Gushue Making Immediate Impact

When Kevin O'Sullivan got the phone call that Taylor Gushue would graduate early and skip his senior season at Calvary Christian Academy to play at Florida, he wasn't sure what to expect. A .471 on-base percentage and four RBIs in four starts weren't on his list of expectations. Gushue forced his way into the lineup with his play in the spring and has given Florida another middle of the order bat.

Gushue showed signs immediately after coming to campus. He tied with Preston Tucker to lead the Gators with four home runs during spring scrimmages. The final straw came in a scrimmage on the last Sunday before the season started. Gushue hit a home run right-handed against Brian Johnson and turned around to the other side of the plate to hit a home run left-handed against Keenan Kish.

"You just shook your head and said, ‘how are we going to keep him out of the lineup?'" Kevin O'Sullivan recalled.

He couldn't.

Gushue, who will be in the middle of the order again when Florida opens a series against William & Mary on Friday at 7 p.m., started as the designated hitter during the first two games of the year, hitting sixth and fifth respectively. He was back in the lineup on Tuesday as the starting catcher and Wednesday as the designated hitter. With an All-American Mike Zunino starting behind the plate, Gushue wasn't expected to get many at-bats.

He just kept hitting and left the coaching staff without a choice, but his success hasn't just come on the field.

"He has been swinging it good," O'Sullivan said. "Nothing was given to him. He came in here in January and his whole life changed—more than just baseball. He had to get accustomed to new players. He was going away from home for the first time. He's got a college class schedule.

"He has handled it like a champ. He's a very mature young man. I'm very happy for him."

Most freshmen on the team have been given a chance to adjust. They got to campus last summer and went through practices in the fall and spring before being thrown into the fire of games. Gushue was in Gainesville for just over a month before finding himself in the starting lineup for the season opener.

"It has been an adventure to say the least," Taylor Gushue said. "Coming from high school to here is a big difference. Since I've been here, I've gotten so much better. It has been a wild ride, but it has been awesome."

Gushue's legend was already growing consistently because of his success in scrimmages. He cemented it in the first at-bat of his Florida career, lining the first pitch he saw, a fastball away, to the opposite field and over the left field fence.

He turned his cell phone on after the game to find 50 text messages with about 20 of those coming from former high school teammates that he should still be playing. He terrorized enough high school pitching in just three years.

Gushue hit .472 with 30 home runs in the first three years of his high school career. While pitchers in his district exhaled about him leaving early, he decided to take it out on Division One pitching. It didn't just come against easy out of conference teams, either. His breakout games came against Cal State Fullerton, whose streak of 20 straight regionals is third best in the country.

"He has been swinging it ever since he got here," Florida right fielder Preston Tucker said. "We didn't really know what to expect when he did get here, but from day one, he has been hitting the ball hard. He has earned his spot in the lineup."

His .471 on-base percentage and .692 slugging percentage are third on the team behind the two All-Americans, Tucker and Zunino, hitting third and fourth in the order respectively.

When he decided to enroll early in September, Gushue had to take an extra math and English class before he could make it official. It was easier than he expected and the transition was secured.

"As a family, it was something that we really considered a lot and prayed about," Gushue said. "We just decided that I think college is the way to go. This is what I wanted to do. I wasn't ready to play pro ball."

Even though he's away from his family for the first time, his dad's voice still echoes in his mind.

"Taylor, it's time management," he recalls hearing from his dad. "You have to learn how to manage your time."

It's still a challenge, but the off field demands of class and being on his own are getting easier by the week. There are adjustments, just as there would be for anyone. The difference is most freshmen have already gone through it by the time the step on the field.

Gushue is going through it now and still hitting in the middle of the order for the No. 1 team in the country.

"He's very mature," O'Sullivan said. "He handles himself. He should be a high school senior right now but he's handling the media. He can handle himself in situations most kids his age can't."

The questions about Gushue moved from wondering if he could handle an important role to now wondering what he'll do next. And whatever it is, no one will be surprised.

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