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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – UNCG baseball has been picked to finish first in the Southern Conference’s preseason coaches poll and second in the league’s media poll as announced by the league office Thursday afternoon. UNCG led the league with seven preseason all-conference selections. This is the second-straight season the Spartans have been picked to finish first in the SoCon coaches poll.

Of the seven preseason selections, five were named to first team the most of any team. UNCG took two of the four infield spots with second baseman Austin Embler (Southern Pines, N.C./Pinecrest) and third baseman and last year’s SoCon Freshman of the Year, Caleb Webster (Randleman, N.C./Randleman).

Embler appeared in all 59 games last season, making 58 starts at second base. In his first season as a starter, Embler hit for a .319 average with nine doubles, a pair of triples and three homers. He drove in 35 runs and stole six bases.

Webster worked his way into the starting lineup early in 2017. The infielder started 49 games, appearing in 51. He hit for a .383 average, second-best on the team and was one off the team-lead with 14 doubles. He drove home 40 runs on the season and struck out just 17 times in his rookie year.

Andrew Moritz (Charlotte, N.C./Providence) and Dillon Stewart (Coats, N.C./Brunswick CC) were tabbed as preseason first teamers in the outfield and senior designated hitter Devin Ruiz (Pennsauken, N.J./Paul VI) earning the nod as the DH.

The preseason honors are the second for Stewart, Moritz and Ruiz. Stewart and Moritz earned preseason honors last season, with Ruiz earning preseason All-SoCon nod prior to the 2016 season. At the end of the 2017 season, Moritz was a first team All-SoCon selection along with Webster. Stewart was named second team All-SoCon in 2016 as well as being named ABCA/Rawlings second team All-Region, but missed the majority of last season due to an injury.

Stewart is a career .316 hitter and hit for a .335 average in the 2016 campaign. He led the team with 14 home runs and his .665 slugging percentage led the team and ranks fifth best in a season in school history.

Moritz currently owns a .395 career batting average in 100 games played. His batting averages of .400 and .392 in the last two seasons rank fourth and seventh, respectively in single season school history. Moritz improved his power numbers from his freshman to sophomore seasons, hitting three home runs and driving in 38 runs a year ago. Moritz also stole a team-high 16 bases and is a plus-defender in centerfield. He is a standout in the classroom as well, earning CoSIDA first team Academic All-America honors last year, the first in UNCG program history.

Ruiz has appeared in 82 games, making 58 starts in his three seasons as a Spartan. Last season, Ruiz hit for a .344 average in a limited role, hitting five doubles, a triple and a home run.

The Spartans placed two on the second team in starting pitcher Matt Frisbee (Candler, N.C./Enka) and last year’s SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Tripp Shelton (Winston-Salem, N.C./West Forsyth). Frisbee was a preseason second team selection last season and this is the first preseason honors for Shelton.

Frisbee has been a weekend starter since his arrival to Greensboro two years ago. He has started 31 games, including 16 last season. His 96.2 innings led the team and he earned a 4.10 ERA while limiting opponents to a .238 average against.

Shelton has been a three-year starter at shortstop for the Spartans, starting 134 games. He owns a .308 career average and doubled his career home run total last season, belting six long balls. He drove in 79 runs in his career, including 45 last year. 2017 also saw him lead the team with 15 doubles to go with a pair of triples.

2018 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll

Place    Team (1st-place votes)                     Points

T-1.     UNCG (4)                                         58

T-1.     Mercer (3)                                        58

3.        Samford (2)                                     43

T-4      ETSU                                               34

T-4.     Western Carolina                              34

6.        Furman                                            32

T-7.     Wofford                                            28

T-7.     VMI                                                  28

9.        The Citadel                                         9


2018 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll

     Place    Team (1st-place votes)        Points

  1. Mercer (8)                                  119
  2. UNCG (6)                                   114
  3. Samford                                      82
  4. Furman                                       79
  5. Western Carolina                          74
  6. Wofford                                       52
  7. ETSU                                           50
  8. VMI                                             42
  9. The Citadel                                  18

 2018 Preseason All-Southern Conference

Preseason Player of the Year

JT Thomas, Sr., C, Mercer

Preseason Pitcher of the Year

Josh Winder, Jr., RHP, VMI

First Team

SP     Cody Shelton, Samford

SP     Josh Winder, VMI

RP    Robert Broom, Mercer

C      JT Thomas, Mercer

1B    Brandon Elmy, Furman

2B    Austin Embler, UNCG

SS     Chris Cook, ETSU

3B    Caleb Webster, UNCG

OF   Andrew Moritz, UNCG

OF   Dillon Stewart, UNCG

OF    Matt Pita, VMI

OF    McClain Bradley, Wofford

DH   Devin Ruiz, UNCG

Second Team

SP     Ryan Simpler, ETSU

SP    Matt Frisbee, UNCG

RP    Wyatt Burns, Samford

C      Peyton Maddox, VMI

1B    Collin Fleischer, VMI

2B    Reed Massey, Wofford

SS    Tripp Shelton, UNCG

3B    Jonathan Sabo, The Citadel

OF    Aaron Maher, ETSU

OF    Landon Kay, Furman

OF    Troy Dixon, Samford

DH   Ayrton Schafer, Samford

UNCG opens the 2018 season in just eight days as it takes on the Appalachian State Mountaineers at 4 p.m. at the UNCG Baseball Stadium next Friday.