Devon Sawyer, Staff Writer

In the Sunshine State Conference pre-season poll, the league’s head coaches predict that the FSC men’s baseball team will finish fifth, tying with St. Leo. The University of Tampa was chosen to once again claim the SCC conference championship after winning the National Championship last spring, but head coach Lance Niekro will be returning for his fourth season at head coach for FSC, along with five of last season’s starters and many fresh faces including both transfer students and new freshmen.

Senior Sam Machonis, last season’s starting center fielder originally from Polk State College will be returning in hopes of continuing his previous season’s success. He was named All-SCC second team in 2015 and posted a .340 batting average including six home runs.

Another key returning play was last season’s junior first baseman Jason Sierra. Occasionally playing as a designated hitter, Sierra ended his season with a .347 batting average and tied Machonis with six home runs.

The field will be rounded out with returning senior second baseman Shawn Sanders, senior left fielder Dominic Brugnoni, and senior catcher Blake Swann.

FSC will have a stacked bullpen and starting rotation. According to Niekro, senior pitcher Ben Richardson will be a key Friday night pitcher again this season as he enters the season on the heels of a previously posted 5.42 ERA.

Niekro will also be adding in new transfers to his watch list including sophomore outfielder and pitcher Logan Browning, junior pitcher Cameron Hanes and junior pitcher Mitch McCarthy, a side-arm pitcher.

“We haven’t had [a side-arm pitcher] in a few years, so we’re excited about that,” Niekro said.

Junior A.J. Smith and junior Craig Savage, positing 4.32 and 6.85 ERAs respectively, will round out the Mocs’ pitching staff.

In the field, Niekro admits it will be tough to replace third baseman Chris Dennis and right fielder Jhalan Jackson who went on to be a seventh round draft pick for the New York Yankees and a first team All-American.

Newcomer Browning will prove to be a utility player for the Mocs.

“Not only will he be pitching, but he will play right field, DH and probably lead off for us,” Niekro said.

Niekro also has high expectations for Mitch Reeves, a transfer from Seminole State College who will man third base.

“We’re looking for him to have a really great year. [He] had a great fall, showed a lot of power with a big time average,” Niekro said.

Niekro also believes that pitching will be the most improved aspect of the team this year, hoping that being able to pull out of the bullpen earlier in the season will have its benefits.

“We’re looking for the returners to stay where they were and the new guys to pick up the slack of what we lost,” Niekro said.

The Mocs will make their home debut Feb. 6 against West Florida at Henley Field.