December 23, 2011

Saints Ranked No. 35 in Collegiate Baseball Preseason Top 40 Poll

Contact: David Beall,

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DAHLONEGA, GA – The North Georgia baseball team will open the 2012 season ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II Top 40 Poll for the fifth straight year this February, as the Saints check in as the No. 35 team in the country.

The Saints have been a mainstay in the Division II national poll for the last five years and come in as the No. 35 team in the preseason ranking for the second consecutive season.

North Georgia's highest preseason ranking came in 2009 when the squad entered the year ranked No. 17 in the country. The Saints made their way into the top 10 that same season and earned the highest ranking in program when they were ranked No. 6 in the land on March 2, following a three-game series with Lander.

Coming off a Division II National Championship run, West Florida garners the top spot in the country with 640 total points after a 52-9 record a year ago. On their way to a championship finish, the Argonauts only lost back-to-back games only one time last season, which came at the hands of North Georgia who was the only team in the country take a series from West Florida. The two squads will renew their annual rivalry on April 10-11, when the Saints travel to Pensacola, Florida. 

Not to be overlooked is Francis Marion who comes in as the No. 2 team in the country after capturing the Peach Belt Conference regular season championship last season. The Patriots will likely be the favorite to repeat as league champions as well, returning 15 letterwinners from a year ago, including the PBC Pitcher of the Year, PBC Freshman of the Year and PBC Co-Player of the Year. The Saints will battle Francis Marion March 3-4, as part of a three-game conference series in Florence, South Carolina.

Columbus State (15), UNC Pembroke (19), Georgia College (23) and Armstrong Atlantic (25) join North Georgia and Francis Marion as the six teams from the Peach Belt Conference ranked in the preseason poll. The six teams ranked from the PBC in the national poll are the most from any conference in the country.

North Georgia will have their work cutout for them with 17 of their games this season coming against teams ranked in the top 25 of the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Poll, including five of those games on the road against the top two teams in the country.

Head coach Tom Cantrell will rely heavily on senior starting pitcher Blake Hobby to carry the load on the mound, while infielders Derek Hooper (pictured above) and Jordan Erisman will set the pace at the top of the lineup.

Coming off his most successful collegiate season, Hobby sported a 1.76 earned run average as North Georgia's ace last year. He had a 7-3 record with three complete games and 88 strikeouts in 102.1 innings of work. Opponents hit just .201 against the hard throwing right-hander, and the Macon, Georgia, native did not give a home run the entire season.

With the loss of Troy Snitker to the Atlanta Braves in the Major League Baseball draft last June, the offense will look to Terrell Jones, Kenny Bellavance, Hooper and Erisman to be consistent at the plate and score runs for the pitching staff.

Hooper is coming off a year that saw him earn Daktronics All-Region honors at second base, while Bellavance was named Peach Belt First-Team All-Conference patrolling center field.

The Saints will be put to the test early and often in 2012 with seven straight road games to open the season. Tournaments at Valdosta State and USC Aiken highlight the early-season action, while North Georgia will make their home debut on February 18-19, playing host to Northern Kentucky in a three-game series at Bob Stein Stadium.