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Thursday February 14, 2013No. 13 Florida Baseball Hosts Duke To Begin 2013 Season

Gainesville, Fla.

Kevin O’Sullivan begins his sixth season at the helm as No. 13 Florida opens its 2013 campaign by hosting Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference in a weekend series. Game times from McKethan Stadium will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. on Sunday. The Gators will be starting their 56-game regular season at home for the 13th-consecutive season and the 25th time in 27 years. This will be the 99th season of baseball at the University of Florida.

 

All three games of the weekend series will be available on GatorVision through GatorZone.com and on the Gator IMG Sports Network. Jeff Cardozo and Steve Russell will call this weekend’s action. In addition, the season opener will be carried on Sun Sports with Nick Belmonte and Todd Kalas. Live stats for each game will be available on GatorZone.com and fans can also follow updates of each game on @GatorZoneBB, the official Twitter account of the Gator baseball team.

 

Former right-hander Josh Fogg, a three-year letterwinner from 1996-98, will deliver one of the ceremonial first pitches prior to Friday night’s game. A consensus All-American in 1998, when he was a first-team pick by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA, Fogg helped the Gators reach Omaha twice and capture a pair of SEC Championships. A third-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1998, Fogg went on to enjoy a 9-year Major League Baseball career with the White Sox (2001), Pittsburgh Pirates (2002-05), Colorado Rockies (2006-07, ‘09) and the Cincinnati Reds (2008).

 

Named to the 2013 UF Athletic Hall of Fame Class that will be inducted on April 5, Fogg ranks second on the school’s career list for saves (22), fourth in lowest batting average against (.208), fifth in appearances (103) and sixth in strikeouts (236). His total of 13 saves in 1998 is tied for the single-season record with Danny Wheeler (1994) and his 12.17 strikeouts per 9 innings that season trail only John Burke’s 3.25 in 1990.

 

Junior RHP Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) will be on the mound for the Gators to begin the series and will oppose Duke sophomore LHP Trent Swart (4-8, 4.28 ERA last season). In 19 appearances last season, including 14 starts, Crawford was 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA and tied for second on the team with 73 strikeouts in 77.2 innings.

 

The Gator righty made a pair of Friday night starts last season - at Tennessee (April 13 - W - 5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) and versus Georgia (April 20 - ND - 4.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K). He was 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 12 appearances at McKethan Stadium in 2012, with nine starts in which he totaled 43 K in 49.2 IP and limited opponents to a .223 batting average.

 

Right-hander Tucker Simpson (Oxford, Ala.) is set for his collegiate debut on Saturday against Blue Devil junior RHP Drew Van Orden (0-4, 5.82 in 2012). Simpson will become the first Gator freshman pitcher to start on an opening weekend since Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) tossed five scoreless frames and registered nine strikeouts during Florida’s 5-0 shutout of USF on Feb. 20, 2011, that completed a sweep of the Bulls.

 

Simpson was a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American as a senior at Oxford High School, when he was 9-3 with a 1.89 ERA and had 149 strikeouts and 12 walks in 83 innings. He ranked as the No. 1 right-hander and the No. 4 player in the state of Alabama in the Class of 2012 Final Rankings from Perfect Game, was named to the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Super All-State Team comprised of 10 players and was first-team all-state in Class 6A. He was the Most Valuable Player of the Alabama state finals and was the Class 6A Pitcher of the Year as the Yellow Jackets captured the state championship.

 

Sophomore Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) will close out the weekend series against Duke junior RHP Robert Huber (4-6, 5.19 ERA in 2012) by making his first start on the bump after six relief appearances last season. As a rookie, he appeared in 50 games, with 44 starts (41-LF, 2-RF, 1-DH) and batted .284 with 27 RBI, 13 walks, 11 runs and 8 doubles. In six innings of action out of the bullpen, Shafer notched seven strikeouts and allowed just one walk. He did not receive any decisions, scattered nine hits and yielded three runs. The righty made five of his six appearances at McKethan Stadium, the most recent being April 6 against LSU (0.1 IP, 1 K) to finish off the Gators’ 7-0 victory that evened the series.

Last season, the Orange and Blue was 47-20 overall, advanced to the NCAA College World Series for the third-consecutive season and reached Omaha for the eighth time in school history (1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2012). Florida was awarded the top national seed in the NCAA Tournament, its fourth-straight year within the Top-8 seeds. The Gators swept the NCAA Gainesville Regional with victories over Bethune-Cookman (4-0) and Georgia Tech (6-2, 15-3) and then defeated NC State twice (7-1, 9-8) in the Gainesville Super Regional to advance to the College World Series. UF fell to South Carolina (7-3) and Kent State (5-4) at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

 

Over the past three years, the Gators have a 147-56 (.724) record, the top three-year run in school history. Included in this stretch are three CWS appearances in a row (Florida had five trips to Omaha previously), three-straight Gainesville Super Regional and Regional crowns and back-to-back SEC Championships in 2010 and 2011.

 

Gator Bytes

*Florida returns 18 letterwinners from last year’s squad, four positional starters - 1B Vickash Ramjit, 2B Casey Turgeon, 3B Josh Tobias and LF Justin Shafer.

*All nine Gators chosen in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft signed professional deals, a group that included six juniors (C Mike Zunino - 1st, Seattle; LHP/1B Brian Johnson - 1st, Boston; SS Nolan Fontana - 2nd, Houston; LHP Steven Rodriguez - 2nd, L.A. Dodgers; RHP Austin Maddox - 3rd, Boston; RHP Hudson Randall - 7th, Detroit) and three seniors (OF Preston Tucker - 7th, Houston; OF Daniel Pigott - 9th, Cincinnati; RHP Greg Larson - 20th, Boston).

*Kevin O’Sullivan welcomed his fourth-consecutive top-8 recruiting class from Collegiate Baseball: 1st in 2009, 5th in 2010, 8th in 2011 and 7th in 2012.

*A trio of Gator freshmen were drafted last season but elected to move to Gainesville: OF Raph Andrades (36th round, Kansas City), SS Richie Martin (38th round, Seattle) and RHP Eric Hanhold (40th round, Philadelphia). Hanhold was named the 14th “Don’t Count Him Out” player recognized by MLB.com, as he was the last player chosen in the three-day process.

*Florida is riding a 12-game winning streak against ACC foes, including a 10-0 record last season in which it swept a weekend series at Miami, claimed all three meetings with Florida State, downed Georgia Tech twice in the NCAA Gainesville Regional and knocked off NC State twice in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional. UF’s last setback to an ACC club came in Tallahassee to the Seminoles on April 12, 2011 (3-1).

*O’Sullivan is 155-34 (.820) at McKethan Stadium after the Gators were 31-8 (.795) on their own turf last season. Florida was 7-2 (.778) in home weekend series in 2012 and is 36-7 (.837) during three-game series at home on his watch.

*Since O’Sullivan has been in charge, the Gators have lost just two weekend series in Gainesville to non-conference opponents: the 2009 Super Regional to Southern Miss (7-9, 6-7) and a regular-season series to Miami (FL) between Feb. 27-March 1, 2009 (5-8, 1-2, 2-16).

*Dating back to 2002, the Gators hold a 10-1 (.909) record in opening weekend series at home. In O’Sullivan’s tenure, Florida have swept Siena (2008), Louisville (2009) and USF (2010 & 2011) and captured two of the meetings with Cal State Fullerton last February.

 

Series Nuggets

*The Blue Devils have taken two of the three all-time meetings against the Gators.

*Friday’s matchup will mark the first between Florida and Duke  since the teams split a two-game series in Gainesville on March 20 & 21, 1972 (DU, 6-5; UF, 3-0).

*The programs first met in the 1952 District III playoffs in Kannapolis, N.C., with the Blue Devils ending the Gators’ season by a 4-3 margin. That year marked the first time that Florida had captured the SEC Championship. Dave Fuller’s squad was 21-4-2 overall and notched a 12-2-1 league mark.

*Florida will be opening its season against a current member of the ACC for the first time since 2001, when Miami dealt the Gators a 14-5 setback at McKethan Stadium. However, the Hurricanes were still playing as an independent that year so one would have search all the way back to Feb. 24, 1979, to learn that UF began that campaign with a 17-5 victory over visiting Clemson.

 

UF returned 18 letterwinners and lost a dozen players from last season’s squad, while welcoming 13 new players into the fold. Five different Gators earned All-American honors last season who have moved on: LHP/1B Brian Johnson, RHP Austin Maddox, LHP Steven Rodriguez, OF Preston Tucker and C Mike Zunino.

 

Sophomore Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) looks to build on a solid rookie campaign in which he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors by Perfect Game and second-team recognition from Baseball America after hitting .281 with 35 runs, 30 RBI, 27 walks, 11 doubles and 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts. Turgeon became the ninth Freshman All-American in O’Sullivan’s tenure, joining Josh Adams (2008), Tucker (2009), Fontana (2010), Johnson (2010), Maddox (2010), Hudson Randall (2010), Mike Zunino (2010) and Whitson (2011).

 

The Gators will have a new starter at shortstop for the first time in three years following the departure of Fontana, who was a three-time SEC All-Defensive Team honoree and three-time All-SEC recipient before being selected with the first pick of the second round by the Houston Astros last June.

 

Taking over at shortstop for the Orange and Blue will be Richie Martin (Brandon, Fla.), via Bloomingdale High School. A 38th-round choice of the Seattle Mariners, he ranked No. 21 in the state of Florida and No. 3 among middle infielders in the Class of 2012 Final Rankings from Perfect Game. Martin hit .438, the fifth-highest average among Hillsborough County public schools, with 25 runs, 21 stolen bases, 19 RBI, six doubles and a pair of triples as a senior and was an all-state selection in Class 8A as the Bulls finished 22-4.

 

For the first time in four years, Florida won’t have Tucker penciled into the starting lineup. Playing right field last season, he achieved All-America status from the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) for the second-consecutive season after hitting .321 with 57 runs, 50 RBI, 35 walks, 17 doubles and 16 round-trippers in his final collegiate campaign. The ninth-round pick of the Houston Astros departed Gainesville as the school’s all-time leader in games played (265), games started (259), total bases (596), at bats (1,035), hits (341), RBI (258) and doubles (70).

 

Florida boasts just two seniors on its roster this season, INF/OF Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and INF/OF Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla). Dent made a career-high 24 starts last season (21-3B, 1-2B, 1-SS, 1-CF) and appeared in 56 games. He batted .134 with nine runs, seven walks and four RBI and led the Gators with 10 sacrifice hits, a total that ranked fourth in school history in a season. Ramjit saw action in 57 games as a junior, including 33 starts (21-1B, 12-LF). He had a .273 average with 21 runs, 20 RBI, 10 walks and six doubles in overall games and had a .324 clip in SEC action. All five of his homers came in league play. The Miami native started six of the Gators’ seven NCAA Tournament contests and registered a .300 batting average, highligted by a 2-for-3 effort in the NCAA College World Series opener against South Carolina.

 

After backing up the nation’s best catcher last season in Zunino, sophomore Taylor Gushue (Boca Raton, Fla.) will be the Gators’ starter this season. Having enrolled at Florida last January, Gushue appeared in 52 games and made 39 starts (28-1B, 6-DH, 5-C) during his rookie campaign. He batted .206 with 23 walks, 21 RBI, 21 runs, eight doubles and five homers and was the only Gator chosen as the SEC’s Freshman of the Week twice last season (February 20, March 5).

 

Gushue was one of three freshmen to start on Opening Night last February, joining third baseman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) and second baseman Turgeon. Remarkably, he homered on the first pitch he saw as a collegian in the Gators’ opener against No. 16 Cal State Fullerton with a solo shot with two down in the second inning off CSF ace Dylan Floro.

 

Another freshman to watch for the Gators is OF Harrison Bader (Bronxville, N.Y.), who earned first-team all-region, first-team all-state, first-team all-city and was a member of the 2012 Rawlings Northeast All-Region First Team. He was competing in the Perfect Game 18-U Baseball Championship Series National Tournament in July 2012 for the New York Grays and coach David Owens when he met Gator assistant coach Craig Bell. Bader had an outstanding junior campaign at Horace Mann and hit .500 with a slugging percentage of .783 and played flawless defense in the outfield.

 

Freshman outfielder Raph Andrades (Tallahassee, Fla.) joined the Gator baseball team in January after seeing action in nine games as a wide receiver on the football team. Selected in the 36th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals with the 1,093rd choice, Andrades had two receptions for five yards for head coach Will Muschamp and also started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Louisville.

 

Led by 12 saves from Maddox (3-3, 2.44), a team-leading 81 strikeouts by Rodriguez (3-2, 2.18), and a team-low 1.33 ERA by Greg Larson (6-0), the Gator bullpen sported a 2.56 ERA as a unit and held opponents to a .231 clip. Junior RHP Keenan Kish (Worcester, Pa.) registered a 1.98 ERA in 13 relief appearances spanning 27.1 innings and kept the opposition off of the scoreboard in eight outings. He had 28 strikeouts compared to just five walks and opponents batted .198 against him. Kish collected his first career save against NC State in game two of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional to send the Gators to Omaha. Over 23 appearances, all in relief, junior LHP Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) was 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA and one save. In 24.1 innings of work, the lefty totaled 17 strikeouts and permitted 11 walks while holding opponents to a .250 average.

 

Named to the 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team, IF Zack Powers (Seffner, Fla.) was sidelined all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery. In his first year at UF, Powers played 35 games, with 21 starts at third base, and hit .250 with eight runs, seven RBI and four doubles. He was 8-for-24 (.333) in SEC action, with four runs and two RBI.

 

UF sports a 57-40-1 (.582) record in its previous 98 opening-day contests, including a 37-20-1 (.640) record at home. The Gators have claimed 24 of their last 31 lid-lifters and 17 of their last 21 season debuts in Gainesville. The last time Florida dropped a season opener was a 5-3 setback to VMI on Feb. 9, 2007, and the team’s other three home losses to start the year in the past two decades occurred in 2000 (Jacksonville, 13-11), 2001 (Miami (Fla.), 14-5) and in 2005 (Charleston Southern, 5-4 in 11 innings).

 

UF has started the year on its own turf in 15 of the past 16 seasons, with the lone exception a 12-6 victory at Hawaii on Jan. 20, 2000. O’Sullivan is 5-0 as a head coach in season debuts.

 

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