Baseball ranks high in poll

The North Alabama baseball team celebrates a win against Lemoyne-Owen Feb. 15, 2017. The Lions open with a three-game series in Malibu, California Feb. 2.

The North Alabama baseball team is picked to finish third in the Gulf South Conference in the coach’s preseason poll.

The Lions received 141 total points in the poll resulting in a third place spot.

Lions head coach Mike Keehn said the ranking does not mean much to him and his team.

“I do not make too much of preseason rankings,” Keehn said. “It did show that the other coaches believe we have a chance to be successful, but our conference is so deep and there are so many factors that contribute to successes and failures. Our focus right now is trying to get ready for a very good Point Loma Nazarene (team).”

The Lions third place ranking will be challenged with West Florida, Valdosta State, UAH, Mississippi College and the other seven teams in the GSC preseason rankings following the Lions.

The Lions went 34-19 last season and will return seven starters and 18 other players to help the team throughout the 2018 season.

UNA placed three players on the All-GSC preseason team, which is full of returning players from last season. Senior first baseman Kyle Hubbuch, senior pitcher Tyler Joyner and redshirt junior third baseman Davis Elliot were the preseason selections.

All three players finished last season on the All-GSC list, earning them preseason picks.

Joyner earned the 2017 GSC Pitcher of the Year last season while sporting a 10-2 record with a 3.21 earned run average and striking out 99 batters.

Hubbuch hit for a .333 average with 13 home runs and 55 runs batted in to lead the Lions. Elliot added a .296 batting average with 44 runs scored.

UNA will return depth in senior outfielders Ben Cooley and TJ Lockett, and senior designated hitter Brandt Holland.

The Lions will also return senior catcher Logan Carter, junior shortstop Peyton Sockwell and seven pitchers that earned 23 of the team’s 34 wins in last season’s 34-19 season.

UNA senior Taylor Thaxton said the talk around the baseball team is big for this season.

“UNA being picked third is exciting for the program, the students and the fans,” he said. “I am really excited to see these guys compete this year after a good season last year.”

Delta State earned first place with 169 total points, and West Alabama finished in second place with 146 total points.

Delta State earned a GSC championship, South Regional title and a Division II World Series runner-up finish. The Statesmen also had the maximum number of first place votes with 13. West Alabama had one first place vote.

The Lions will open their season Feb. 2 with a three-game set against Point Loma Nazarene in Malibu, California. The baseball team will play its first home game against Nova Southeastern Feb. 9 after returning from California.