MELBOURNE, Fla.– Sunshine State Conference softball coaches have selected Saint Leo University as the 2018 preseason favorite to repeat as league champions. The Lions, who have won the last two SSC titles, received 100 total points and all 10 possible first-place votes in the poll.
The University of Tampa came in second with 84 votes after ending 2017 as conference runner-up. Palm Beach Atlantic University finished third in the voting with 75 votes and the one remaining first-place vote. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Rollins College tied for fourth place with 59 votes. This is the first year PBA and Embry-Riddle are eligible for the Sunshine State Conference title.
Saint Leo (37-15, 17-7) finished last year ranked No. 22 in the NFCA poll after winning the program's third SSC title. The Lions received a hosting bid in the 2017 NCAA Division II Softball South Region Tournament, a first in the history of the program, but were eliminated in two games by North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville. They return seven of the 11 position players who started at least 25 games, and two of the three pitchers who threw at least 50 innings.
Below are the full results of the 2018 SSC preseason coaches' poll. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their teams (points: 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, first-place votes in parentheses).
The Moccasins have 14 returning letter winners and five of them have been All-SSC at some point in their careers. That includes senior Shannon Bell and sophomore Alex Mace, who were 2017 first team selections at outfielder and designated player respectively. Senior outfielder Desirae Klumpp and junior catcher Zierra Flodman were second-team All-SSC last year, and junior Jessica Trana was first-team All-SSC two years ago. Two-year starting shortstop Makayla Deuberry also returns for the Moccasins after leading the SSC in fielding percentage at that percentage in 2017.
The pitching staff brings back sophomores Kristen Beacham and Kelli Gault, who were part of a 3-way tie for the team lead in wins last year and pitched 118 innings between them. Gault was tied for second on the team with 16 appearances, and Beacham was right behind her with 15.
Added to the roster in 2018 are four freshmen and two junior college transfers. Alli Carroll, an infielder/outfielder, and pitcher Aubrey Ehlers were all-conference performers last year at Hillsborough Community College, and have re-joined former HCC teammates Shannon Bell and Desirae Klumpp at Florida Southern. The freshman class includes two former all-state selections from Florida high schools, Kensie Green from Bartow and Jenna Weldon from Orange City; Shannon Reilly, a two-time all-area player from Port Orange on Florida's Atlantic coast; and Lindsey Wilson, a two-time all-section player from Arizona.
Florida Southern will again be led by Chris Bellotto, who begins her 37th season as the Moccasins' head coach with a career record of 1,283-533-1. She ranks third all-time on the all-time NCAA Division II career wins list and now sits 13th among all coaches at any NCAA level. Bellotto has guided the Moccasins to 24 Sunshine State Conference titles, not only the most in the SSC, but the most for any Division II program in any conference. The Moccasins' eight regional championships are tied for the third-most in Division II history, with Florida Southern reaching the national championship game three times under Bellotto. The Mocs won the D-II national title in 1993, and were runner-up in 1987 and 2004.
Florida Southern opens the season Wednesday, February 7 with a doubleheader at Francis Marion in South Carolina. That will be followed by a doubleheader at South Carolina-Aiken the next day. The Moccasins then return home to open their new on-campus stadium, Chris Bellotto Field, with a 3-game Sunshine State Conference series against Tampa, February 16-17.
|2018 SSC SOFTBALL
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
|1.||Saint Leo (10)||100|
|3.||Palm Beach Atlantic (1)||75|