Courtesy: Southland Conference

FRISCO – Reigning Southland Conference regular-season champion Sam Houston State is favored to defend its title as voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors. The Bearkats earned 22 first-place votes to top the preseason poll, the league announced Thursday.

Sam Houston finished atop the 2018 league standings with a 24-6 record and enters the 2019 season tied with four institutions for a conference-best three preseason all-conference selections – senior outfielders Hunter Hearn and Clayton Harp and junior pitcher Hayden Wesneski. The 2017 Southland Conference Freshman of the Year, Wesneski finished the year with a 7-3 mark and went at least six innings in 10 of his 15 starts, including each of his last eight, and posted nine quality starts.

Southeastern Louisiana earned three first-place votes and comes in just 26 total points behind Sam Houston State with 258. The Lions are coming off their third-straight second-place finish in the regular season with a 37-22 record in 2018.

Southeastern begins the season with three preseason all-conference first team members, headlined by senior pitchers Corey Gaconi and Carlisle Koestler. The duo combined to go 14-2 last season with a 2.90 ERA, 135 strikeouts over 167.1 innings pitched and just 1.6 walks per nine innings.

Defending tournament champion Northwestern State earned one first-place vote and 250 total points to rank third in the preseason poll. The Demons entered the 2018 Southland Conference tournament with an 18-12 mark in league play and won four-straight games to claim the program’s first-ever Southland Conference tournament title.

Northwestern State was named the No. 4 seed in the Corvallis Regional, hosted by eventual College World Series champion Oregon State. After shutting out San Diego State in the elimination game, the Demons lost a hard-fought battle with LSU to bring their season to a close. Senior pitcher Jerry Maddox, the 2018 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, headlines Northwestern State’s crop of returners.

Central Arkansas is picked to finish fourth with 200 points while McNeese rounds out the top five with 187 points. Houston Baptist (169), New Orleans (130), Lamar (128), Nicholls (120), Incarnate Word (104), and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (97) were voted sixth through 11th while Stephen F. Austin (63) and Abilene Christian (38) rounded out the poll.

The 2019 season begins for the Kats on Friday, Feb. 15, at the Rycass Classic in DeLand, Fla. Coach Matt Deggs' team will open the year against Manhattan before taking on Stetson and Virginia Tech to close out the weekend.

Southland preseason polls are voted on by each program’s head coach and sports information director. Individuals rank the conference’s other 12 teams in predicted order of regular season finish, with first-place votes worth 12 points, second-place votes worth 11 points and so on to one point for 12th place.

2019 Southland Conference Preseason Poll
1. Sam Houston State (22) --- 284
2. Southeastern La. (3) --- 258
3. Northwestern State (1) --- 250
4. Central Arkansas --- 200
5. McNeese --- 187
6. Houston Baptist --- 169
7. New Orleans -- 130
8. Lamar --- 128
9. Nicholls --- 120
10. Incarnate Word --- 104
11. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi --- 97
12. Stephen F. Austin --- 63
13. Abilene Christian --- 38