AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Claflin University will join the Peach Belt Conference as an associate member for baseball beginning with the 2019-20 season, Commissioner David Brunk announced.

Claflin becomes the first PBC associate member in baseball.

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"We are pleased to welcome Claflin as an associate member," Brunk said from the league office in Augusta. "Under the leadership of athletic director Dr. Jerome Fitch and head coach James Randall, the Panther program has established itself as one of the most competitive in any conference they have been a part of and they will be a welcome addition to the Peach Belt."

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Located in Orangeburg, Claflin competes in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in all sports. However, the CIAA dropped baseball as a conference championship prior to the 2019 season, leaving Claflin to play as an independent team in NCAA Division II.

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"This is a cause for celebration," Fitch said. "We played as an independent last year and knew we had to find a home and the Peach Belt Conference seemed the most logical place to be. We were looking for a place that puts the students first and the athletes second. Our commitment to our team is unwavering and with the level of competition in the Peach Belt, this is a win-win for everyone."

Claflin baseball has made two NCAA Tournament appearances, including in 2016 after winning the SIAC conference tournament. The Panthers went 25-18 last season and finished in third place at the DII Independent Baseball Tournament.

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"All the programs in the Peach Belt are really good, from top to bottom, and we want to add to that tradition," Randall said. "We've played several PBC schools over the years and we are excited to be a part of it. Being in a conference and playing for a championship matters, it matters to the kids that they have something to play for."

The addition of Claflin brings the total number of PBC baseball teams to 12, giving the league an even number of teams for the first time since 2012. The 2020 schedule incorporated byes into each team's conference schedule; Claflin will fill those bye weeks and play a full 33-game conference schedule beginning next season. Claflin will be immediately eligible to participate in the PBC baseball tournament and for conference baseball awards.

Peach Belt members are: Clayton State University, Columbus State University, Flagler College, Francis Marion University, Georgia College, Georgia Southwestern State University, Lander University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, University of North Georgia, University of South Carolina Aiken and Young Harris College.

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