By Chris Whitaker, The Americus Times-Recorder
Columbus State is the preseason favorite to win the Peach Belt Conference after winning its first regular season title since 1996 last year.
The Cougars received seven of the ten first-place votes as voted on by the conference coaches.
Georgia Southwestern, which beat the Cougars in amazing fashion in the final game of the season - an 8-7 win in 14 innings - was picked to finish last.
"I'm not surprised based on the two years we've had," said coach Bryan McLain. "It hurts our pride, and hopefully we will do something about it this year."
GSW received two votes to finish ninth and seven for 10th. The Hurricanes were 17-34 overall and were tied with Lander with a 7-20 conference record.
GSW was ninth in batting (.266) and last in earned run average (7.44). It returns five players who started 30 or more games, including Daniel Lynn who batted .321 last season.
Starting pitchers Andrew Whiggum and R.M. Cozza are back, along with Bud Fuller and Brandon Reeder in the bullpen. Fuller, an Ellaville native, had an ERA of 3.19 in 20 appearances with two saves. He pitched 31 innings and struck out 55 batters compared with eight walks.
The Hurricanes start the season on Feb. 1 at Montevallo.
"We're excited, and I think we're taking steps in the right direction in solving that issue of being ranked last in the conference," said McLain. "Time will tell, and we'll see."
Rounding out the poll for second through ninth place were: North Georgia, USC-Aiken, Georgia College, Francis Marion, Armstrong Atlantic, UNC-Pembroke, Augusta State and Lander.
The top eight teams will compete in a two-day, single-elimination tournament on May 9-10 at USC-Aiken.
Rank Team (first-place votes)
1. Columbus State (7)
2. North Georgia (2)
3. USC Aiken (1)
5. Francis Marion
6. Armstrong Atlantic St.
7. UNC Pembroke
8. Augusta State
10. Georgia Southwestern