TUCSON, Ariz. - Florida Southern opens the 2016 baseball season as the top team receiving votes in this year's Preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II Coaches' Poll.
Last season, the Moccasins finished with a 22-23 overall record and was sixth in the Sunshine State Conference with a 10-14 record.
The Mocs are one six SSC schools either ranked or receiving votes in this year's Preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll. Reigning Division II National Champion Tampa headlines the preseason poll as the Spartans (43-13) earned 630 points, while Florida Tech (38-13), who is the reigning South Regional runner-up, opens at No. 7, Nova Southeastern (39-13), who is the defending SSC Champion, is ranked 17th and Lynn (35-15-1) is ranked 20th. In addition to the four SSC ranked teams, Saint Leo earned votes in the preseason poll. FSC and SLU were two of the 46 schools that earned votes in the poll.
Along with having six SSC schools either ranked or receiving votes, five of FSC's non-conference opponents this season are ranked as Minnesota State (43-9) is ranked fifth, while Mount Olive (39-16) is 29th, Flagler (32-15) is 37th and West Florida (30-18) is 39th. In addition to those four ranked teams, USC Aiken received votes.
Moccasin fourth-year coach Lance Niekro welcomes back five position starters, three pitchers and 15 lettermen from last season's squad.
Among the key returning starters for the Mocs, who have won an NCAA Division II best nine national championships, are junior first baseman Jason Sierra (Sarasota, Fla.), who hit .347 with six home runs and posted a .554 slugging percentage, senior centerfielder Sam Machonis (Tampa, Fla.), who was second on the team in runs scored (52) and was third in hits (64) and led the SSC in triples with seven and also hit seven home runs and senior second baseman Shawn Sanders (Citra, Fla.), who hit .326 with 63 hits, five home runs, 34 RBI and was 5-for-6 on stolen bases. The other starters returning are senior outfielder Dominic Brugnoni (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) and senior catcher Blake Swann (Live Oak, Fla.).
Meanwhile, two of FSC's top pitchers from last season also return this season as senior right-hander Ben Richardson (Orlando, Fla.) posted a 5-7 record and a 5.42 ERA and in 88 innings of work, he recorded 48 strikeouts and walked 21, while senior left-hander Brady Arenson (Glenview, Ill.) was 5-2 with a 5.88 ERA as he threw 72 innings and recorded 45 strikeouts and walked 31. The team's top relief pitcher returning is junior A.J. Smith (Merritt Island, Fla.), who recorded three saves and posted a 4-2 record and 4.32 ERA in 17 appearances.
Sitting behind preseason No. 1 Tampa is Catawba (47-15), who are the defending national runners-up from last season. Mercyhurst (40-11) is ranked third, while Franklin Pierce (48-4) and Minnesota State round out the Top 5 of the preseason poll.
St. Cloud State (54-5) is sixth and they are followed at No. 7 by Florida Tech and West Alabama (42-11), who hosted last year's South Regional Tournament, opens the season at No. 8. Colorado Mesa (48-9) is ninth and Cal Poly-Pomona (46-15) rounds out the preseason Top 10 at No. 10.
St. Edward's (40-13) is ranked 11th and are followed by St. Mary's (Texas) (41-16) at No. 12, Angelo State (42-18) at No. 13 and Southern Arkansas (40-18) at No. 14. North Georgia (38-17) is 15th, while Henderson State (33-21) is 16th and Nova Southeastern is followed at No. 18 by Millersville (Pa.) (45-11). Seton Hill (43-13) is 19th and Lynn rounds out the Top 20 of the preseason poll.
The next 10 in the poll begins with Winston-Salem State (42-15) at No. 21, Quincy (Ill.) (40-17) is 22nd and Southern New Hampshire (31-14) at No. 23. Missouri Southern (40-14) is ranked 24th, while Armstrong State (34-14) is No. 25, UC-San Diego (36-21) is at No. 26 and West Georgia (33-15) is 27th. Ashland (38-19) is at No. 28 and following Mount Olive at No. 30 is Alabama-Huntsville (36-11-1).
Colorado State-Pueblo (41-16) begins the final 10 of the poll at No. 31 and they are followed by Lander (22-26) at No. 32, Southern Indiana (28-21) at No. 33 and Azusa Pacific (34-10) is ranked 34th. Grand Valley State (34-18) is 35th, while Trevecca Nazarene (36-18) is at No. 36 and Flagler is followed at No. 38 by Emporia State (39-16). UWF and Drury (33-24-1) round out the preseason poll at Nos. 39 and 40 respectively.
The Mocs will open their 2016 season with a single game on Saturday, Jan. 30 in Augusta, Ga., against Augusta University, which was formally known as both Augusta State and Georgia Regents University. FSC's first home game is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6 as the Mocs host West Florida in a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. at historic Henley Field.
Click here for the complete Preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II Coaches' Poll