FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University is the near unanimous choice as the favorite to capture the 2012 Peach Belt Conference baseball crown, according to the annual preseason poll of the conference coaches. In addition, junior right-handed pitcher Don Sandifer and senior outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie were named to the PBC’s preseason All-Conference squad.
The Patriots received 10 of a possible 11 first-place votes in the poll for 119 total points, distancing themselves from second-place Columbus State University (102). 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 95 points, followed by UNC Pembroke (91), Armstrong Atlantic State University (77), North Georgia College & State University (76), USC Aiken (61), Lander University (52), Augusta State University (43), Flagler College (27), Georgia Southwestern State University (25), and University of Montevallo (24).
FMU won its first-ever PBC regular-season championship in 2011 after going 18-6 in conference play. The 41-16 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 the PBC co-Player of the Year (Sosnoskie), the PBC Pitcher of the Year (Sandifer), and the PBC Freshman of the Year (third baseman Michael Wilson). Also back is all-conference pitcher Jeffrey Stoner along with six position starters and six members of the pitching staff.
Junior right-handed pitcher Gary Ashcraft (a transfer from Southern Union State Community College) and junior infielder Tyler Hibbs (CCBC-Cantonsville) head a group of 10 newcomers on the Patriot roster.
FMU will also christen the brand-new Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium midway through the season.
Francis Marion will open its 2012 season with a weekend series against Limestone College on Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Conference play begins on Feb. 18-19 as the Patriots travel to Columbus State for an early-season showdown. The 2012 PBC Baseball Tournament returns to Golden Park in Columbus, Ga., May 9-13.
Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.
2012 PBC Coaches’ Preseason Baseball Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Francis Marion (10) 119
2. Columbus State (1) 102
3. Georgia College (1) 95
4. UNC Pembroke 91
5. Armstrong Atlantic State 77
6. North Georgia 76
7. USC Aiken 61
8. Lander 52
9. Augusta State 43
10. Flagler 27
11. Georgia Southwestern 25
12. Montevallo 24