FLORENCE, S.C. – The ninth-ranked and second-seeded Francis Marion University baseball team will face seventh-seeded Columbus State University at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning in the opening game of the 2009 Peach Belt Conference Tournament.
The eight-team, single-elimination tournament will be played at USC Aiken’s Roberto Hernandez Stadium.
Following the FMU/CSU contest, third-seeded and 17th-ranked Georgia College & State University (37-16) will face sixth-seeded and 29th-ranked UNC Pembroke (36-16) at 12:30 p.m., fourth-seeded North Georgia College & State University (32-23) will meet fifth-seeded and 22nd-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State University (38-17) at 4 p.m., and top-seeded and second-ranked USC Aiken (39-16) will play eighth-seeded Augusta State University (25-30) at 7:30 p.m.
The semifinals will be held on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. followed by the championship contest at 6 p.m. If Francis Marion wins its Saturday game, the Patriots will play in the first semifinal on Sunday. The winner of the PBC Tournament will receive the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Ticket prices for the tournament are $7 for adults (13 years and older), $5 for children (6 to 12 years), and children under the age of six are free. A ticket will be good for all games that day, and all Peach Belt Conference passes will be honored.
The Patriots are 33-13-1 and have won a school-record 12 consecutive games. Senior right-hander David Walters (7-3, 5.37 ERA) will be the probable starter for FMU on Saturday morning. Francis Marion is ranked 19th in the nation in hitting with a .344 team average, a figure that ranks among the program’s best-ever.
FMU senior third baseman Keon Graves leads the Peach Belt in hitting with a .441 average. He shares the team lead with eight homers and has stolen a team-high 12 bases (in 15 attempts). Junior shortstop Barrett Kleinknecht owns a 12-game hitting streak, a .386 average, eight home runs, and a team-high 59 runs batted in. Junior designated hitter Jacob Wallace (.343) is in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak.
The second-place finish for the Patriots equals the program’s best-ever finish in PBC regular-season play, previously accomplished in 2006 when Francis Marion eventually advanced to the NCAA Division II College World Series in Montgomery, Ala.
Francis Marion dropped two of three games to Columbus State during the regular season. FMU won game one of the March 21 doubleheader 3-1, but lost the second game 8-4 and then lost the March 22 single game by a 6-1 count. Columbus State University enters the tournament with a 27-22 season record. The Cougars lead the all-time series 32-26.
FMU is 13-20 all-time in PBC Tournament play and the Patriots have reached the title contest twice – in 1993 and last year (2008).