Gators face Tulane in NCAA Regional play

Florida shortstop Cole Figueroa was a high school senior at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee the last time the Gators made an NCAA appearance. The Gators have been absent the past two years and now as they finally return, they’ll play near his Tallahassee home. Figueroa and first year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan hope to make the tournament an annual tradition, while making their return a memorable one. And they haven’t been relaxing while waiting for the green light.

“We’ve just been anticipating where we might go,” O’Sullivan said. “We scrimmaged just about every pitcher except (Patrick) Keating and (Stephen) Locke to live hitters. We’ll practice a little bit again tonight and take a light round of BP. We’ll lift tomorrow morning as a group. We’ll practice tomorrow night and figure out whether we leave on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, depending on when we practice on Thursday.”

“Wherever we ended up we were going to be excited,” Figueroa said. “This is the first time for a lot of us to be in a regional and when I saw that we were going to Tallahassee it definitely was good to go back home for a little bit.”

Florida (34-22) secured a two-seed in the NCAA Baseball Tournament and will face three-seed Tulane (37-20-1) on Friday afternoon in Tallahassee. The Gators will face a certain first-round selection in junior right-hander Shooter Hunt (9-3, 2.45), who has struck-out 119 batters in 91.2 innings this season. Opponents are hitting a paltry .156 against him.

Born Steven Daniel Hunt, he was nicknamed after Dennis Hopper’s character in the movie “Hoosiers”. The former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year at Ramapo High School before enrolling at Virginia, where he saw action in 17 games for the Cavaliers. He started 16 games as a sophomore last season and struck-out 104 batters in 99.2 innings. 

Hunt has a fastball that averages 91-92 on the gun and also has a good hard breaking curveball. Hunt has been known a change-up, but rarely uses it. He has walked 51 hitters, largely because he prefers to work on the outer half of the plate and doesn’t work the inside corner of the plate as often as he should. 

“I saw Shooter out of high school as a matter of fact,” O’Sullivan said. “He went to Virginia his first year and then transferred to Tulane. I actually recruited him when I was at Clemson. He’s got a strong arm and is third in the nation in strikeouts. They’ve got a bunch of juniors in their line-up. I think five of the nine guys are transfers. They’re going to be able to pitch and they’re going to be bale to play defense. They’re probably built a lot like us. They have ninety-two stolen bases. It should be a heck of a game.”

Fellow New Jersey native Rob Segedin (6-3, 200) has been outstanding for Tulane. The third baseman/reliever is one of the top freshmen players in the nation. He leads the Green Wave with a .336 average and 56 RBI’s. Like Florida’s Josh Adams, Segedrin often hits in the clean-up spot. He is second on the squad with four saves.

Second baseman Seth Henry (5’10, 180) is hitting .329 and is also second on the team in RBI’s (51) and stolen bases (11-16). The junior only hit .262 last season.

The game will feature two great athletes patrolling center field. Tulane quarterback Anthony Scelfo (5’10, 195) doubles as the Green Wave center fielder. Scelfo is third on the Tulane squad hitting .322. He leads the team in home runs (11), slugging percentage (.577), and walks (53). 

Tulane head coach Rick Jones has led the Green Wave baseball program for 15 years. Tulane and Florida State were members of the Metro Conference where they annually played one another. However, the Green Wave have not played in Tallahassee since 1990. Tulane is 1-5 against Florida

The Wave scores most of their runs in the sixth (70), third (61), and first (56) innings. They are a perfect 17-0 when the opponent scores two runs or less. Tulane is only 7-8-1 when they commit two errors or more per game.

Tulane Florida

.288 Batting Average .288

55 Home Runs 58

92-114 Stolen Bases 106-128

292 Walks 222

4.14 Team ERA 4.11

.236 Opponent BA .288

.973 Fielding Percentage .961

44 Double Plays 70

Center fielder Matt den Dekker is on-fire. The sophomore has raised his average to .332 with his terrific offensive play over the past month. He remains a perfect 20 for 20 in stolen bases. Den Dekker also remains one of the most outstanding defensive players in college baseball with a single error in 152 chances.

Another super soph who is all-too happy to play before the hometown folks is Cole Figueroa. The Tallahassee native has raised his average to .350 and leads the team with nine home runs and 57 RBI’s. Figueroa has also stolen 19 of 23 bases. And he’s going home.

“They’re excited because they don’t have to drive,” Figueroa said of his family. “My mom was going to be there. My Dad is coaching right now, so he won’t be there. But, they’ll definitely come out and support us. I’ve already gotten like thirty phone calls. I’ve been getting texted and phone calls. It’ll be fun. It’s a very good regional with a lot of good teams. Everyone is excited. It’s always fun to go up to Tallahassee. There’s always good tension there.”

Left fielder Avery Barnes hopes to get back on track after a disappointing week in Hoover, Alabama that saw him secure just one hit and make a critical error. Barnes is hitting a team high .372 and has an on-base percentage of .447. He also leads the Gators stealing 26 of 29 bases.

Junior Patrick Keating (8-1, 3.47) took the first loss of his tremendous season last week against Vanderbilt. Keating is expected to get the call against a Tulane team that is 23-11-1 against right-handed starters.

“He should have enough starts underneath his belt, so he should be able to bounce back,” O’Sullivan said of Keating. “He had a tough start, but three days prior, he came in to close out the game on Friday night against one of the best hitters in the country in Alvarez, so he wasn’t too far removed from having a good outing. He’s well-rested and I think that he may have been a little bit tired. It’s his first year that he’s been starting. He’s been in the bullpen his first two years. Hopefully, these ten days or so that he’s had off he’ll bounce back and be fresh.”

Florida must get better offensive production from designated hitter, right field, and catcher. All three positions struggled at the plate in Hoover. The designated hitter (Bryson Barber and Buddy Munroe) combined to go 0-8 in the tourney, while right fielders (Riley Cooper and Jonathan Pigott) combined to hit 1 for 6 (.166). Buddy Munroe and Hampton Tignor combined on 2 for 8 (.250).

The Gators have scored most of their runs in the fifth (58), second (57), and first (55) innings. Florida is 24-3 when outhitting their opponents.

First pitch is scheduled for 1pm at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee. The winner will face the winner of the Bucknell/Florida State game on Saturday night at 7pm. The loser plays again in the elimination game on Saturday at 1pm.