After a long regular season, and with postseason play under way, five collegiate standouts have been selected as finalists for the 2005 Golden Spikes Award, moving one of them a step closer to being named the nation's best amateur baseball player.

Established in 1978 by USA Baseball, the Golden Spikes Award is the most prestigious award in amateur baseball. To be considered for the award, a player must exhibit exceptional athletic ability and exemplary sportsmanship.

The five finalists named Wednesday by USA Baseball are clearly among the most dominating players in all of collegiate baseball. All five players are also junior classmen, making them eligible for the upcoming Major League Baseball player entry draft in June. The five are:

Ryan Braun - Miami: A third baseman, Braun leads the Hurricanes in most offensive categories, including hits (79), runs (68), home runs (16) and RBIs (70) while posting a .418 batting average. He is the 11th finalist from Miami since 1978.

Jeff Clement - Southern California: A catcher, Clement is also an intimidating offensive threat. He is leading the Trojans in hits (67), doubles (17), home runs (11) and RBIs (44) while posting a team-high .358 batting average. He is the seventh finalist produced by USC.

Trevor Crowe - Arizona: Looking for an outfielder who can do it all? Crowe is your man. The Wildcat outfielder is the Pac-10 leader in eight offensive categories, including a .429 batting average with 76 runs, 24 doubles, 13 triples, nine home runs, 53 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He's the third finalist developed at Arizona.

Alex Gordon - Nebraska: He may come from a cold part of the country, but that hasn't prevented Gordon from being one of the country's hottest players. The Huskers' third baseman enters this week's Big 12 Tournament hitting .396 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs. A first-team All-American, he ranks among the Big 12 leaders in 11 of 12 categories. He's the third finalist from Nebraska.

Luke Hochevar - Tennessee: When it comes to dominating the opposition, it's hard to beat Hochevar. The Volunteer standout has been named the 2005 Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year. He has 13 wins this season and ranks first in the SEC with 123 strikeouts, including 42 batters struck out looking in 111 2/3 innings pitched. He's just the third finalist from Tennessee.

Two of the five schools will be hoping to have a player capture the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award for the very first time (Nebraska and Tennessee), while Miami, USC and Arizona are each looking for their second trophy. The USA Baseball Golden Field Award -- given to the Athletic Department and Head Coach of the Golden Spikes Award winner -- has gone to 21 different schools.

The 2005 Golden Spikes Award winner will be announced during the broadcast of the 28th Annual Golden Spikes Award show at a date and time still to be determined. The broadcast, presented in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association, will also highlight USA Baseball's athlete programs, as well as some of the various organizational youth baseball initiatives supported by USA Baseball and the MLBPA.

"USA Baseball is once again proud to recognize the inspiring performances of the nation's top collegiate baseball players. We also appreciate our ongoing relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association and the undying support Major Leaguers display in helping amateur baseball players, especially at the grassroots level," said USA Baseball executive director/CEO Paul Seiler in a prepared statement.

The 2004 Golden Spikes Award winner was Jered Weaver of Long Beach State University. Past winners of this prestigious award include current Major League Baseball stars such as Khalil Greene ('02), Mark Prior ('01), Jason Jennings ('00), Pat Burrell ('98), J.D. Drew ('97), Travis Lee ('96), Mark Kotsay ('95), Jason Varitek ('94), Darren Dreifort ('93) and Phil Nevin ('92).

Former Major League stars that have captured the award include Alex Fernandez ('90), Ben McDonald ('89), Robin Ventura ('88), Jim Abbott ('87), Will Clark ('85), Dave Magadan ('83), Terry Francona ('80), Tim Wallach ('79) and Bob Horner ('78).

USA Baseball is the National Governing Body of amateur baseball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. The organization selects and trains the USA Baseball Olympic Team, the USA Baseball National Team, the USA Baseball Junior National team (18-under), and the USA Baseball Youth National Team (16-under) which participate in various international competitions each year.

Dean Golembeski is a freelance writer based in Connecticut