaking in their cleats. That’s Hernandez. The imposing slugger had raw power and a hole in his swing when he arrived at UH, but he has gradually improved his plate discipline and that hole has continued to decrease. What hasn’t decreased is power. He hit double digit home runs last season, and with little help around him in the lineup. With some help? Watch out.

Glue Guys: Ian McMillan and Derrick Cherry. I’m going to go with these two guys for different reasons. McMillan could be a lot better offensively, but he’s such a strong defender — one of the nation’s best. His play will be very important for the Cougars this spring. There’s also Cherry, who finally healthy, has a chance to show off his powerful arm as the closer for this club.

Pick To Click: RHP Jaycob Deese. If you read anything I wrote about Deese last fall, you knew I was excited about his potential. Deese had an OK 2021 campaign. He tallied an ERA just north of four with just 52 strikeouts in 66.2 innings of work. He didn’t miss enough bats given his power stuff. Deese looked very good this fall, and better. His fastball was anywhere from 92-95 and the best part? His breaking ball was sharp and the spin rates in a scrimmage against Texas A&M were impressive. Deese has the talent to put together an all-conference type of season for UH.

Top Newcomer: RHP Logan Clayton. Just like Robert Gasser made headlines last season, expect Clayton to do the same this spring. Clayton is a 6-foot-5, 188-pounder, who pounds the zone with a 92-94 mph power sinker from the right side. He also has a hard 81-84 mph curveball that had some slurvey shape to it at times during fall workouts. He’s expected to have a strong season as the staff ace.

Outlook: This is an important season for the Cougars. They took a slight step back with a slow start in 2020, but who knows how that season would’ve turned out? Then, this past season, all of their nightmares came true with a poor showing after some gritty performances early in the season, particularly in a weekend series at home against eventual CWS participant Texas. Houston has to be better offensively with some young talent infusion, while I feel pretty good about the front two spots in the weekend rotation. UH will be much improved. How much, exactly? We’ll soon find out.

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CINCINNATI
Head coach: Scott Googins
2021 Record: 29-26 (18-14 AAC)

Strengths: I absolutely love the way this team sets up from an offensive standpoint. Frankly, this should be one of the better offensive lineups in this league, and potentially in college baseball as a whole. Komistek, Harting, Nicholson, Merritt and others are talented, hard-hitting sluggers, and there are others up and down this lineup capable of putting up big numbers in 2022 as well.

Question Marks: It would just be the consistency of the weekend rotation. Cincinnati will start graduate transfer Tristan Weaver on Friday nights, and his career has been a mixed bag. He was OK his first season in 2018 before tallying a 1.85 ERA in four appearances in ’20. Stevens struggled last season with a 7.32 ERA in 51.2 innings of work, but he undoubtedly has impressive upside. Him and guys like Segal will need to be consistent for the Bearcats to make a statement.

Star Power: Paul Komistek. Komistek did some good things during the shortened 2020 season with three home runs in 14 games, but he made his biggest statement thus far in 2021 with a strong offensive campaign for the Bearcats. He batted an impressive .364 with 11 doubles, nine home runs and 44 RBIs, along with a 1.058 OPS. He does need to trim his strikeouts down a bit, but what a talented, impactful hitter the ‘Cats have in Komistek.

Glue Guys: It’s abundantly clear the glue guys for this team are those stalwarts in the offensive lineup — Ryan Nicholson, Griffin Merritt, Cole Harting and Paul Komistek. All four of those guys can change a game and a series with one swing of the bat.

Pick To Click: RHP Zach Segal. As they say, experience matters. Segal did some nice things at times in 2021, tallying a 5.14 ERA in 70 innings, along with 44 strikeouts and 28 walks. But he can be better — a lot better. Segal had a promising fall and is expected to have a much better ’22. He attacks hitters from a 3/4 slot with a fastball ranging 86-90 mph, along with a plus cutter. Sink and spin is the name of the game with the talented righty.

Top Newcomer: RHP Garrett Harker. You could very easily go with projected designated hitter Boston Smith in this category, but give me Harker, who’s expected to be in the Bearcats’ weekend rotation. Harker was a big-time recruit out of high school in Lebanon, Ind. At a Prep Baseball Report event back in January, he showed a fastball up to 95 mph, along with a curve at 77-80 mph, slider at 81 mph and a mid-80s changeup. He had a good fall and is expected to log valuable innings as a freshman.

Outlook: The Bearcats, as with several teams above them in the pecking order, have the potential to be in the top two or three as opposed to looking like they’re buried at the bottom. This absolutely will not bad a bad team. Anything but. Scott Googins’ club will be solid. How solid? We’ll find out. But I like the pieces they have both offensively and on the mound. Paul Komistek is an absolute beast offensively, while the same can be said for several other sluggers. Cincy also has a promising pitching staff with freshman righthander Garrett Harker expected to make a huge, instant impact.

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MEMPHIS
Head coach: Daron Schoenrock
2021 Record: 18-39 (7-25 AAC)

Strengths: The pitching staff has a world of potential. Shamblin, Fowler and Stinnett are all talented, while David Warren is a junior college transfer pitcher who attacks hitters with three pitches. Furthermore, Dalton Kendrick is a tall lefthanded pitcher with a good fastball and some potential. The pitching staff will need to be excellent to have a chance.

Question Marks: Memphis has several holes to fill offensively, and it doesn’t return a single hitter who finished last season with an average of .300 or better — that’s in terms of returning players and transfers. That’s not exactly a recipe for success and is a large reason why they’re at the bottom entering the season.

Star Power: Blake Daniels. With the Tigers needing an offensive surge from someone, keep an eye on the talented slugger who transferred from UT-Martin. Daniels put together a solid 2021 campaign for the Skyhawks, hitting .299 with 13 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 27 RBIs. He does have some definite swing and miss, but the talent is present to have a solid offensive campaign.

Glue Guys: With Memphis having all sorts of uncertainty from an offensive standpoint, I’ve got my eyes on Jacob Compton and Taylor Howell. Howell struggled with consistency last season, but did hit for some legitimate power. As for Compton, the junior college transfer was a big-time power hitter in the JC ranks. Now, we’ll see if that translates to the American.

Pick To Click: LHP Dalton Fowler. I might regret this move, but give me the hard-throwing lefthanded pitcher. Fowler looks the part at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds from the left side with a big-time fastball in the 92-95 mph range. However, his command was atrocious at times last season while with the Sooners. His command must get better to have success. But if it does? He could be one of the nation’s best. He’s that talented.

Top Newcomer: RHP Connor Shamblin. I could go all three ways with the Memphis weekend rotation, but give me the projected Friday night starter in Shamblin. Shamblin logged 33 appearances and 14 starts in three seasons at Alabama. Last season, he tallied a 4.70 ERA in 46 innings of work, while also striking out 44 and walking just 16. Shamblin was solid in the fall with a fastball 90-93 mph along with feel for three offerings.

Outlook: The Tigers have a lot to prove both offensively and on the mound, and that’s why they’re picked at the bottom of the conference. But could this team far exceed expectations? You bet. I’ve seen a lot worse rotations than Connor Shamblin, Dalton Fowler and Carson Stinnett. All three of those guys have shown really good stuff at times. But they’re going to have to be good while the offense puts all the puzzle pieces together early in the season.




[Post edited by xflat at 02/01/2022 08:49AM]

Posted: 02/01/2022 at 08:40AM



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