Former Florida Southern All-American and Major Leaguer Lance Niekro was named head coach of the Moccasins in May of 2012, succeeding Pete Meyer, Florida Southern's current director of athletics. Niekro originally joined the Moccasin staff as an assistant coach for the 2011 season and served as an associate head coach during the 2012 season.
Niekro, who is just the sixth head baseball coach the Moccasins have had since 1958, took over a program that has produced nine NCAA Division II championships, the most by any Division II baseball program. He is entering his sixth season at the helm of the Mocs in 2017-18.
In his six previous seasons at FSC, Niekro, who was named the 2018 ABCA South Region Coach of the Year, has compiled a 187-115-1 overall record, winning his 100th career game in the second game of a doubleheader at Rollins College on April 9, 2016, as the Mocs downed the Tars, 9-2.
Last season (2018), the Moccasins captured the NCAA South Regional Tournament Championship and advanced to the NCAA National Tournament where the team placed third. Florida Southern finished the season with a 45-11-1 record, including a 22-8 mark and third place finish in the Sunshine State Conference. The Moccasin pitching staff broke the school record with 513 strikeouts after recording 481 strikeouts in 2017. FSC's 79 homers last season was two shy of the school record of 81 hit in 2017. The Moccasins also set a new standard in 2018 with a .976 fielding percentage. Individually, Hayden Marze set the Florida Southern single-season record with 22 home runs in 2018.
In 2017, The Moccasins finished last year with a 35-17 overall record and a 12-12 mark in the Sunshine State Conference. Florida Southern advanced to the NCAA South Region Tournament as well.
In 2014, Niekro led the Moccasins to the championship round of the NCAA Division II South Regional, finishing the season with a 35-19 record while tying for third in the SSC with a 14-10 mark. Last season, the Moccasins return to regional play, posting a 1-2 mark.
Nine of Niekro's players have been selected in the Major League Baseball June Draft, including J.T. Hintzen (10th round, Brewers) and Logan Browning (24th round, Red Sox). Hintzen was the recipient of the Brett Tomko Award (named for the former Moccasin) as Division II's Pitcher of the Year, while Browning received the Josh Willingham Award as the NCAA Division II MVP.
In 2017. Jake Walsh (16th round, Cardinals), Mitch Reeves (32nd Round, Indians), and Browning (37th round, Padres. Walsh and Reeves signed with their respective clubs while Browning opted to return to FSC for his senior season. In addition, Cameron Hanes signed a free agent contract with the Brewers.
Other Moccasins drafted during Niekro's tenure include Sam Machonis (2016, 10th round, Tigers); Jhalan Jackson (2015, 7th round, Yankees); Keith Curcio (2014, 6th, Braves); and Trey Vavra (2014, 33rd round, Twins).
A graduate of Lakeland’s George Jenkins High School, Niekro was drafted as a senior by Philadelphia in the 13th round but chose to attend Florida Southern. He was redshirted in 1998 and played the next two seasons for the Moccasins. In 1999 he hit .368 with eight home runs, 44 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. In 2000 he hit a team-best .357 with seven home runs, a team-high 63 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. He was a first-team All-Sunshine State Conference selection, a first-team All-South Region selection and a third-team All-America pick.
In the summer between his two seasons at FSC, Niekro played in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the Orleans club. He was the league's MVP in 1999, hitting .360 with 13 home runs and 44 RBI, hitting safely in 43 of the team's 48 games. He just missed winning the triple crown, as he led the league in home runs and RBI and was second in batting. Niekro was voted to both the midseason and postseason CCBL All-Star teams, and in 2006, was inducted into the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame.
Following his collegiate career, Niekro was the 61st player chosen in the 2000 Major League Baseball June Draft, going in the second round to the San Francisco Giants. The 61st selection is the second-highest any Moccasin has been drafted, trailing only Brett Tomko, the 54th overall player chosen in the 1995 draft by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round.
He made his big league debut with the Giants in September of 2003. His best season came in 2005 when he hit .252 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI in 113 games. Overall, he spent four seasons with the Giants, hitting .246 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI. He also had brief minor league stints with the Astros’ and Braves’ organizations before leaving pro baseball. He returned to Lakeland and completed work on his bachelor’s degree in May 2010.
Niekro is the son of Nancy and the late Joe Niekro, who won 221 games in 22 seasons in the Major Leagues and who also was an assistant coach at Florida Southern in 2000. His uncle is Hall of Famer pitcher Phil Niekro, who won 318 games in his career.
He and his wife, Emilee, have two sons, Will (7) and Van Phillip (3).
|LANCE NIEKRO YEAR-BY-YEAR|
|YEAR||INSTITUTION||RECORD||PCT.||CONF.||FINISH||NCAA REC.||NCAA FINISHES|
|2014||Florida Southern||35-19||.648||14-10||T-3rd||3-2||(2nd Reg.)|
|2017||Florida Southern||35-17||.673||12-12||4th||1-2||(5th Reg.)|
|2018||Florida Southern||45-11-1||.798||22-8||3rd||6-2||(1st Reg. / 3rd NCAA)|
|Career (6 seasons)||187-115-1||.619||82-68||10-6|
|6 Seasons at Florida Southern||187-115-1||.619||82-68||10-6|