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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

No. 4: Will the baseball team improve on 2009 and make it to Omaha?

The 2009 UF baseball team exceeded expectations before a disappointing end to the season.

In 2010, the job will only get more difficult. Expectations will be higher, and the Gators will not sneak up on anyone.

So the question is: Will UF get back over the hump and make it back to the College World Series?

Some fans may have purchased their flights to Omaha this year after UF swept through its NCAA regional at home, including two wins over longtime rival Miami.

It was the first time ever (in 11 tries) that the Gators advanced out of a regional that included the 'Canes, and with the super regional being played in Gainesville, it looked like No. 8 national seed UF would make its first CWS appearance since 2005.

Then a funny thing happened. Southern Miss, seeded third in its regional, continued its Cinderella run, came to McKethan Stadium and swept the super regional.

It was an unsatisfying end for the Gators, but the year as a whole exceeded outside expectations for a program ranked in only a handful of preseason polls. UF won its first Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title since 2005.

While falling just shy of Omaha, coach Kevin O'Sullivan did remind Gainesville of postseason success. After going 0-4 in the 2008 postseason, UF won one game in the SEC Tournament this year and swept its NCAA regional.

There will be plenty of turnover heading in 2010, however.

The Gators will lose five key seniors (Avery Barnes, Teddy Foster, Stephen Locke, Brandon McArthur and Patrick Keating) as well as four underclassmen who have already signed MLB contracts (Billy Bullock, Tony Davis, Buddy Munroe and Mike Mooney). They also could stand to lose three others &ndash Matt den Dekker (Pirates, 16th round), Riley Cooper (Rangers, 25th) and Kevin Chapman (White Sox, 50th) &ndash who were selected in the MLB Draft but have not yet signed pro contracts.

The infield will be anchored by First-Team All-SEC second baseman Josh Adams and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Freshman Hitter of the Year Preston Tucker at first but without returning starters at shortstop, third and catcher.

The outfield will see a mix-up with a new starter needed in left after Barnes' departure and center field is up in the air depending on whether or not den Dekker decides to go pro. Right field will likely continue to be split between the Pigott brothers, rising senior Jonathan and rising sophomore Daniel.

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The pitching staff may again be a mix-and-match game, although O'Sullivan used his arms quite successfully in 2009. Returning pitchers include the two wins leader from this year &ndash rising freshmen Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Panteliodis with six each &ndash and strikeout leader Nick Maronde, also a rising sophomore.

So there will be plenty of questions coming into 2010, but after 2009's surprise success, the question will be whether the baseball team can keep the good times rolling.

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