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January 28, 2013

North Georgia Named PBC Softball Preseason Favorite

AUGUSTA, GA – The University of North Georgia softball team has been selected as the preseason favorite in a poll of Peach Belt Conference head coaches released on Monday.  The Saints earn the preseason pick for the fifth year in a row, 11 points ahead of second-place Flagler.  Armstrong and Columbus State were tied for third in the voting.

USC Aiken was fifth in the poll, three points ahead of Augusta State and four in front of Francis Marion.  Georgia College, Lander, UNC Pembroke, Georgia Southwestern and newcomer Young Harris rounded out the voting.

North Georgia finished the 2012 season ranked #10 in the nation after compiling a 49-10 record, their fourth straight year of 40 or more wins.  The Saints hosted the NCAA Southeast Regionals for the fourth year in a row, making their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.  For 2013, UNG returns four starting infielders, three outfielders and two pitchers including Melissa Dickie, the PBC Freshman of the Year in 2012.

Armstrong won their first PBC Regular-Season championship in 12 years last season, going 45-11 overall and 19-1 in conference play.  Ranked as high as #7 in the nation, the Pirates hosted the NCAA Southeast Regional as they made their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.  Armstrong returns six seniors for 2012, including PBC Pitcher of the Year Megan Barnwell and first-team All-Conference outfielder Shelby Duff.

Flagler finished the 2012 season ranked #8 in the nation after their history-making run to the NCAA Elite Eight.  The Saints finished in a tie for fourth in the PBC regular-season standings, but went on a post-season run that took them to their first world series appearance.  For 2013, Flagler returns four position starters including second-team All-Conference shortstop Lauren Bessent and second-team pitcher Katie Enright.

Columbus State won the 2012 PBC Tournament on their home field, claiming the crown for the first time since 2007, winning each game as the lower-seeded team and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.  The 2013 Cougars will be led in the circle by senior Mollie Russell, who was  the 2012 tournament MVP.  Junior catcher/shortstop Casey Googe set a PBC single-season record with 22 home runs last year and was named All-Conference.  Also back is All-Conference first baseman Taylor Turner.

The 2013 softball season begins this weekend with a variety of events including the PBC-SSC Challenge, the first cross-conference event featuring four teams from the Peach Belt and Sunshine State Conferences meeting in Columbus, Ga.   The event features a youth clinic hosted by Olympic softball star and ESPN commentator Michele Smith.

Also new for the 2013 season is Young Harris College.  The Mountain Lions begin their first season of competition in the Peach Belt but will not be eligible for the PBC Tournament until they complete their full transition to NCAA Division II status.  The PBC also welcomes Christina Whitlock as the new head coach at Lander University.

The 2013 PBC Tournament will be held at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., for the first time.  The single-elimination tournament brings together the top eight teams in the regular-season standings and begins on Saturday, April 20, at Flagler Field.

The 2013 preseason coaches poll is listed below.  Teams were given 11 points for a first-place vote, 10 for a second and so on.  Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.

Rank Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th Total
1. North Georgia 4 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 113
2. Flagler 4 1 2 3 0 1
0
0
0
0
0
102
t3. Armstrong 2
2
3
3
1
0
0
0
0 0
0
100
t3. Columbus State 2
2
3
3
1
0
0
0 0
0
0
100
5. USC Aiken
0
0
3
1
0
5
0
1
0
1
0
71
6. Augusta State
0
0
0
0
6
2
2
1
0
0
0
68
7. Francis Marion
0
1
0
2
1
1
5
0
1
0
0
67
8. Georgia College
0
0
0
0
2
3
4
2
0
0
0
60
9. Lander
0
0
0
0
1
0
1
5
3
1
0
43
10. UNC Pembroke
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
5
4
1
28
11. Georgia Southwestern
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2 2 4
3
25
12. Young Harris
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
2
8
15