The LaGrange baseball team is the top team in the 2017 USA South preseason coaches poll, released by the conference office Wednesday.
The Panthers, under fourth year head coach David Kelton, are coming off a 30-13 season in 2016, the first 30-win season for the program since 2005. LC has also received votes in the first 2017 D3baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25 poll.
"We are very excited about being picked first in the preseason rankings for the conference," said Kelton. "We still have to go out and prove it daily. Our guys are up to the challenge and we look forward to opening of the season."
LaGrange received 7-of-11 first place votes and 94 points. Ferrum, the 2016 regular season champion, was second with three first place votes and 87 points. Huntingdon, the 2016 tournament champion, was third with 74 points. Maryville (72 points) and Methodist (63 points) round out the top five.
The Panthers return seven players who were on the 2016 USA South All-Conference teams. Senior third baseman Blake Butcher, the 2016 conference player of the year, leads the returners. Butcher batted .399 with 7 home runs and 44 RBIs last season. Seniors Casey Bell, Chad Pigg, Joe Pradat, Cain Sauls, and Tavin Thompson all earned all-conference honors in 2016. Junior pitcher Ryan Broaderick (8-2, 1.51 ERA) heads the pitching staff and was a first team selection last season.
The Panthers open the 2017 season Feb. 4 against Sewanee at Cleaveland Field in Phil Williamson Stadium. They will host the USA South Baseball Tournament as part of the conference's Spring Sports Festival on April 12-15.