2000 YEAR IN REVIEW
Gators overcome 11 injuries to post school's 14th 40+ win season, 18th regional appearance
A decision had to be made. The rest of the season hung in jeopardy. Only 27 games into the season and the Florida baseball team already faced its biggest challenge. Florida was off to a disappointing 14-13 start and already four of its top players- two starting pitchers, its closer and starting second basemen- were sidelined with season-ending injuries. Now, it was decision time. Either the Gators could make excuses or fight through the adversity and accept the challenge. They did neither. Instead, head coach Andy Lopez's Gators did even better: they went out and played like champions.
Florida regrouped to win 30 of its final 41 games, appeared in its fourth NCAA Regional in the last five years and concluded the 2000 campaign with a 44-23-1 record. In addition, the Gators advanced to both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional championship games. It was a season full of adversity and challenges and the Gators rose to every occasion.
"I'm not going to take anything away from this team," Florida head coach Andy Lopez said following a 3-1 season-ending loss to San Jose State in the NCAA Regional title game. "It's not Omaha. But sometimes the definition of success gets distorted. I've coached a very successful group of athletes this season, maybe the most successful group I've ever coached. I try to teach my teams to embrace adversity. This team, they embraced adversity."
Florida did it in dramatic fashion. The Gators became the "comeback kids" as they rallied for 13 last at-bat wins and finished the season with 24 come-from-behind victories.
Outfielder Tim Olson earned consensus All America honors after hitting .394 with 15 home runs and finishing one RBI shy of the school record with 75. Olson also broke the Florida's consecutive game hitting streak with a 29-gamer from March 5-April 22. But the junior will be remembered most for his clutch hits including a game-winning, three-RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give the Gators an 8-7 victory over San Jose State. The hit kept Florida alive in the NCAA Regional. Olson's heroics were also on display as he hit a pair of two-out ninth inning home runs to defeat both Samford and Arkansas during the season.
Designated hitter Jason Dill earned All-SEC first team and All Region honors after turning in yet another standout season at the plate (.356, 9 HR, 44 RBI). First baseman Kurt Keene broke the school record for hits (103) and contributed .365 hitting, 20 doubles, 17 steals and 61 RBI. He concluded his career among all-time SEC leaders in hits. Senior catcher Tony Socarras stepped up from his 1999 backup role to belt 18 home runs and hit .300. The 18 home runs were the second highest total for a Gator catcher. Former walk-on Matt Siegel (.328, 31 RBI) continued his stellar career with a solid season and sophomore leadoff hitter Mark Kiger (.314, 54 walks, 22 steals, 57 RBI) started 67 of 68 games at second base. Freshman Aaron Sobieraj (.361, 16 doubles, 25 RBI), who came up with a pair of school record-tying five-hit games, and junior Kevin Estrada (.281, 22 RBI) both came up with key seasons at third base and shortstop respectively.
On the mound, several Gators stepped up with the loss of Florida's three disabled pitchers- starters Alex Hart, Jimmy Ramshaw and closer Keith Brice. Senior Mike Smalley emerged as the Gators' ace after transferring from Florida State. Smalley sported a 6-9 record and 5.55 ERA in 18 starts and 99.0 innings pitched while receiving little run support. Junior Jeff Cardozo, pitched the majority of the season with a sore shoulder but still managed to finish 6-2 with a 4.03 ERA. He also kept the Gators alive in the NCAA Regional with a nine inning, eight strikeout outing against Baylor. Freshman righthander Joey Simon emerged as the Gators No. 3 starter and earned Collegiate Baseball Freshman All America honors after finishing with a 10-2 record and 4.32 ERA.
Florida's bullpen also became a major team strength. Led by Eddie Rojas (6-0, 4.57 ERA), Jay Belflower (7-3, 5.35 ERA, 5 saves) and Kenny Birch (6-0, 3.79 ERA, 3 saves), the Gator bullpen combined for 12 saves and a sterling 21-3 record on the season.
In the end, it was the Gators' ability to overcome adversity that made the 2000 season one of the most exciting for Florida baseball fans.
"This has been my most enjoyable season of my career," said Lopez, who saw a total of 14 players see time on the disabled list. "If I never coached another day, man I went out with this group, a real special group of people."
2000 TEAM NOTES
2000 INDIVIDUAL HONORS
ALL AMERICA HONORS
ALL REGION HONORS
ALL CONFERENCE HONORS
2000 MLB DRAFTEES
School Records Tied/Broken