FGCU Baseball Team Opens Season on Saturday
FORT MYERS, FL – The Florida Gulf Coast University baseball team opens the 2005 season this weekend with a three-game series against Albany State. The Eagles will host the Rams in a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. and the series finale on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
This year, the Eagles are eligible for the postseason for the first time. But the road to the NCAA tournament is not an easy trip. FGCU has 56 games on the slate this year, including 39 Division II South Region games, and will play 27 of those regional contests on the road. Only the top four teams in the region advance to the postseason — compared to the top eight in basketball and volleyball.
The 22-game home schedule features a number of teams from around the country playing in the annual Gene Cusic Memorial Collegiate Classic. Sunshine State Conference teams Lynn, Nova Southeastern, Saint Leo and Florida Tech are the only in-state schools playing on campus.
Among the road trips are games at Rollins, which was a win away from the NCAA Division II title game last year, Tampa and #2 Florida Southern, which were the other top seeds in last year’s region tournament.
Third-year head coach Dave Tollett, who has guided the Eagles to 73 wins in two seasons, has five players returning who started at least 24 games last year to go along with nine of his top 10 pitchers from a year ago.
2005 FGCU Baseball Outlook
Even with five returning veterans from last year’s team, Tollett says the Eagles will be a much different squad in 2005.
Gone from last year’s team are four seniors and three other key position players, including four big bats in the middle of the Eagles line-up who combined for 18 home runs and 185 RBI last year. Starting centerfielder Travis Cunningham, the team’s top base stealing threat, will miss the season after suffering an off-season knee injury.
Tollett says this year’s squad will rely more on the defense, pitching and manufacturing of runs.
“Our strength will be our pitching,” said Tollett. “If we can get our staff healthy we can stay in a lot of ballgames. We need four or five of returning pitchers to step up and we’re hoping our bats will generate enough offense to help them out.”
The pitching staff will start the season overcoming injuries to several key pitchers. A pair of right handers - senior Billy Phillips (New Port Richey, FL) and sophomore Chris Hassen (Port Charlotte, FL) - will anchor the rotation while senior lefty Ryan Williams (Fort Myers) and junior righty Jason Short (Naples) recover from off-season injuries. Williams is overcoming tendonitis in his pitching arm while Short, who has been the opening game starter the past two years, recovers from a construction accident suffered last fall. Phillips (7-3, 2.96) and Hassen (3-2, 3.72) combined to throw 112 innings a year ago.
Three righties - junior Les Hassen (Port Charlotte, FL) and sophomores Jason Kiley (Palm Harbor, FL) and Willie Edge (Fort Myers) will all likely get a shot in the starting rotation early in the season.
Joining them on the staff will be nine others including junior lefty Tony Korson (Bethesda, MD) junior returnee Troy Beall (Kissimmee, FL), junior transfer Nick Perez (Cooper City, FL) and sophomore Brian Deese (Winter Haven, FL) and Drew Phillips (Pompano, FL). A strong group of freshman hurlers may also get some looks on the mound. J.J. Crumbley (Tampa, FL), Alex Newman (Fort Myers, FL), Brian Mastin (Venice, FL), Steve Palmer (Fort Myers, FL) and Brandon Swartzentruber (Punta Gorda, FL) are all vying for innings.
“We have some good arms and a chance to have a good staff,” said Tollett. “It will be important for our younger pitchers to step up until our veterans get healthy.”
A trio of juniors – catcher Jason Cooper (Bradenton, FL), 1B/DH Mike Matthews (Venice, FL) and second baseman Chris Perry (Largo, FL) are the only returning regulars in the field, although versatile sophomore Derek Mollica (Boca Raton, FL) and junior Pat Stubbe (Naples, FL) were part-time starters who got ample playing time. Cooper was a first-team All-South selection in 2004 after hitting .397 and leading the team with six homeruns and 65 RBI.
There a lot of new faces in the lineup this year. Junior college all-America Jason Louwsma (Sanford, FL) takes over at shortstop while junior transfer Eric Cox will handle the duties at third base. Junior transfer Reggie Johnson will see time at first base along with Matthews. Junior Ian Manson (Plano, TX) and Alex Newman will also see time in the infield.
Graig Smith (Venice, FL) is another talented freshman that will see plenty of action behind the plate to allow Cooper to see action at first base or DH. Junior Carlos Paulino (Miami, FL), sophomore transfer Will Girardeau (Boca Raton, FL) and freshman Juan Hernandez (Boca Raton, FL) provide depth behind the plate.
The outfield will likely see senior David Cox (Sarasota, FL) in centerfield, taking over for the injured Cunningham (Coral Springs, FL). Cox was a starter in leftfield two years ago, but missed the 2004 season due to injury. Candidates for the left field and right field positions are freshman Shawn Griffin (Hollywood, FL) and Mike Cleghorn (Jacksonville, FL). Also vying for playing time in the outfield are sophomore transfer Kevin Burns (Fort Myers, FL) and freshman Roy Morlock (Wellington, FL).
“We have a few question marks and some new faces, but we have some solid players who are working hard to improve,” said Tollett. “We should be as solid defensively as we’ve been the past two years and I’m optimistic about the pitching. We need to stay healthy and work hard.”