AUGUSTA, GA – For the third straight season, the North Georgia softball team has been picked to win the 2011 Peach Belt Conference Championship the league announced Wednesday afternoon, unanimously receiving the honor from a poll of the league's head coaches.
The Saints received all 10 possible first place votes for 100 total points, while Armstrong Atlantic was tabbed second, with 81 points, and Francis Marion, Augusta State, and Flagler rounded out the league's top five. UNC Pembroke was selected sixth, while USC Aiken, Columbus State, Lander, Georgia College, and Georgia Southwestern round out the league voting.
The Saints are looking to become just the third team in the history of the league to win three straight PBC Championships after USC Spartanburg and Kennesaw State accomplished the feat a decade ago.
North Georgia earned the league's top spot after capturing back-to-back PBC Championships, consecutive PBC Tournament titles, and two straight trips to the College World Series.
Head coach Mike Davenport's squad has put together a 101-7 record the last two seasons, including 51 straight wins a year ago, a mark that sits second all-time in the history of NCAA softball. In PBC play, the Saints have been equally impressive, posting a 20-0 record last season in league action, while going 37-1 over the last two years.
The Saints will also carry plenty of records into the 2011 season, including consecutive Peach Belt Conference victories with 34, a record that is second all-time to Kennesaw State's 70 straight wins that spanned five seasons. North Georgia also currently holds the record for consecutive home wins with 34, as the Saints have remained perfect at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium each of the last two seasons.
With the last two seasons in the rearview mirror, the Saints now turn their attention to a 2011 squad that returns 12 players from a year ago, including National Pitcher of the Year Sarah Phillips who posted 44 wins and 294 strikeouts in the circle last season.
The offensive will be anchored once again by a trio of returning starters that features All-American first baseman Katherine Martin who hit .375 last season with 12 doubles and five home runs. First-Team Peach Belt All-Conference performer Hilary Cox returns at third base, while two-time NFCA All-Region selection Pilar Harden will patrol the outfield for her junior season.
Two-time defending PBC Coach of the Year and Southeast Region Coach of the Year Mike Davenport returns for his 11th season as the Saints will take on some of the toughest non-conference teams in the country, including match-ups against 2010 World Series members Wayne State and National runner-up, Valdosta State.
The Saints will open up the 2011 season on February 5-6 at the Aiken Early Bird tournament in Aiken, SC, where last year the Saints swept through the field with four straight wins.
The following weekend, they hit the road again and travel to Columbus, Georgia, for a two-day tournament where they take on Ohio Valley, Lynn University, and West Alabama.
North Georgia also has a full slate of Peach Belt Conference games on the schedule, opening up with Flagler College at home the third week in March and following with back-to-back doubleheaders at Augusta State and USC Aiken.
The 2011 softball season begins on Feb. 4 with conference play getting underway on Feb. 12. The PBC season will conclude with the PBC Tournament April 15-17 at the Freedom Florence Complex in Florence, S.C. Only the top eight teams in the league standings will advance to tournament play.
The 2011 coaches poll is below, coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.
|2.||Armstrong Atlantic State