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Diamond Braves grab preseason rankings

By Jonathan Bym
Sports Editor

January 26, 2012

Jazmine Kemp
Photo by Nick Phillips
Members of the UNCP baseball team stand during the National Anthem at the NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament last May. The 2011 Braves finished with a program best 44 wins, and this season's team opens play with high laurels.

Coming off a season that saw the program's first trip to NCAA postseason play, the UNCP baseball team will be ranked among the country's best at the opening of the 2012 season.

The Braves begin practice ranked No. 8 in the nation in the College Baseball Lineup Preseason Top 30 Poll that was released in late December.

The Black and Gold also found themselves on the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper NCAA Division II Preseason Top 40 Poll, checking in as the 19th ranked team in the country.

Three other Peach Belt Conference teams joined the Braves in the College Baseball Lineup Preseason Top 30 Poll, including Francis Marion's No. 1 ranking. Columbus State, ranked 23rd, and No. 27 Armstrong Atlantic also joined the poll from the PBC.

A fourth PBC team, Georgia College, and NCAA Southeast Region rival Wingate both just missed out on making the rankings.

In the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, UNCP was one of five PBC teams in the rankings. Second- ranked Francis Marion, No. 15 Columbus State, 23rd- ranked Georgia College, No. 25 Armstrong Atlantic and 35th ranked North Georgia all also made the poll.

Regional rivals Wingate and Tusculum, as well as PBC foe USC Aiken, all appeared in the "Also Receiving Votes" section.

Preseason all-Americans

On Jan. 17, the Braves saw seniors Josh Haley and Braxton Lewis named preseason all-Americans by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

In the same announcement, senior Brad Isom was named one of the 25 "Players to Watch" in the Southeast Region and freshman Jordan DeLoatch was included on the "newcomers to watch" listing.

Last season, the Braves qualified for the NCAA postseason after finishing with a 44-12 record and winning their first PBC Tournament championship.

Looking ahead

UNCP will see five position starters return in 2011, including Haley. The all-region outfielder had a .354 batting average with 26 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs and a team-high 61 runs scored.

Haley also stole 29 of his 31 stolen base attempts while having a .982 fielding percentage defensively.

On the mound, two big contributors return for UNCP as well.

Lewis, who garnered all-American and PBC Tournament MVP honors and also was a finalist for the Tino Martinez Award, tallied a 7-1 record with a 0.38 ERA with nine saves in 26 appearances and 47 in nings of work out of the bullpen.

Isom also returns to lead the starting rotation, as last season's wins leader grabbed 10 victories while registering a 3.14 ERA and a staff-high 91-2/3 innings on the mound.

Season openers

The Braves open the 2012 season on Feb. 4-5 when they travel to Anderson for a three-game road series.

UNCP begins its home schedule on Feb. 7 when they host Chowan.

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Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2012
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