High Point, N.C.> Entering the program's 25th season, the Limestone College baseball team has been voted the top team in this year's league preseason poll as voted on by conference head coaches.
Following a record-breaking 2011 campaign last year, the Saints broke the team record for most wins in a season after finishing 34-18 overall with a 14-6 conference mark and went 6-2 against the league's nationally ranked teams during the regular season.
Limestone returns a solid pitching staff from a year ago, led by juniors Cameron Ward and Cameron Culp and seniors Jeremy Peed, Andrew Thompson and Josh White. Ward put together a 9-2 record to go with a 2.96 ERA en route to All-Conference and All-Region honors while Culp, a Second-Team All-Conference selection, shattered the program's single season and career saves records in 2011.
Also returning this year for the Saints are senior corner infielders Jake Rierson and Zach Howard and outfielders Al Benson and Chad Balderman. Rierson anchored the nation's second ranked defense at first base while Balderman put together a stellar rookie season after compiling a .328 batting average, seven home runs and 34 RBI as both players received All-Conference nods a season ago.
Senior transfer Josh Lyon has possible the biggest shoes to fill this season as he takes over the catching duties last occupied by All-American Joe Maloney, now in the Texas Rangers farm system. Lyon is up to the tasking, however, as he brings in a solid resume after three years at Indiana University, including a First-Team All-Big Ten selection after registering a .371 batting average, 14 home runs, 21 doubles, and 39 RBI during his sophomore season with the Hoosiers.
The Saints will be tested right out of the gate to start the 2012 season as they travel to take on No. 1 Francis Marion University in a two-game weekend set on February 4 and 5.
Mount Olive, which is ranked No. 5 in the 2012 ABCA Division II Preseason Top 40 Poll, returns a number of potent bats from last year's squad, which won the Conference Carolinas and Southeast Regional championships, and tied for third at the 2011 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals. The Trojans finished the 2011 campaign with a 47-10 overall record and 16-4 league mark.
All-America third baseman Jacob Rogers was among the nation's leaders with a .414 batting average, 25 doubles and six triples. First baseman Daniel Coffey, who batted .307 with five home runs and 48 runs batted in, was named to the All-Tournament Team at last year's National Finals. Also returning are centerfielder Antonio Calloway (.279, 12 doubles, 11 stolen bases) and catcher/designated hitter Nick Gaeta (.381 batting average, 6 runners caught stealing).
For the fourth year in a row, Mount Olive College and Town of Cary will co-host the NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals at USA Baseball National Training Center in Cary, N.C. The NCAA has extended the bid to Mount Olive and Town of Cary through at least 2013.
Belmont Abbey was selected third in the preseason poll as voted on by the league's coaches. The Abbey baseball team returns six position starters and its top three pitchers from last year's team that finished 29-17 overall with a third place league finish and 13-6 conference mark.
Three all-conference performers return including staff ace Steven Thiele, who enters his senior season as the Crusaders number one starter. Thiele, a first-team all-conference selection, won his first six decisions last year as he finished 6-3 with a 4.36 ERA with 51 strikeouts. Senior infielder Joey Frabasile returns as the Crusaders leading hitter. A second-team all-conference pick in 2011, the first baseman hit .366 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 37 RBI. Designated hitter Matt Mazzolla also was a second team pick in 2011, hitting .313 with six homers and 19 RBI. On the mound, the Abbey will return its top two starters, Thiele and sophomore Cody Stull, who finished 5-2 with a team-best 4.25 ERA.
Rounding out the baseball preseason poll 4-9 is: Erskine, North Greenville & Pfeiffer (tied), Barton & King (tied), and Coker respectively.
Conference Carolinas Pre-Season Coaches Poll
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Limestone College (3) 59
2. Mount Olive College (5) 58
3. Belmont Abbey College 48
4. Erskine College 42
T5. North Greenville University (1) 31
T5. Pfeiffer University 31
T7. Barton College 21
T7. King College 21
9. Coker College 13
Baseball Preseason Poll – Breakdown by Division
EASTERN Division WESTERN Division
1. Mount Olive 1. Limestone
2. Pfeiffer 2. Belmont Abbey
3. Barton 3. Erskine
4. Coker 4. North Greenville
Conference Carolinas is a NCAA Division II athletic conference currently made up of 12 teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. These institutions consist of: Barton College, Belmont Abbey College, Coker College, Converse College, Erskine College, King College, Lees-McRae College, Limestone College, Mount Olive College, North Greenville University, Pfeiffer University, and Queens University of Charlotte.
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