MACON, Ga. – Fresh off a banner year in 2015 that saw the Lipscomb baseball program win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament and capture a school record 39 wins, the Bisons are picked to finish third in the conference in 2016, according to the annual preseason poll voted on by the coaches.
The Bisons finished second in the regular season with a 13-8 mark, but ran through their opponents in the conference tournament to claim the school’s second tournament title in history.
“From what everybody sees, we did lose a lot of good players and a lot of production from a year ago,” head coach Jeff Forehand said. “But I think the coaches have a good pulse on our conference and if they put us third, then that is probably accurate. But again, this is a preseason poll. If we go back in year’s past and look at these polls you probably won’t find one that was the same at the end of the season as it was in the beginning.”
North Florida, the reigning A-Sun regular-season champion, received four first-place votes and was selected to repeat as the league favorite in 2016. Florida Gulf Coast was tabbed second with 50 total votes, including three first-place nods. The Bisons finished just two votes behind the Eagles with 48, but did not receive any first-place votes
“Our league is so strong top to bottom, so that poll could be flip-flopped and shaken up and we wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Forehand said. “All of us coaches in the league know that everybody is good and can play with anybody. As that is listed one through eight, it’s hard to determine right now.”
Sophomores Brady Puckett and Michael Gigliotti each earned spots on the illustrious preseason all-conference list after putting up banner years in 2015.
An All-Freshman selection last season, Puckett was tabbed as one of three starting pitchers on the preseason list. The 6-foot-8 right hander finished last season 7-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 15 appearances. He began the year in the bullpen, but worked his way into the starting rotation by mid-March. In 79.1 innings, Puckett struck out 45 and walked 25.
He always seemed to bring his best stuff when the Bisons hit the road, finishing 6-1 in seven road starts where he limited opponents to a .205 batting average.
Puckett was also the Fan-Voted Pitcher of the Year in the A-Sun after receiving the most votes by the fans via social media.
Gigliotti, selected as one of three outfielders on the preseason ballot, will look to build on a strong freshman campaign. Not only did the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native land a spot on the A-Sun Second Team All-Conference and All-Freshman squads, he also drew recognition nationally by being named to the Louisville Slugger and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Freshman All-American teams.
The speedy lefty batted .332 with 78 hits, 51 runs, 28 RBI, five doubles, three triples and five home runs. He also drew 25 walks to up his on-base percentage to .409 – the second highest on the team.
Gigliotti finished fifth in the league with 17 stolen bases and led the nation with 22 bunt singles.
He will enter the 2016 opener riding a 32-game on-base streak.
“Any time our guys gets accolades for being the best, it is always good for our program,” Forehand said. “In a coach-speak term, all of this recognition is based on their performances from a year ago, but as this season approaches they know they will have to perform again.
“I am proud and happy for them, that the coaches in our league thought these two guys were deserving of these honors. I am excited for 2016, but I know we have a lot to build on for this year.”
The Bisons begin team practices Friday, Jan. 29 in preparation for the season opener on Feb. 19 against Eastern Kentucky.