FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University baseball team is ranked 15th in the preseason 2004 Collegiate Baseball Magazine NCAA Division II Top 40 poll.
Francis Marion opens its 2004 campaign at home on Saturday, Jan. 31, with a 2 p.m. game against Limestone College.
FMU returns four position starters and five pitchers from last season’s 30-20 squad that ended the year ranked 18th and placed third at the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional, the program’s first post-season appearance in 10 years. Altogether, the Patriots return 14 of 26 lettermen.
“It is a great honor to be ranked nationally at the start of the season,” said FMU head coach Art Inabinet. “However, our goal is to be ranked at the end of the season, which would most likely mean a return trip to the NCAA tournament. We will be strong up the middle (returnees at catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field), but young and inexperienced at first and third base. We also return the meat of our starting pitching, and will rely on them as the other hurlers develop.”
Picked to finish eighth in the 2003 Peach Belt Conference preseason coaches’ poll, the Patriots finished third in the PBC with an 18-10 mark, only one-half game away from winning the program’s first-ever conference title. The 18 conference wins were a team record and the third-place finish equaled the program’s highest finish ever, previously accomplished in 1993 and 1997.
Playing an extremely tough schedule in 2003, FMU was 10-10 against Top-30 opponents, while 13 of the squad’s defeats were by one or two runs.
Defending Division II national champion Central Missouri State University (51-7) and the University of Tampa (45-18) share the top spot in the poll. In addition to the Patriots, seven other PBC members appear in the Top 40.