AUGUSTA, GA – Coming off a dominant 2011 season and earning a national #1 preseason ranking, the Francis Marion Patriots were the runaway choice as the top selection in a poll of Peach Belt Conference baseball coaches released on Friday. The Patriots received 10 of a possible 11 first-place votes in poll for 119 total points, distancing themselves from second-place Columbus State. This is the first time in the 20-year history of the poll that FMU has been the top pick. Georgia College was third in the voting with UNC Pembroke fourth and Armstrong Atlantic State fifth. North Georgia, USC Aiken, Lander, Augusta State, Flagler, Georgia Southwestern and Montevallo rounded out the voting.
Francis Marion won their first-ever PBC regular-season championship in 2011 after going 18-6 in conference play. The Patriots then reached the final of the NCAA Southeast Regional and were one run away from their second World Series appearance. For 2012, head coach Art Inabinet welcomes back 15 players including PBC co-Player of the Year Buddy Sosnoskie, PBC Pitcher of the Year Don Sandifer and PBC Freshman of the Year Michael Wilson. Also back is all-conference pitcher Jeffrey Stoner along with six position starters and six members of the pitching staff. FMU will also play the 2012 season in the brand-new Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium starting in March.
Columbus State won the PBC west division last season with a 16-8 PBC record and made their 23rd trip to the NCAA Tournament. Ranked 15th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s preseason poll, the Cougars return four position starters from last year’s team including All-Conference outfielder Ryan Lewis, who led the team with a .360 batting average last year. Also back is All-Conference DH Cameron Scott and Logan Dollar, who led the Peach Belt with 13 home runs in 2011. On the mound head coach Greg Appleton returns two of his three weekend starters with Brodie Liebrandt an Tyler Carpenter expected to lead the staff.
Georgia College is ranked 23rd in the nation in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason poll and third in the league by the PBC coaches. The Bobcats finished second in the west division last season with a 15-9 conference mark, 35-17 overall. For 2012, GC returns All-Conference shortstop Tanner Funk and left-handed starter Mike Guinane. Funk was named a 2011 All-American by three different organizations after hitting .392 while Guinane was 9-1 with a 3.84 ERA.
UNC Pembroke won their first-ever PBC Tournament championship in 2011 and made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Braves finished 44-12 on the year and return five position starters and seven pitchers from that team. Leading the returners is All-American closer Braxton Lewis, the PBC Tournament MVP and a 2012 preseason All-American and All-Conference selection. Centerfielder Josh Haley was named All-Conference last year after hitting .354 with 29 stolen bases.
The 2012 PBC baseball season will begin with non-conference play on Feb. 3 and conference contests beginning on Feb. 18. Play will continue until the 2012 PBC Baseball Tournament, which returns to Golden Park in Columbus, Ga., May 9-13.
The preseason coaches poll is below. Teams were given 11 points for a first-place vote, 10 for a second and so on. Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.
A team-by-team preview of the 2012 season can be seen here.
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