MELBOURNE, FL – The Sunshine State Conference has announced its 2019 preseason softball poll, and league coaches have picked Florida Southern to finish eighth. Saint Leo, which won last year's South Region title and advanced to the NCAA Division II National Finals, is the preseason favorite for the fourth consecutive year in a narrow decision over last year's SSC champion, Palm Beach Atlantic.
Saint Leo (39-18, 16-14 a year ago) became the first team from the Sunshine State Conference to reach the national tournament in 10 years when they made it last year even after finishing fourth in the SSC standings. The Lions return five full-time position starters and one starting pitcher from that team as they attempt to re-claim the SSC title they won in 2016 and '17. They received 94 points and six first-place votes in the poll, putting them three points ahead of Palm Beach Atlantic, which claimed the other five first-place votes. (Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team, and points were awarded in descending order beginning with 10 for a first-place vote.)
PBA (36-8, 26-4) has seven returning position starters and one starting pitcher back from a team that won its first conference championship and earned the number one seed in the South Region Tournament, but was unable to advance. The Sailfish were eliminated by Alabama-Huntsville, which then lost to Saint Leo in three games in the South Super Regional.
Tampa (28-16, 19-11) and Embry-Riddle (33-15, 20-10) were voted third and fourth respectively, with the Spartans 10 points behind Palm Beach Atlantic, and the Eagles in turn 10 points behind the Spartans. Embry-Riddle gave the SSC a third team in NCAA postseason play last year when they joined Saint Leo as an at-large selection following a runner-up finish in the SSC. Tampa, however, did not receive a bid even though it finished one spot and three games ahead of Saint Leo in the SSC standings.
Florida Southern, which has won 24 conference championships in its history, was 27-21 last year with a 12-18 record in the SSC. The Moccasins lost only two starters to graduation and bring back their entire pitching staff that ranked among the best in Division II last season. Their team ERA of 2.30 ranked 29th out of 283 teams. Senior Aubrey Ehlers, and juniors Kristen Beacham and Kelli Gault all appeared in at least 23 games with 80 innings pitched, and sophomore Jenna Weldon pitched in 17 games while splitting time between the pitcher's circle and third base. All four pitchers won at least five games, with Beacham the team leader with a 9-5 record and 1.65 ERA.
The pitching staff will also have senior Zierra Flodman behind the plate again. The 2-time All-SSC catcher hit .321 last year with nine doubles and 24 RBI. Senior first baseman Jessica Trana is another returning 3-year starter and led the Mocs with 26 RBI last season. She hit .349 and ranked second in the SSC with 15 doubles. Senior Makayla Deuberry and junior Alex Mace return in the middle infield at shortstop and second base respectively and have combined for nearly 200 starts between them. Weldon and Kensie Green both saw extensive time at third base and were among the league's top freshmen in 2018 with 20 RBI apiece. Sophomore Lindsey Wilson is the lone returning starter in the outfield where she handled right field in 43 games last year. She hit 360 with runners in scoring position and had a team-high five outfield assists.
Florida Southern is led by Chris Bellotto, who begins her 38th season as the Moccasins' head coach with a career record of 1,310-554-1. She ranks second on the all-time NCAA Division II career wins list and now sits 12th among all coaches at any NCAA level. Bellotto has guided the Moccasins to 24 Sunshine State Conference titles, not only the most in the SSC, but the most for any Division II program in any conference. Their eight regional championships are tied for the third most in Division II history, with Florida Southern reaching the national championship game three times under Bellotto. The Mocs won the D-II national title in 1993, and were runner-up in 1987 and 2004.
Florida Southern starts the season with a pair of doubleheaders at Chris Bellotto Field the first week of February. The Moccasins host Ursuline (OH) on Monday, February 4, and Flagler on Wednesday, February 6. It's the first time since 2011 the Moccasins have opened a season on their home field.
|2019 SSC SOFTBALL
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
|1.||Saint Leo (6)||94|
|2.||Palm Beach Atlantic (5)||91|