BASEBALL: SEC Coaches pick Gators 3rd in East

The University of Florida baseball team has been selected to finish third in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division in a vote of the league's head coaches released on Thursday. Fourth-year head coach Pat McMahon returns 18 letterwinners and six position starters to a squad which finished 43-22 overall and advanced to NCAA Super Regionals in 2004. The Gators will open their season next Friday at 6:30 p.m. versus Charleston Southern at McKethan Stadium.

LSU is the favorite in the league's 14th annual preseason poll to win the SEC Baseball Championship. The Tigers seek to capture their 14th SEC Championship, having won or shared the title three times in the past nine seasons (1996, 1997 & 2003) and seven times since 1990. LSU returns six starters and all but one pitcher from its 2004 squad that advanced to the College World Series.

Since 1996, the SEC has named a regular-season champion as well as a tournament champion. Prior to '96, the tournament champion was considered the SEC Champion. In the voting for the overall SEC Champion, LSU was listed on nine of the 12 ballots. South Carolina received two votes, while Florida received one. UF's last SEC crown occurred in 1998 and its most recent SEC Tournament hardware was earned in 1991.

In addition to picking a preseason champion, the league's head coaches voted a predicted order of finish in the SEC's Eastern and Western Divisions. In the East, South Carolina was the favorite with 63 points and nine first-place votes, Georgia tallied one first-place vote and was the runner-up with 50 points, while the Gators occupied third with 48 points and snagged two votes to take the division. Vanderbilt (39), Tennessee (29) and Kentucky (16) rounded out the rest of the Eastern Division.

LSU was the predicted winner of the West with a total of 66 points, collecting the maximum possible figure for a single team. Ole Miss placed second with 51 points and picked up the other first-place vote, followed by Arkansas in third with 46 points. The trio of Mississippi State (30), Alabama (29) and Auburn (23) occupied the next three positions.

Points were compiled on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 basis for each division and coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. Each coach also voted for one team as an overall conference champion.

The 2005 season gets underway this weekend with Auburn hosting Hofstra in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. The conference schedule is set to begin the weekend of March 18-20, with the 2005 SEC Tournament to be held between May 25-29 at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Birmingham, Ala.

Despite inclement weather, last year's SEC Baseball Tournament drew 75,259 fans, the second-highest conference tournament attendance in the country in 2004. Over 1.3 million fans attended regular-season games in the SEC last season, the third year in a row the SEC has topped the one million mark in regular-season attendance.

For more information about Florida baseball season and single-game ticket information, please contact the Gator Ticket Office at 1-800-34-GATOR.

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