Preston Tucker Key to Gator Season

The 2009 Gator Baseball team is a balanced squad that has used a balanced lineup, decent starting pitching, solid defense and a top notching bullpen to post 39 wins and earn the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament which gets underway Friday. Yet despite that balance, it's one freshman in particular who has made the biggest impact of all.

Preston Tucker has put together one of the best freshman seasons in Gator Baseball history. The Tampa Plant product leads the Gators in home runs (12), RBI (77), and slugging percentage (.581). No teammate has more than eight homers or 47 RBI. Tucker's RBI total is the third best single season total at UF, trailing just Ryan Shealy (80-2002) and Matt LaPorta (79-2005).

I talked with Tucker Thursday n the eve of his first NCAA game.

LV: Preston, how excited are you about your first post-season tournament?

PT: Oh I'm definitely excited. The whole year the team has been talking about how this is where we need to be and how important it is.

LV: Generally freshmen sorta ease into playing at this level, but you apparently didn't get that memo. Are you surprised with the success you've had as a rookie?

PT: I'm a little surprised at the success, but when we first got here the coaches put it out there for the freshman hitters and pitchers to step up. They knew we had a great freshman class coming in and they wanted to challenge us to produce as soon as possible.

LV: Was there ever a time that it just hit you and you said to yourself, I can do this and I belong out here every day?

PT: Yeah. I caught a break when (Brandon) McArthur got hurt and was out a couple of games and I was able to go out there rather than just DH and play first once in a while. Things started to click after that and I've kinda stayed on a roll.


I'll say he's been on a roll. Through March 24, Tucker was hitting .242 with just one homer and nine RBI. Since then he's hitting .375 with 11 HR and 68 RBI in 37 games. He's had three or more RBI in 1 different games including an SEC record-tying 11 RBI against UCF when Tucker hit three homers including two grand slams.

Here's what some others had to say about the young Gator slugger.

Coach Kevin O'Sullivan ----- "He's clutch. He does a lot of things that older hitters do in terms of hitting good pitching and hitting so-so pitching. He doesn't miss pitches. He's always ready to go. Some guys take at bats off. Some guys take entire games off. This guy doesn't take a pitch off. I think he sees the ball really well and recognizes if a pitch is going to be a strike or not earlier than most hitters. Him being able to play first base has given us the luxury of moving Brandon (McArthur) over to third and given us one more bat in the lineup. If he was strictly a DH, then you don't have Daniel Pigott or Tyler Thompson getting their (at bats)."

Brandon McArthur ----- "He's really solidified this offense giving us a power threat in the middle of the lineup. To go above expectations of what he was supposed to do has been fun to watch. He's really helped us a lot throughout the season, protecting guys in front of him and behind him in the lineup and letting them do the things they can do. I watched LaPorta come in and break a lot of records and now I've seen Preston come in and set himself above him."

Matt den Dekker ----- "He's been incredible all year long, stepping in as a freshman and doing what he's done and playing as well as he has. He's been amazing offensively, kinda putting up LaPorta numbers. But he's played well at first base and been solid over there. It's great to see a freshman take on something like that and jump into the lineup and be that successful."

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