Baseball Coaches pick Gators to win SEC

Preseason accolades keep rolling in for this 2016 version of the Gator football team.

The University of Florida was predicted to capture the 2016 Southeastern Conference Baseball Championship, as voted by the league’s 14 baseball coaches in the 25th annual preseason SEC poll released on Thursday. The Gators are the consensus No. 1 team according to the six major collegiate baseball preseason polls: Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1Baseball, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers (NCBWA), Perfect Game and USA Today.

The Preseason All-SEC First and Second Teams, as determined by the head coaches, were also announced. Junior first basemanPeter Alonso, junior left-hander A.J. Puk, junior outfielder Buddy Reed, sophomore catcher JJ Schwarz and junior right-hander Logan Shore were chosen to the first team, while sophomore catcher Mike Rivera made the second team. Schwarz was the first-team selection at both catcher and designated hitter.

 

Under the direction of ninth-year head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, the Gators return 18 letterwinners and six position starters from last season's squad which captured the SEC Tournament title, swept the Regional and Super Regionals held at McKethan Stadium and advanced to the NCAA College World Series for the fourth time in six years. O’Sullivan and his staff have welcomed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball.

 

After missing the Gators’ first 30 games of the season while recovering from a broken foot, Alonso started 39 games at first base and hit .301 with 33 runs, 32 RBI, 10 doubles, five homers and a pair of triples. He committed just one error and registered a .997 fielding percentage, turned in 13 multiple-hit games and nine multiple-RBI efforts and reached base in UF’s final 20 games. The Tampa native ranked second on the Orange and Blue with a .340 (18-for-53) clip in 15 postseason outings, with 17 runs, 15 RBI, eight walks and seven extra-base hits (three doubles, two triples and two homers). He hit the two longest homers in TD Ameritrade Park history during the NCAA College World Series – a 429-foot blast against Virginia on June 20 and a 421-foot shot versus Miami on June 17 and drove in a team-high seven runs for the Gators in Omaha. Alonso batted .400 (4-for-10) during the sweep of Florida State in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional, was 3-for-5 with a career-high three runs in Game 2 and was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team after going 6-for-13 (.462) with five RBI, five runs and five walks as Florida brought home the title.

 

As a sophomore, Puk made 17 appearances, 14 of which were starts, and was 9-4 with a 3.81 earned run average. With a team-leading 104 strikeouts in 78 innings, the southpaw from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, became the first Gator to reach the century mark in punch-outs since Bryan Augenstein totaled 105 in 2007. He ranked fifth in the SEC in strikeouts and held opposing hitters to a .210 batting average, fourth-lowest in the league. Puk enjoyed a tremendous postseason, compiling a 1.54 ERA in four starts, with a 2-1 record and 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings.

 

Reed started 69 of the Gators’ 70 contests in center field and responded with career highs across the board in batting average (.305), hits (86), runs (51), RBI (47), stolen bases (18), doubles (14), triples (5) and homers (4). His 13-game hitting streak from March 4-27 was the longest by a UF player last year and he ranked third on the club in batting average behind All-Americans Josh Tobias (.355) and Schwarz (.332). The Finksburg, Md., native chipped in with 24 multiple-hit games and 11 multiple-RBI games and became the first Gator to be named to the SEC’s All-Defensive Team since shortstop Nolan Fontana and catcherMike Zunino collected the honor in 2012. Reed joined Matt den Dekker (2008-10) as the only outfielders in school history to receive the honor. He hit .319 in SEC play, with 19 runs, 17 RBI and nine walks and delivered team highs in stolen bases (6) and triples (4).

 

In addition to being named the Louisville Slugger Co-2015 Freshman Player of the Year and as the NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year, Schwarz attained All-American status from the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), Baseball America, D1Baseball, the NCBWA and Perfect Game. He also earned Freshman All-American recognition from Baseball America, D1Baseball, Collegiate Baseball, Louisville Slugger and the NCBWA. He delivered a .332 batting average and led the Orange and Blue in RBI (73), homers (18), doubles (16), sacrifice flies (6) and slugging percentage (.629). Among the national leaders, Schwarz was third in RBI and finished fourth in homers and the slugger from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., tied for second on the club with 24 multiple-hit games and was the runner-up with 16 multiple-RBI games. He was named second-team All-SEC and to the league’s All-Freshman Team. During the Gators’ postseason, Schwarz hit a team-best .491 (28-for-57), with 23 runs, 19 RBI, five doubles and four homers in 15 games. He batted .474 (18-for-38) with 18 runs, 13 RBI, four homers and a pair of doubles in 10 NCAA Tournament contests and was 6-for-18 (.333) with eight runs and two RBI in the College World Series.

 

Shore, the Gators’ Friday night starter, was 11-6 over a team-leading 19 starts, with 84 strikeouts, 24 walks and a 2.72 ERA in a team-high 112.1 innings. The righty started three of the club’s four shutouts on the campaign and was responsible for two of the squad’s three complete games after going the distance against Alabama (March 27) and Mississippi State (April 17). Shore’s total of 11 wins was the most by a Florida pitcher since Hudson Randall was 11-3 in 2011. The Coon Rapids, Minn., native was a perfect 5-0 during the postseason and compiled a 2.43 ERA, registering 24 strikeouts and permitting five walks in 29.2 innings. Shore’s total of four career NCAA Tournament victories is one shy of the school record held by Randall (2010-12) and he claimed both of his outings at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha last June against Miami (FL) and Virginia.

 

Rivera earned Freshman All-American recognition from Louisville Slugger and became the first Gator freshman catcher to be chosen All-SEC since Mike Stanley in 1982 by being named to the second team. A member of the SEC’s All-Freshman Team, he started 65 of the 66 games he played in as a rookie, with 41 starts behind the plate and 24 at designated hitter. Rivera batted .271 with 48 RBI, 31 runs, 16 walks, 11 doubles, five sacrifice flies and three homer and contributed 15 multiple-hit games and 13 multiple-RBI efforts. The Venice, Fla., native led the Gators at the NCAA College World Series by going 7-for-18 (.389) and snapped a 1-1 tie with a leadoff homer in the ninth inning to provide the winning margin as the Gators knocked off No. 1 LSU in the SEC Tourney semifinals.

In addition to picking a preseason SEC Champion, the league’s head coaches voted a predicted order of finish in the SEC’s Eastern and Western Divisions. In the East, the Gators were the favorite with 91 points. Vanderbilt came in second with 78 points, with South Carolina in third with 54 points. Texas A&M was the favorite in the West, followed by LSU (79) and Arkansas (65).

 

Points were compiled on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis for each division. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. Each coach also voted for one team as an overall conference champion.

 

The 2016 SEC regular season begins tomorrow, with conference play set to begin Friday, March 18. The SEC Tournament will be played at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala., from May 24-29. A total of seven SEC teams qualified for NCAA Regionals in 2015 and conference teams comprised half of the College World Series field. Ten SEC teams are ranked in at least one poll to begin the 2016 season.

 

Florida will open its season with a three-game series against FGCU beginning tomorrow at 7 p.m. Season and single-game tickets for the 2016 Gator Baseball season are on sale and can be purchased online through FloridaGators.com or by calling the Gator Ticket Office at 1-800-34-GATOR from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

 

2016 SEC Baseball Preseason Coaches' Poll

Eastern Division

No.

Team

Pts.

1.

FLORIDA (13)

91

2.

Vanderbilt (1)

78

3.

South Carolina

54

4.

Kentucky

53

5.

Missouri

47

6.

Georgia

32

7.

Tennessee

30

 

Western Division

No.

Team

Pts.

1.

Texas A&M (8)

85

2.

LSU (5)

79

3.

Arkansas

65

4.

Mississippi State (1)

49

5.

Ole Miss

46

6.

Auburn

33

7.

Alabama

28

 

SEC Champion: FLORIDA (13), Vanderbilt (1)

 

2016 SEC Baseball Preseason Coaches’ All-SEC Teams

 

First Team

C – JJ Schwarz, FLORIDA

1B – Peter Alonso, FLORIDA

2B – Ryne Birk, Texas A&M

SS – Ryan Howard, Missouri

3B – Nick Senzel, Tennessee

OF – Nick Banks, Texas A&M

OF – Buddy Reed, FLORIDA

OF – Anfernee Grier, Auburn

DH/UT – JJ Schwarz, FLORIDA

SP – Alex Lange, LSU

SP – A.J. Puk, FLORIDA*

SP – Logan Shore, FLORIDA*

RP – Zach Jackson, Arkansas

 

Second Team

C – Mike Rivera, FLORIDA

1B – Evan White, Kentucky*

1B – Hunter Melton, Texas A&M*

2B – Rick Nomura, Arkansas

SS – Errol Robinson, Ole Miss

3B – Will Toffey, Vanderbilt

OF – Bryan Reynolds, Vanderbilt

OF – Stephen Wrenn, Georgia

OF – Jake Fraley, LSU

DH/UT – Clark Eagan, Arkansas

SP – Tanner Houck, Missouri

SP – Robert Tyler, Georgia*

SP – Jared Poche', LSU*

RP – Ryan Hendrix, Texas A&M


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