KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tennessee Wesleyan represents the Appalachian Athletic Conference well with its No. 8 ranking in the 2014 NAIA Baseball Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll, the national office announced Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (45-18 overall in 2013) finished last season ranked 12th. However, Tennessee Wesleyan received 403 total voting points, putting it two back of No. 7 Sterling (Kan.).
Tennessee Wesleyan won both the AAC regular-season and tournament championships last season.
Defending national champion Faulkner (Ala.) tops the NAIA Preseason Poll. The Eagles, who went 5-0 at the 2013 Avista-NAIA World Series, including an 11-4 win over Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) in the championship game, received 18-of-19 first-place votes and 529 points en route to their third-straight No. 1 ranking.
National runner-up Lewis-Clark State claims the No. 2 position with one first-place vote and 566 points. Preseason All-American Cody Lavalli highlights the returners for the Warriors, who finished last season with a 45-15 record. Lavalli led the team in total bases (136), home runs (10), triples (6), RBI (50) and slugging percentage (0.627) last season, while ranking second on the squad in batting average (.373) and hits (81).
Third-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.) tallied 498 points, while No. 4 Missouri Baptist and No. 5 Oklahoma City garnered 473 and 461 points, respectively, to round out the top five. Embry-Riddle, who reached the semifinals of last year's World Series before falling to Lewis-Clark State, and Missouri Baptist both jumped one position from the 2013 Postseason Coaches' Poll, while Oklahoma City vaulted five places. The Stars failed to advance past the Opening Round last season.
Concordia (Calif.) boasts the largest improvement among the ranked teams, jumping 10 places from No. 19 to No. 9. The Eagles finished last season with a 35-21 record. Conversely, No. 12 The Master's (Calif.) and No. 13 Northwood (Texas) – both World Series teams a season ago – dropped a poll-high six places.
Six newcomers joined the ranks: No. 17 Southern Poly (Ga.), No. 21 LSU Shreveport (La.), No. 22 San Diego Christian (Calif.), No. 23 William Carey (Miss.), No. 25 Ave Maria (Fla.) and No. 25 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.). San Diego Christian and Ave Maria are making their first-ever appearance among the Top 25, dating back to 2000. Southern Poly, LSU Shreveport, William Carey and Freed-Hardeman were all ranked in 2013.
Fourteen of the 21 baseball conferences/independents/unaffiliated groups are represented throughout the Top 25, led by four programs from the Sooner Athletic Conference – Oklahoma City, No. 11 Oklahoma Baptist, Northwood and No. 20 Texas Wesleyan. The Southern States Athletic Conference, Golden State Athletic Conference and Mid-South Conference are tied for second with three teams each.
The poll was voted upon by a panel of head coaches representing each of the conferences, independents and unaffiliated groups. The first regular-season Top 25 will be announced on March, 25, 2014.
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To view the entire poll, click here.