GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Florida baseball roster lists 27 players from the Sunshine State. Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, North Carolina and Iowa also are represented.
Coon Rapids, Minn., to be specific.
“It’s not as small as it sounds,” Gator pitcher Logan Shore said.
Actually, it’s the 12th-largest city in the state and the largest suburb of the Twin Cities with a population of more than 61,000. But, Shore's hometown is still called “Coon Rapids” and it should come as no surprise that when Shore arrived at UF last summer he got some ribbing about his roots.
“But, not anymore,” Gator head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said with a laugh. “He’s got something on me now.”
Yeah, you can say that. Shore, the freshman, is O'Sullivan's Friday starter in the heat of a Southeastern Conference race.
The kid will be on the mound again for No. 18 Florida (24-13, 9-6) and throwing the first pitch of a critical SEC East home series against Georgia (21-15-1, 7-7-1) this weekend, with the Gators looking to build on a huge series road win at powerhouse South Carolina that could keep some distance between the second-place Gamecocks (one game back) and third-place Bulldogs (1.5 games back).
That O’Sullivan has entrusted a rookie with the pivotal role of Friday starter is a testament to the consistency and steadfastness Shore has put on display since arriving as part of the most decorated freshman class in the country. Shore, the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year and 29th-round pick of the hometown Minnesota Twins, certainly didn’t show up expecting to be in such a role.
“Coming from Minnesota was a little different because I’d never played with all these Florida boys and Southern boys before,” Shore said. “I was just trying to compete for a spot -- maybe on the weekend, maybe not -- but I also knew it was going to be hard to do. So, I just went out in the fall [season] and competed. I pitched.”
When O’Sullivan saw Shore transfer a solid and steady fall to the spring, it was a positive sign.
Shore drew his first start in the Gators’ fourth game of 2014 against UCF, a received a no-decision. He worked some relief five days later at Miami. Between those two outings, O’Sullivan saw enough to roll Shore out to start at home against Florida Gulf Coast on Feb. 27 (a Thursday) and got six good innings and two unearned runs in a 2-1 loss. Shore was back on the hill eight days later (a Friday) and went seven innings, yielding just two hits, in a no-decision against UConn that the Gators won, 2-1, in 11 innings, the first of three extra-inning victories over the Huskies.
“I guess things sort of just got rolling for me from there,” Shore said.
A week later, Shore started the SEC opener against Arkansas and won his first career game, a 2-1 victory. He's been the lead dog since.
In eight starts, Shore has posted a 3-2 record while going at least five innings in all eight outings. His ERA is a sterling 1.67, backed by 33 strikeouts and just 11 walks.
The Gators know when Shore takes the mound they’re getting a hundred or so pitches from a guy who’s going to keep them in games and not get rattled when he gets into the eventual jams.
“I don’t even look at him like a freshman now,” junior catcher Taylor Gushue said. “When you watch him go through his daily routine, he just comes to the field prepared everyday and gets his work done. It’s a very business-like approach.”
Added O’Sullivan: “You trust him. He doesn’t blow up. He’s got the ability to make important pitches in important parts of the game. A lot of young guys don’t have that. He’s much more mature at this stage of his career than a lot of kids [his age] are.”
Last week, Shore took the lone loss of UF’s series at fourth-ranked South Carolina. With runners at first and second and no outs in the fifth, he fielded a grounder back to the mound and, rather than taking the easy out at first, went for the double play. All runners were safe, leaving the bases loaded. The Gamecocks went on to score three runs in the inning in what turned out to be a 4-1 win.
The miscue, though, did not phase Shore, who stuck around for seven innings and left when it was still a two-run game.
“We won the next two, so it was a huge weekend for us,” he said.
He’ll be back out Friday night against the Bulldogs and trying to get his team off to a good start in yet another crucial series.
“Friday, Saturday or Sunday, they’re all important. I don’t try to make one game any bigger than the other,” Shore said. “I’ll go out there, try to pitch my game, stay within myself, try not to do too much and just get outs.”
That’s exactly what his team wants, what it needs and what he's been doing all year. Ever since he arrived from that place in Minnesota everyone used to tease him about.
Repeat: Used to.
“If you’re from Coon Rapids and you’re that good,” Gushue said, “there’s nothing to tease him about.”