GAINESVILLE — Like any freshman, Casey Turgeon wanted to make an immediate impact on the Florida baseball team this season.
He has done so, starting 58 games.
But what has made his season more impressive is the Dunedin alumnus overcame a scooter accident that kept him out for almost all fall practice and dealt with hamstring and groin injuries to emerge as one of the Gators' top newcomers.
"He's probably one of our toughest competitors," coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "What he's done is no surprise."
Turgeon was riding to the baseball stadium on Sept. 29 when his scooter collided with a car at an intersection. Turgeon, who was not wearing a helmet, was hospitalized with a concussion and other injuries. He missed all but two at-bats of fall practice.
Tonight Turgeon will be in the starting lineup at second base when Florida opens NCAA tournament play against Bethune-Cookman. He says it's a pleasant surprise.
"I thought I was going to be way behind," Turgeon said Thursday. "But (shortstop Nolan Fontana) took me under his wing. I got a lot of extra work, and where I am today, it's awesome.
"We started really small, just (fielding) ground balls and whatever the doctor would let me do. And then once I got fully cleared, I was out there hitting, and I was doing everything, running, anything to get back in shape."
And helping the Gators.
"No," Fontana said when asked if he envisioned Turgeon recovering well enough to play as well as he has. "And he's done an awesome job. He's come a long way since being hurt.
"And I don't think anybody thought he'd be back out here but him, and he knew it. He worked really hard to get here."
Fontana has participated in a classic example of paying it forward. Former Gator second baseman Josh Adams took a young Fontana under his wing and taught him the nuances of the college game. Something about Turgeon made Fontana want to do the same for him.
"I saw a lot of myself in Casey when he first got here, and that was a big part of making a connection with him," the junior said. "And also him playing up the middle with me was a big part of it as well.
"He's a great kid. He works hard. He's a hard-nosed guy, and I love that. He's a guy that loves playing the game of baseball each day. He just grinds it out. He knows that baseball is a game of failure, and that's a big part of how you become successful."
Turgeon enters the tournament with a career-high six-game hitting streak during which he is 8-for-21 (.381) with six RBIs, two doubles and a triple. At last week's SEC tournament, for which he was selected to the all-tournament team, Turgeon hit .429 (6-of-14) with four RBIs and two doubles.
For the season, Turgeon is hitting .271 with three homers, 24 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
The left-handed batter is playing precisely the way O'Sullivan envisioned.
"I think he's got a chance to go down as one of the best infielders to ever play here," O'Sullivan said. "He plays great defense. He runs the bases well. He can hit lefties. He uses the entire field. I think that's probably the biggest thing that's helped him. His freshman year, he started to use the left side of the field a lot better.
"He's just a good player. He stands out when you go to a high school game or a summer league game. He played on some really good teams, and he just stood out. He always seems to be in the middle of the action. I'm not surprised by what he's been able to accomplish this year."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Read her blog at tampabay.com/blogs/gators.