MELBOURNE - Florida Southern has been picked to finish tied for fifth in the Sunshine State Conference this coming baseball season, according to voting by the league head coaches in the SSC Preseason Poll that was released Thursday morning.
FSC, which was 22-23 last season with a sixth place finish in the SSC, and Saint Leo both each received 34 points in the voting among the nine member schools (coaches could not vote for their own teams in the poll). The University of Tampa, defending national champion, was selected to repeat as conference champion receiving 64 points, including eight first place votes.
Nova Southeastern was picked to finish second with 55 points while Florida Tech and Lynn each received 44 points to tie for third. The Panthers also received one first place vote. Rounding out the poll were Barry (23 pts.), Eckerd (14), and Rollins (10).
Fourth-year head coach Lance Niekro returns five starters from last season in centerfielder Sam Machonis, leftfielder Dominic Brugnoni, first baseman Jason Sierra, second baseman Shawn Sanders, and catcher Blake Swann.
Machonis, who was named to the All-SSC second-team in 2015 playing in all but one game, hit .340 and was second on the team in runs scored (52) and triples (7) while tying for second with six homers. Brugnoni, who hit .276 last season, will look to regain his form that made him the Mocs' top hitter in 2014 with a .340 average. Sierra, who also DH'ed last season, batted .347 and matched Machonis with six round-trippers. Sanders batted .326 with five home runs while Swann also hit five homers with .273 average.
Adding to the mix are newcomers Logan Browning, a transfer from the University of Florida, who will see action both on the mound and and in right field as well as the DH role and Mitch Reeves, a power-hitting transfer from Seminole State College, who will man the hot corner for the Mocs.
On the hill, Niekro will look to Ben Richardson to once again anchor the starting rotation. Richardson was 5-7 last season with a 5.42 ERA. Browning will add to the rotation along with Cameron Hanes, another Seminole State College transfer, rounding out the top three.
Niekro will have to replace righfielder Jhalan Jackson, third baseman Chris Dennis and shortstop Casey Eddinger. Jackson, a seventh round pick of the New York Yankees, was named a first-team All-America by three different organizations last season after hitting .417 on the year and crushing the FSC record for homers with 20, besting the old mark of 16 set by Ryan McHugh in 1995 and tied by Justin Hanock in 2002. Dennis was a ABCA/Rawlings Golf Glove winner, while Eddinger hit .305 on the season.
The Mocs, who recieved votes in the Preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Coaches' Poll, will open their 2016 campaign on Saturday, Jan. 30 on the road at Augusta with the home opener a week later in a doubleheader at Henley Field against West Florida on Feb. 6.