WINTER PARK, Fla. – After finishing tied for second in the Sunshine State Conference softball standings in 2012 and 2013, the Barry Buccaneers are picked to finish just fourth in the 2014 pre-season poll, conducted among the league’s coaches.
For a second-straight season, the Tampa Spartans were selected to finish atop the standings, while defending champion Saint Leo was picked to finish second.Only one point separated the Spartans and Lions as Tampa received 58 points and three first-place votes, while Saint Leo collected 57 points and four first-place votes.
Rollins, who won three consecutive conference titles from 2009-11, was picked third with 52 points. The Tars received the two remaining first-place votes.
Barry was tabbed fourth with 47 points. Florida Tech took the fifth slot with 32 points. Just one point separated Nova Southeastern (27 points) and Florida Southern (26 points) in the sixth and seventh spots.
Lynn (15 points) and Eckerd (10 points) rounded out the preseason poll.
Despite losing SSC Player of the Year Sarah Broeseker, the Buccaneers return three All-SSC Performers, including Freshman of the Year left fielder Megan Copeland. In her debut season out of Tarpon Springs, Fla., Copeland batted .384 with 34 runs and eight RBI. Hitting out of the number two slot in the lineup, she set a Barry record with 21 sacrifice bunts. Starting all 54 of the Buccaneers’ games, she elevated her play even more in conference action, batting .443 against league opponents. Copeland was also a threat on the base paths, succeeding in 26 of her 28 steal attempts. Her 26 stolen bases tied for third in the SSC.
Second baseman Kelly Martinez was also a first-team All-SSC selection and a third-team All-American by the NFCA. Martinez was one of the Bucs’ best all-around players. She ranked third in average at .371 and RBI at 31, fourth in runs scored at 25 and second in homers with four and stolen bases with 13.
First baseman Julie Brito was a second-team tab. She hit .341 with 15 extra-base hits and 34 RBI.
Tampa returns three All-SSC First Team selections, including Pitcher of the Year Kayla Cox. First baseman Meagan Burke and shortstop Kayleen Boatwright were also first-team selections.
Cox, a senior, led the conference with a 0.74 earned-run average a season ago with a 25-6 overall record. She recorded 17 shutouts and 332 strikeouts to lead the SSC in both categories. In conference action, Cox was 15-2 with a 0.45 ERA.
Burke led the Spartans in slugging percentage (.508), on-base percentage (.397) and home runs (5), while Boatwright led the team in batting average (.342).
Saint Leo returns four All-SSC players, including first-team selections McKenzie Burns (OF) and Sarah Steiner (DP). Outfielder Chelsey Steedley and pitcher Alana Tabel also return for the Lions after being named all-conference second team a year ago.
Rollins also returns two All-SSC First Team and two All-SSC Second Team selections from a season ago. Outfielder Kristie Hoeffer and pitcher Niki Fogle were named to the first team, while catcher Veronica Alred and outfielder Courtney Durbin were named to the second team.
Softball season begins on Saturday, Feb. 1.
2014 Sunshine State Conference Preseason Softball Poll
Rank – Team, Points (1st-place votes)
1 – Tampa, 58 (3)
2 – Saint Leo, 57 (4)
3 – Rollins, 52 (2)
4 – Barry, 47
5 – Florida Tech, 32
6 – Nova Southeastern, 27
7 – Florida Southern, 26
8 – Lynn, 15
9 – Eckerd, 10