Winthrop, under the direction of first-year coach Tom Riginos, was picked third in the 2011 Big South Conference Preseason Baseball Poll announced Tuesday.
The Eagles earned 68 points out of a possible 100 to finish third for the second year in a row. Coastal Carolina, the defending conference champion, received all 10 first-place votes. Liberty was voted second with 90 points.
Coastal Carolina redshirt junior Tommy La Stella was selected as the Preseason Player of the Year. Teammate Anthony Meo, a junior, was named the Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Riginos saw La Stella last season when Coastal played at Clemson. La Stella made an impression with an eighth-inning game-tying homer. CCU went on to beat the Tigers in 11 innings.
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Coastal Carolina was the coaches' choice to win the conference for the fourth consecutive season. The Chants are coming of their fourth consecutive Big South Championship and NCAA Tournament berth, as well as their second NCAA Super Regional appearance in three seasons.
Coastal won a conference-record 55 games in 2010 and went 25-0 in conference play. The Chants enter the 2011 campaign with a 35-game regular-season Big South winning streak.
Coastal returns seven starters (La Stella, Meo, Rich Witten, Taylor Motter, Scott Woodward, Daniel Bowman and Jim Birmingham) and 17 letter winners from last year's record-breaking club. The team is ranked No. 17 in the College Baseball Lineup preseason Top 30, No. 19 in the Rivals.com preseason Top 25 and No. 24 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason rankings.
"Being picked third with a new coach is a good sign," Riginos said Tuesday. "You look at the polls every year. It can be a recruiting tool. But it doesn't matter where you start, it's where you end the season. We have a chance to turn the corner and do some good things."
La Stella, a junior second baseman, earned First-Team All-Big South and Big South All-Tournament Team honors in his first season with the Chanticleers last season. He led Coastal with a .378 batting average, tied for fifth in the conference, and his 93 hits ranked second in the league and were the fourth-most in a single-season in school history.
Liberty third baseman Tyler Bream was a distant second in the voting with two first-place votes followed by Charleston Southern first baseman Nick Chinners.
Meo was the unanimous Big South Pitcher of the Year in 2010, and was the unanimous selection for the 2011 preseason honor. He posted a 13-2 overall record with a 2.61 earned run average in 18 starts for the Chanticleers. In Big South games last year, Meo was 8-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched.
He was a semifinalist for both the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award, earned First-Team All-America honors by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association - in addition to being its District IV Player of the Year - and collected All-America accolades from Collegiate Baseball and the ABCA.
Already named a 2011 preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball, the NCBWA and College Baseball Lineup, Meo is ranked the 43rd-best player in NCAA Division I on the 2011 Preseason College Baseball Daily Top 100.
Liberty's Steven Evans, UNC Asheville's Ryan Dull and VMI's Adam Lopez all received votes.