AUGUSTA, GA – For the second year in a row, the North Georgia Nighthawks have been selected as the preseason team to beat in a poll of Peach Belt Conference softball coaches released on Thursday. UNG received eight first-place votes out of a possible 12 and 140 total points, edging out Armstrong State in second place. Georgia College was third in the voting with Young Harris in fourth and UNC Pembroke fifth. Francis Marion and Lander were tied for sixth with USC Aiken, Columbus State, Flagler, Augusta, Georgia Southwestern and Montevallo rounding out the voting.
North Georgia came back from winning the 2015 National Championship to capture the 2016 PBC regular-season title and PBC Tournament title. The Nighthawks went on to host the NCAA regional and super-regional, but were denied a return trip to the world series. For 2017, the three-time defending conference and tournament champion return four seniors including reigning PBC Player of the Year Stephanie Hartness along with catcher Jessica Finch; both of whom were named to the preseason All-Conference team earlier this week.
Armstrong State had their most successful season ever in 2016, advancing to the final four of the NCAA National Championships. The Pirates went 43-15 last year and are ranked #3 in the NFCA preseason top 25. Armstrong State returns seven starters and 13 players from last years' team including first baseman Hannah Reppert who led the PBC in home runs last year. The biggest change for the Pirates will be new head coach Kim Dean, who takes the role this season.
Young Harris had a breakout season in 2016 with a 32-20 overall mark, including 17-7 in conference play. The Mountain Lions reached the semifinals of the PBC Tournament and made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. For 2017, YHC returns senior Jeanie Perrucci who was named second-team All-Conference, and senior infielder Chandler Stooksbury, a 2014 second-team All-Conference pick.
UNC Pembroke advanced to the semifinals of the PBC Tournament for the first time in school history in 2016 and finished the season with a 29-24-1 record, 14-10 in conference play. The Braves tied with North Georgia with three players named to the preseason All-Conference team, including senior Abbey Walters who hit .396 with 42 RBIs and pitched in 21 games with a 2.71 ERA.
The 2016 coaches poll is below. Teams were given 12 points for a first-place vote, 11 for second and so on. Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.
Peach Belt Conference Softball
2017 Coaches Preseason Poll