DAHLONEGA, GA – Following the North Georgia baseball team's second straight 34-win season, the Saints have been ranked 35th in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Preseason NCAA Division II Top-40 Poll announced the week of Christmas.
The Saints have now been ranked in four consecutive preseason polls, and have appeared in 13 straight weekly polls dating back to March 1, of last season when North Georgia broke into the national rankings as the No. 27 team in the land.
Defending NCAA Division II national champion Southern Indiana has been selected as the preseason favorite after a 52-14 record in 2010. U.C. San Diego, Central Missouri, Georgia College, and Tampa round out the top five after all five squads made appearances at the World Series a year ago.
The Peach Belt Conference dominates the national rankings again as five PBC teams appear in the poll, more than any other conference in the nation. Georgia College leads the league as the No. 4 team in the country, followed by Columbus State at No. 11, Francis Marion at No. 15, USC Aiken at No. 20, and the Saints come in at No. 35. UNC Pembroke and Georgia Southwestern were not ranked in the poll, but were two of the 26 teams receiving votes.
North Georgia was ranked as high as 12th in the country last season before finishing the year with a 34-17 record and ranked 21st in the final poll of the season. Despite finishing the year in the national top-25, the Saints fell short of the NCAA Tournament after winning eight of their final 12 games of the season.
A new look squad will take the field for North Georgia in February after graduating 10 seniors from a year ago. Third baseman Jordan Erisman will look to lead the Saints back to postseason success in 2011 after earning ABCA and Daktonics All-Region honors last season. He led the team with a .345 batting average, while slugging five home runs, tallying a team-high triples, and driving in 46 runs.
The closer roll returns to senior Jacob Rickett who slammed the door on 11 games a year ago, recording an earned run average of 2.19 in 24.2 innings of work. He notched 33 strikeouts and allowed just 14 hits, while opponents hit .161 off the hard throwing right-hander.
North Georgia will kick off the 2011 season with 14 of the team's first 17 games at home, including series against Mars Hill, Stillman College, and Millersville University the first three weeks of February.
The Saints will also play their first NCAA Division I opponent in school history, traveling to Florida State University the first week of April to take on the Seminoles at Dick Howser Stadium. The ACC opponent will be sandwiched by two of the biggest Peach Belt Conference series' of the year as Columbus State and Francis Marion will make their way to Bob Stein Stadium in April.
Head coach Tom Cantrell is entering his 12th season at the helm of the Saints, posting an overall record of 441-236 (.651) during his first 11 seasons. He has led North Georgia to 175 wins in five years in the NCAA and Peach Belt Conference, including a PBC Tournament Championship in 2008 and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.