NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. – The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference released the 2019 Preseason Coaches'' Poll this afternoon. The Manchester University Spartans were predicted to finish fifth this season.
Coming off a 39-5 year that featured an HCAC regular season and tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Regionals, No. 21 Franklin College was selected as the preseason favorites to win the league again in 2019. The Grizzlies led the field with 97 points and seven first-place votes.
Rival Anderson University was picked to finish second and totaled 83 points and two first-place votes. Rose-Hulman was slated to finish third with 82 points and received the final first-place vote. Earlham College was picked just ahead of the Spartans, earning 62 points in Wednesday's poll.
Manchester totaled 53 points in the HCAC Preseason Coaches' Poll. MU finished 20-22 a season ago and posted a league mark of 9-8. The Spartans earned the No. 4 seed in the 2018 HCAC Tournament.
Manchester returns first-team all-conference outfield Tyler LaFollette. LaFollette hit .354 with 51 hits, nine doubles, two triples, and 21 RBI a season ago. Braxton Riley picked up honorable mention all-league honors in 2018 after hitting .293 with home runs and 19 RBI. Riley also scored 30 runs and stole seven bases. Junior Nick Rush will also help power the MU offense. Rush hit .371 with seven doubles and 21 RBI during his sophomore campaign. Senior pitcher Jordan Hilyard will be one of the top returning pitchers for MU. Last season, Hilyard threw 40.1 innings last season and earned two victories while posting a 4.02 ERA.
Manchester will open the 2019 season on Thursday February 28 down in South Carolina against Johnson & Wales (RI). The Spartans will play their home opener at Gratz Field on Sunday March 17 against Heidelberg. HCAC play will begin on Saturday March 30 with a home doubleheader against Hanover.