Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Sports

Former Plant High baseball star Preston Tucker returns for one more season with Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE — If he had decided to walk away, declared he had done about all he could for the Florida baseball team, few could have faulted former Plant High star Preston Tucker.

After all, Tucker had excelled in three seasons. He was SEC co-freshman of the year in 2009, a second-team All-SEC selection in 2010 and last season a first-team All-SEC selection when he hit .308 with 15 home runs, 55 runs, 28 walks, 23 doubles and a team-high 74 RBIs in 72 games.

Tucker is the school's all-time leader in NCAA Tournament at-bats (97), hits (35), home runs (nine) and doubles (eight). He needs seven RBIs to surpass Brad Wilkerson's school record of 214.

So when the Rockies drafted the first baseman/outfielder in the 16th round in June, Tucker's return seemed like a long shot.

But ultimately, he decided on one more year.

"There were two main factors," said Tucker, who can be drafted by any team in June. "One was getting a degree. Not a lot of guys get to say they have a college degree, and you (still) get a chance to play pro ball. And another one is I think we have a great team this year.

"I think as hard as it is to believe, I do think we have a better team (than last year). We've got more depth in the pen. We've got more talent in the infield and outfield. So knowing that I get to come back to a team that has a chance to do really well this year was a big factor. I like it here. I am enjoying it, and knowing it's my last year, I'm going to enjoy myself."

Among those eagerly awaiting Tucker's decision was Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan. Last year, his team lost in the World Series final. The year before, the Gators went 0-2 in the World Series. And when Tucker was a freshman, they lost in the Super Region.

"You've got to let the process work its way out," O'Sullivan said. "We talked on the final day of signing (after the) draft, and he … indicated he was going to come back. There are a lot of guys on that last day you are waiting to see what happens.

"But most certainly to get a guy back like him who is going to go down in the record books as one of the best hitters that's played here, there's no question there was a huge smile on my face and from all the coaches. To get back a guy you could plug in the middle of the order and solidify things, it was certainly a huge lift for us."

Tucker is one of four seniors the Gators are counting on for leadership. The Gators return the majority of their everyday lineup, their entire weekend rotation and several relievers.

UF opens the season tonight against Cal State Fullerton (7, FSN) ranked No. 1 in the four major polls — writers, coaches, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball — and it's part of Tucker's job as a leader to make sure it handles the hype properly.

"(The ranking) doesn't mean you have a talented team. It means they think the players on your team are pretty good," Tucker said. "The next few weeks, we're going to figure out what guys are going to play what roles, how well we can mesh as a team and what we can do in good situations."

Whether he wins a national title remains to be seen, but barring injury, Tucker will leave with the school's RBI record.

"It just means there are a lot of guys on base when I get to hit," he said. "And that goes to the guys hitting behind me and in front of me. The other team's pitcher is going to want to pitch to me because we've got some pretty good guys behind me."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Tyler Johnson hat trick sends Lightning past Hurricanes

Tyler Johnson hat trick sends Lightning past Hurricanes

TAMPA — Fans who attended Tuesday's Lightning-Hurricanes game heard more than their fair share of Chuck Berry's song Johnny B. Goode.Center Tyler Johnson's goal song, with its signature line Go go, go Johnny go, blared over the loudspeakers not...
Updated: 6 hours ago
How the Lightning beat the Hurricanes 4-2

How the Lightning beat the Hurricanes 4-2

Louis Domingue couldn't turn his head well, but he wasn't going to let that keep him from his first start in 19 days.The Lightning goalie tweaked his neck playing basketball, warming up before the game, and still couldn't turn his head after the game...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Beloved wife of Tarpon Springs football coach dies

Beloved wife of Tarpon Springs football coach dies

Artemis Kotis, the widely admired wife of Tarpon Springs High football coach George Kotis, died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 49."She is a much bigger name than me in this community," George Kotis said of his wife. "She helped ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
District volleyball: Holy Names moves on, Berkeley Prep bows out

District volleyball: Holy Names moves on, Berkeley Prep bows out

CLEARWATER — Academy of the Holy Names advanced to the Class 5A, District 9 final after a thrilling 25-17, 15-25, 25-23, 23-25, 15-11 win over No. 2 seed Clearwater Central Catholic on Tuesday night. The win guarantees the Jaguars (18-8) a regi...
Updated: 7 hours ago

District volleyball: No easy path to final for Sunlake, Mitchell

LAND O' LAKES — Regarded all season as possibly the most competitive volleyball district in Tampa Bay, the 7A-8 semifinals promised to be pretty dramatic. And although the top two seeds eventually prevailed, did they ever have to sweat it out.T...
Updated: 7 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Tuesday, October 16

Tuesdayís scoreboardBoys swimmingShorecrest 177, Northside Chr. 127Girls swimmingShorecrest 188, Northside Chr. 110
Updated: 7 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Wednesday, October 17

TODAYBaseball playoffsNLCS: Brewers at Dodgers5 p.m.FS1ALCS: Red Sox at Astros8:30 p.m.TBS; 620-AMCollege volleyballMississippi State at Alabama7 p.m.ESPNUSouth Carolina at Arkansas8 p.m.SECKansas at Kansas State9 p.m.ESPNUGolfLPGA Senior Championshi...
Updated: 8 hours ago

District volleyball: St. Petersburg pulls out a five-setter vs. East Lake

ST. PETERSBURG — Three quality candidates but only two spaces available in the next round, a shot at a state title on the line.The elevated stakes showed in Tuesday's opening Class 8A-10 district semifinal as host St. Petersburg and East Lake l...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Raysí Rocco Baldelli reportedly a finalist for Toronto job

Raysí Rocco Baldelli reportedly a finalist for Toronto job

Rays coach Rocco Baldelli is one of five finalists for the Blue Jays manager's job, Sportsnet's Shi Davidi reported.Three other finalists were said to be Astros bench coach Joe Espada, Giants farm director David Bell and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Captainís Corner: We need cooler water, and fast

Warm waters in the gulf remain a nuisance for anglers. We are ready for cooler temperatures. Normally, the high is 81 degrees at this time. Even with shorter days, revealing less hours of sunlight, itís not the case. This is probably one of the worst...
Updated: 11 hours ago