Kansas City, Mo. -- The Missouri Southern baseball team has been picked to finish fourth in the MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll, the league announced today.
Southern, the defending MIAA Tournament Champion, is also receiving votes in both the coaches' and baseball writer's preseason national polls, and was picked sixth in the preseason baseball writer's Central Region poll.
The Lions were 34-22 last season and won the MIAA Tournament on a dramatic walk-off home run from Sam Ryan, defeating fifth-ranked Missouri Western for the MIAA Title. Southern, the third-place MIAA team in the regular season, earned the MIAA's automatic berth to the NCAA Central Region Tournament in Mankato, Minn. and took on Minnesota State in a dramatic 14-inning opener. The Lions lost on a bunt in the 14th, 1-0 after seeing starter Brett Abell throw 11 shutout innings to start the game.
The Lions returns two All-MIAA performers from a year ago in pitchers Ryan Bates and Payton Walker. Bates went 8-3 witha 3.88 ERA, while Walker, as a true freshman, went 6-5 and had a 3.50 ERA. Senior David Reese returns to the pitching staff, as well as fellow senior Drew Noble as Southern returns four of their five starters from last season. Reese struck out 52 and walked just ten, while Noble went 7-4 with 45 strikeouts.
Senior Tee Helsel returns, as well as fellow senior Zack Steadman, as the lone Lions with starts in the field last year. Helsel hit .294 and was second on the team with five home runs, while Steadman carried a .411 on base percentage and a perfect 5-5 mark on the basepaths.
Central Missouri was a near-unanimous pick to win the conference with defending regular-season champs Missouri Western picked to finish second, just 14 points behind the Mules. Central Oklahoma was picked third, just behind Western and Southern and Emporia State tied for fourth. Pittsburg State was sixth, followed by Lindenwood, Northeastern State, Fort Hays, Nebraska-Kearney, Northwest Missouri, Washburn, Southwest Baptist and Lincoln to round out the preseason poll.
The Lions will open the 2014 regular season at home on Feb. 15 and 16 against Minnesota-Crookston at Joe Becker Stadium.
2014 MIAA Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Central Missouri (12) 168
2. Missouri Western (1) 144
3. Central Oklahoma (1) 139
T4. Missouri Southern 128
T4. Emporia State 128
6. Pittsburg State 110
7. Lindenwood 98
8. Northeastern State 94
9. Fort Hays State 73
10. Nebraska-Kearney 57
11. Northwest Missouri 49
12. Washburn 37
13. Southwest Baptist 34
14. Lincoln 15