AUGUSTA, GA -- The Georgia College Bobcats have been selected as the Peach Belt Conference team to beat for 2011 in a poll of the league’s head coaches released on Friday. In a close vote, the Bobcats received six of a possible 11 first-place votes and finished with 112 total points, edging out Columbus State who received four first-place votes and 109 points. Francis Marion was third with 102 and USC Aiken fourth in the voting. North Georgia, Flagler, UNC Pembroke, Armstrong Atlantic State, Georgia Southwestern, Lander, Montevallo and Augusta State rounded out the voting.
Georgia College is the preseason favorite for the second time in school history, their first coming in 2007 when they won the PBC Championship. Georgia College was also the 2010 PBC Champions and are ranked #4 in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason top 25, highest of any league team. After finishing 42-17 last year and advancing to the Division II World Series, the Bobcats lost 14 seniors but do return All-Conference starting pitcher Eric Pettepher and two-time All-Conference catcher Richard Pirkle.
Columbus State won the 2010 PBC Tournament and reached the semifinal round of the NCAA Southeast Regional. With a school-record 21-game winning streak during the season, the Cougars won 44 games last year and return six starters from that team, all of which hit over .280 last season and four over .300. All-Conference starting pitcher Thomas Campbell returns to lead the staff along with Iain Sabastian. CSU is ranked #11 in the preseason top 25 poll.
Francis Marion hosted the 2010 NCAA Southeast Regional baseball championship for the first time and reached the championship game against Georgia College. The 40 wins by FMU was the second-most in school history and they finished the season ranked #10 nationally. For 2011, the Patriots begin with a #15 national ranking as they welcome back five position starters and eight of 17 pitchers. Returning to the mound is PBC Freshman of the Year Don Sandifer, who was also named first-team All-Conference.
USC Aiken won 30 or more games for the 10th straight year in 2010 and begin 2011 ranked #20 in the nation. The Pacers bring back three starting pitchers and five position players from last year’s 32-19 squad including first-team All-Conference DH Nick Aranas who was one of four PBC players to hit over .400 last year. Also back is 2009 PBC Freshman of the Year Stephen Carmon at shortstop.
The 2011 baseball season begins on Feb. 1 with conference play getting underway on Feb. 26. The PBC season will conclude with the PBC Tournament May 8-12 at Golden Park in Columbus, Ga. The top four teams in each division will advance to the tournament, which has moved from a single-elimination to a double elimination format this season.
The 2011 coaches poll is below, coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams. A team-by-team preview can be seen here.
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