FLORENCE, S.C. — The second-ranked University of North Georgia baseball team led the way in the Peach Belt Conference annual awards announced Tuesday night at the PBC Banquet on the eve of the league tournament in Florence. Head coach Tom Cantrell was named Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons while a conference-high nine Nighthawks landed on the All-Conference team.
Georgia College's Brandon Benson was named the PBC Player of the Year while USC Aiken's Joseph Benitez was selected as the Pitcher of the Year and Montevallo's Sebastian Samuels was named the Freshman of the Year. The league's head coaches selected all awards.
Landing on the first team All-Conference team for UNG was Michael Bell (second base), Michael Gouge (outfield), Steven Bower (pitcher) and Dylan Peppers (pitcher).
Devin Gearhart (third base), Connor Hoover (shortstop), Bill Leroy (designated hitter), Daniel McCrary (pitcher), Josh Bryan (pitcher) represented North Georgia with second team All-Conference honors.
Bell batted .311 with 11 homeruns while fielding a smooth .981 as second base for the Nighthawks.
Gouge was the team's second leading hitter at .412, which ranks tenth in the conference.
Bower posted a 7-3 record on the hill before a season-ending injury. He also recorded the program's first-ever no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Montevallo on Mar. 31.
Peppers was 7-2 with a team-best 82 strikeouts (fifth in PBC) that included a program record 17 in a 3-0 shutout at Columbus State on Apr. 16.
Gearhart batted .323 from the leadoff position for the Nighthawks.
Hoover is UNG's team leader in runs scored (70), triples (5), homeruns (17) and RBI (70).
Leroy is North Georgia top statistical hitter at .452.
McCrary tallied a team-best nine wins, while Bryan sports an impressive 1.57 ERA and 4-0 record in 13 appearances.
The Coach of the Year honor marks the sixth time that the veteran skipper has earned the league's top coaching honor. His first came in 1998 when he was named GJCAA Coach of the Year after guiding Georgia Perimeter to the JUCO World Series. He also earned the honor in 2001, 2003, 2007 (PBC) and 2015 (PBC).
UNG has been ranked in the Collegiate Baseball's top 10 every week of the regular season, highlighted by the program's first-ever No. 1 ranking on March 20.
Currently ranked second in the nation, North Georgia is the top seed in the PBC Tournament after a 19-5 conference season and 40-8 overall mark.
The top-seeded Nighthawks will begin play in the double-elimination Peach Belt Tournament tomorrow with a quarterfinal game against eight-seeded Georgia Southwestern on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. at FMU's Cornell Field at Sparrow Stadium.