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Sunday February 7th, 2016 5:37AM

Piedmont softball picked to win USA South

By staff
The Piedmont College softball team has been picked as the favorite to win the 2014 USA South title according to the league's Preseason Coaches Poll.

The poll, as voted on by the coaches of the 13 member institutions who sponsor softball, had Piedmont picking up ten of the 13 possible first-place votes finishing with 142 total points, a respectful showing for the program entering just its second year in the league.

The Lady Lions return 13 letter-winners from last year's team that won a share of the 2013 USA South regular season title and earned an at-large selection to the NCAA National Tournament participating in the Salem Regional. For the second time in three years, the Lady Lions would go on to finish as a Regional Finalist falling only to the nation's then-No. 1 ranked team, Salisbury University.

All three of Piedmont's wins at their 2014 NCAA Regional came against nationally ranked competition including two over No. 4 Emory University, an in-state rival of the Lady Lions. As a result of its strong finish, PC wrapped up the year with the nation's No. 15 ranking after having spent nine weeks in the NFCA National Poll during the 2013 season, and is ranked No. 13 in the 2014 NFCA Preseason Poll.

Coming in second in the poll was Ferrum College who earned three first place votes to finish with 133 total points. The Panthers were the team that shared the 2013 USA South regular season title with the Lady Lions and also knocked Piedmont out of the 2013 league tournament in an extra-inning, 3-2 decision.

With no other team picking up a first place vote, Huntingdon College came in third in the poll with 109 total points and will make their USA South debut with the 2014 season. The Lady Hawks ended their long-time affiliation with their former league, the Great South Athletic Conference, this past academic year having won the conference title in 2012 -- the season following Piedmont's back-to-back title run in the same conference.

In fourth place was Methodist University with its 105 points followed by Meredith with a 97 point total. Next up was sixth place LaGrange (90 points), seventh place Greensboro (85), eighth place NC Wesleyan (72), ninth place Averett (64), 10th place William Peace (41), 11th place Covenant (31), 12th place Maryville (29), and 13th place Mary Baldwin (16).

Though the Lady Lions return more than half of last year's roster including its top two pitchers in Brittney Head and Jordin Ellingson as well as All-Region performer Olivia Duncan, the 2014 team must find replacements for long-standing infielders Megan McClain, Jamie Dennis, and Megan Kesler who all graduated last year along with staple centerfielder Taylor Morgan.

The Lady Lions open the 2014 season with Birmingham Southern College who returns All-American and 2013 SAA Player of the Year Taylor Bassett who led the SAA in RBIs and batting average as well as home runs, a category she finished ranked second in the nation. The first four of Piedmont's opponents on the 2014 schedule finished last year with a combined 116-60 overall record in 2013 with none of the four finishing the season with less than 25 wins.

The USA South Championship Tournament will be held at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex following the regular season over the weekend of April 11-13, 2014.
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