SAINT LEO, Fla. – As a direct result of last season’s 8-16 conference finish, the Saint Leo baseball team has been selected to finish in eighth place in the 2010 Sunshine State Conference preseason poll it was announced on Friday by SSC Commissioner Jay Jones.  The University of Tampa was selected as the top contender for this year’s conference title in one of the closest votes in recent memory.

After a rough 2009 season, Russ McNickle’s first as head skipper of the Lions, Saint Leo is a completely rebuilt team heading into this season.  19 new faces will don the Green & Gold jerseys while the returners, especially an experienced senior class, will look to learn from last year.

Shifting their focus from the pure power lineup last year to a more speed-oriented approach, the Lions will look like a completely different team at the plate.  The return of pitchers Jeff Bloomer, Aaron Brandt, Matt Smith and Seth Fowler will look to anchor a new, more refined pitching staff.

With the changes, Coach McNickle looks to surprise a lot of teams in the SSC and the South Region.

Conference-wide, the preseason poll saw the top three teams separated by just seven points with the Spartans in the top spot.

UT collected 116 points in the poll, followed by Florida Southern, which received 110.  Nipping at the Moccasins’ heels was defending national champion Lynn, which tallied 109 points.  Tampa received eight first-place votes.  FSC garnered six first-place nods, while the Fighting Knights collected the remaining four.

Barry, which won the SSC title a year ago, placed fourth in the poll with 84 points.  Florida Tech came in fifth with 67 points, while Nova Southeastern occupied the sixth slot with 58.  Rollins (46) registered seventh and Eckerd (19) rounded out the poll in ninth.

Voting for the preseason baseball poll was conducted among the league’s baseball coaches and sports information directors.

Rank – School, Points (1st Place Votes)
1 – Tampa, 116 (8)
2 – Florida Southern, 110 (6)
3 – Lynn, 109 (4)
4 – Barry, 84
5 – Florida Tech, 67
6 – Nova Southeastern, 58
7 – Rollins, 46
8 – Saint Leo, 39
9 – Eckerd, 19