LAKELAND - Florida Southern fourth year head baseball coach Lance Niekro has formally announced his program's 2016 season schedule.
The schedule features 26 home games, 16 games against teams that advanced to the 2015 NCAA Division II Tournament and its annual exhibition game with the Detroit Tigers at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. The Mocs will also face 11 teams that won least 30 games a season ago, including five of its eight Sunshine State Conference foes.
Niekro's fourth Moccasin team welcomes back five position starters, three pitchers and 15 lettermen from last season's 22-23 squad that finished 10-14 in the SSC.
Among the key returning starters for the Mocs, who have won an NCAA Division II best nine national championships, are junior first baseman Jason Sierra (Sarasota, Fla.), who hit .347 with six home runs and posted a .554 slugging percentage, senior centerfielder Sam Machonis (Tampa, Fla.), who was second on the team in runs scored (52) and was third in hits (64) and led the SSC in triples with seven and also hit seven home runs and senior second baseman Shawn Sanders (Citra, Fla.), who hit .326 with 63 hits, five home runs, 34 RBI and was 5-for-6 on stolen bases. The other starters returning are senior outfielder Dominic Brugnoni (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) and senior catcher Blake Swann (Live Oak, Fla.).
Meanwhile, two of FSC's top pitchers from last season also return this season as senior right-hander Ben Richardson (Orlando, Fla.) posted a 5-7 record and a 5.42 ERA and in 88 innings of work, he recorded 48 strikeouts and walked 21, while senior left-hander Brady Arenson (Glenview, Ill.) was 5-2 with a 5.88 ERA as he threw 72 innings and recorded 45 strikeouts and walked 31. The team's top relief pitcher returning is junior A.J. Smith (Merritt Island, Fla.), who recorded three saves and posted a 4-2 record and 4.32 ERA in 17 appearances.
The Mocs open the 2016 slate with a two-game series at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga., on Jan. 30-31, before opening the home portion of its schedule the following weekend (Feb. 6-7) as the Mocs host West Florida, who posted a 30-18 record in 2015, but fell short of advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The teams will open the series on Feb. 6 with a single game beginning at 6 p.m., before playing a doubleheader on Feb. 7 beginning at 1 p.m.
Following the UWF series, the Mocs will then host Claflin in a three-game series at Henley Field on Feb. 12-13. The teams will play a single game on Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. and the play a doubleheader on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.
After its six game homestand, the Mocs will hit the road for a three-game series at the University of Mount Olive in Mount Olive, N.C. The teams will open the series with a doubleheader on Feb. 20 at 12 p.m. and then will conclude the series with a single game on Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. The Trojans went 39-16 last season and advanced to the Southeast Regional.
The Mocs will then return home to open the SSC portion of its schedule with a three-game series on Feb. 26-27 against Lynn, who went 35-15-1 in 2015 and earned a spot in the NCAA South Regional Tournament. The series with the Fighting Knights begins with a single game on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. and the teams will play a doubleheader on Feb. 27 beginning at 1 p.m.
FSC will conclude the month of February with its annual exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers on Monday, Feb. 29 at 1:05 p.m. The game with the Tigers will open Detroit's Grapefruit League spring training schedule.
Following the exhibition game with the Detroit Tigers, the Mocs will begin a stretch of seven home games in 12 days as they open the stretch on March 3 with a 6 p.m. game against Notre Dame (Ohio) College and then the Mocs will host Minnesota State-Mankato on March 6 at 1 p.m., before facing Winona (Minn.) State on March 9 at 6 p.m. FSC will then host Florida Tech for a three-game SSC series on March 11-12 and will conclude the stretch with a 6 p.m. non-conference game on March 15 against SSC foe Eckerd. Minnesota State-Mankato posted a 43-9 record a season ago and advanced to the NCAA Central Regional Tournament and Florida Tech went 38-13 a season ago and finished as the South Regional runner-up.
After the stretch of seven home games in 12 days, the Mocs will hit the road for back-to-back three-game series at both Embry-Riddle and Eckerd. The Mocs will travel to Daytona Beach on March 18-19 for its series with Embry-Riddle, who went 41-19 and advanced to the NAIA World Series for the 13th and final time in school history in 2015 and then will face Eckerd on March 25-26. Embry-Riddle is in the process of transitioning to Division II and is in its first season as a provisional member of the SSC. All the games played against them don't count in the league standings.
FSC will then open the month of April at home with a three-game series against Palm Beach Atlantic on April 1-2, before hosting Flagler in a non-conference game on April 6 at 6 p.m. Like Embry-Riddle, PBA, who is already a member of Division II, is also in its first season as a provisional member of the SSC and the games played against them don't count in the league standings.
After its non-conference game with Flagler, the Mocs will hit the road as they will close out the month of April by playing nine of its final 11 games of the month on the road. They will open the road stretch on April 8-9 with a three-game series in Winter Park against Rollins, before traveling to Aiken, S.C. for a three-game series on April 15-17 at USC Aiken. USC Aiken posted a 34-17 record in 2015 and just missed out of advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Mocs will then conclude the road swing on April 22-23 with a three-game series at the University of Tampa, who went 43-13 and took home its seventh all-time NCAA Division II National Championship in 2015.
The Mocs will close out the month of April on April 29-30 with a three-game SSC series against Nova Southeastern. The Sharks went 39-13 a season ago and claimed the SSC title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
FSC will open the final month of the regular season with a three game series on May 8-9 in Miami Shores against Barry, before returning home to host Saint Leo in a three game series on May 13-14. Saint Leo went 36-13 last season, but fell short of an NCAA Tournament bid.
The NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament is scheduled for May 19-22 at the campus of the highest seeded team in the region, while the NCAA Division II National Championships are scheduled for May 28 through June 4 at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, N.C.