BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Delta State University has been named the unanimous baseball preseason Gulf South Conference favorite for the 2018 season, as selected by the league's head coaches.
The Statesmen, who posted a 45-13 overall record and went 25-8 in the GSC, enter the season as the two-time defending GSC Tournament champion after claiming the 2017 NCAA Division II South Region title and advancing to the NCAA Division II World Series.
The green and white return a bevy of power and consistency at the plate along with first-team All-GSC starting pitcher Seth Birdsong. GSC Player of the Year Zack Shannon is one of four all-conference selections returning to the DSU lineup. Birdsong earned D2CCA and NCBWA All-South Region honors while posting a 10-2 record with a 3.01 ERA and 83 strikeouts. Shannon finished the year batting .434 with 19 home runs and 88 RBIs. The first baseman garnered national acclaim, as he was named the D2CCA and ABAC South Region and National Player of the Year and was awarded the 2017 Tino Martinez Award.
Brian Lane (DH), Clay Casey (OF) and Emil Ellis join Shannon and Birdsong on the Preseason All-GSC squad. Lane earned NCAA Division II South Region All-Tournament and NCBWA All-South region laurels as a designated hitter, while batting .346 with 16 doubles and 37 RBIs. Casey, who was named ABCA and NCBWA All-South Region and Third-Team All-American as an outfielder, hit .333 with 14 doubles, 17 home runs and 64 RBIs. Ellis was selected to the GSC and NCAA South Division II South Region All-Tournament teams while hitting .328 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 31 RBIs.
Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer David Herrington (IF) and East Central Community College transfer Dalton Minton (LHP) are listed on the League's top newcomers list. Herrington was a two-time All-MACJC selection (2016, 2017) for the Rangers. The Senatobia, Miss., native played in 96 games with 96 starts, hitting .397 with 26 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 51 stolen bases (58 attempts) in two-seasons. Minton appeared in 12 games, 10 starts, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.55 ERA, 46 strikeouts against 23 walks and two complete games in 57.2 innings pitched.
Delta State also enter the season as the top ranked team in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll along with league foe West Florida (38) while West Alabama and North Alabama received votes.
West Alabama, who advanced to the South Regional Final against DSU last season, came in second in the poll. The Tigers return a pair of all-conference selections, including 2017 GSC Freshman of the Year Luke Phillips.
North Alabama, West Florida, and Valdosta State round out the top five. UNA's Kyle Hubbuch returns after finishing in the league's top five in home runs and RBIs. The Lions also return 2017 GSC Pitcher of the Year Tyler Joyner. West Florida has made the GSC Championship nine straight years and return three players who hit above .300 last season. The Blazers return their leading hitter (Dalton Murray) and their starter with the lowest ERA and most wins (Hunter Jones) from 2017.
UAH is sixth in the poll, returning two-time All-GSC selection AJ Walden. Walden finished seventh in the league in slugging percentage and was tied for third in home runs in 2017. Mississippi College and Union are seventh and eighth in the poll, respectively. MC returns three all-conference selections, while Union returns Nolen Milton, who finished in the league's top five in slugging percentage, RBIs, doubles, and home runs last season.
Montevallo is ninth in the poll. This will be the first season back in the GSC for the Falcons. UM advanced to the 2006 NCAA Division II World Series as a Gulf South member. Lee was selected 10th. The Flames lost all three of their 2017 all-conference selections to graduation.
West Georgia, AUM, Shorter, and Christian Brothers round out the preseason poll.
The Statesmen open the 2018 season on Feb. 2 against Lynn University at 1:30 p.m. in Boca Raton, Fla., before playing No. 12 Nova Southeastern on Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Palm Beach Atlantic on Feb. 4 at 1 p.m. in Jupiter, Fla.
Delta State's home opener will be a doubleheader on Feb. 16 against Southern Indiana at 12 p.m. followed by single games against No. 16 Quincy on Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. and Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.