FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University baseball team has been picked to finish eighth during the 2003 Peach Belt Conference campaign according to the annual preseason poll conducted by the PBC coaches.
Kennesaw State University, ranked No.1 in both the preseason Collegiate Baseball Top 40 poll and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America poll, is the preseason choice to win the 2003 Peach Belt crown, edging out the University of North Florida. Interestingly, the defending NCAA Division II national champions, Columbus State University, only tied for third in the poll. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
CSU and Georgia College & State University tied for that third spot, followed by USC Aiken, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Augusta State University, FMU, Lander University, UNC Pembroke, and USC Spartanburg.
Third-year Francis Marion head coach Art Inabinet welcomes back 15 of 27 lettermen from last year's 26-27 squad that tied for sixth in the PBC standings. An oddity of the 2002 schedule saw the Patriots face the nation's top-ranked team on three weekends in a five-week span early in the year (FMU was 3-6 in those games). Leading the returnees is junior right-hander Erin Jones, who last season led the Peach Belt and tied for seventh in the nation in total wins with his 12-6 record, and ranked 19th in the nation in earned run average (2.29). The Dillon native also set team records for innings pitched, strikeouts (106), and complete games (11), and unofficially, his 117.2 innings pitched ranked as the second highest workload of any Division II pitcher during the 2002 season. Of the FMU pitchers who made at least six appearances in 2002, seven of 11 hurlers return. In addition to Jones, junior lefty Phil Padgett (2-1, 3.44) and senior righty Bubba Strickland (3-4, 4.86) return.
The returning position starters include right fielder Horace Reeves (.308, 2 HRs, 26 RBIs), center fielder Quentin Davis (.304, 2 HRs, 32 RBIs, 18 SBs), first baseman Jerry Honeycutt (.279, 6 HRs, 29 RBIs), and Bryan Tucker (.286, 15 RBIs) and Keith Frye (.169) who split time at third. Leadoff man and designated hitter Bert Rollins also returns after a successful freshman campaign that saw him hit a team-leading .369 with 22 RBIs, 38 runs scored, and a .434 on-base percentage.
Newcomers include freshman infielder Jason Weaver, who transferred from the University of South Carolina after redshirting the 2002 season, catcher Kenneth Yaeger (Western Kentucky University), and a group of seven newcomers from Spartanburg Methodist College.
Twenty-four of the 29 Patriot roster members are South Carolina natives.
Francis Marion opens its 2003 schedule on Feb. 1 with a noon home doubleheader against Limestone College. The 53-game slate includes 30 home contests.
Six PBC teams are ranked among the top 30 squads in the Collegiate Baseball poll, more than any other conference in the nation. FMU opens its PBC schedule on Feb. 8-9 by hosting a three-game series with North Florida, ranked sixth in the national preseason poll.