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KING PITCHER FOLLOWS HIS HEART

Growing up with a father for a Florida Gators fan, Brett Morales never had doubts about where he wanted to go for college.

Morales, however, wasn't so sure he was ready to play ball at that level until last season.

"That's when I started to get a bit of recognition," Morales said. "I knew then that maybe I could someday get there."

He'll be in Gainesville soon enough: the King pitcher signed to play baseball for the Gators, his favorite childhood team. Wednesday marked the start of the NCAA's early signing period for most sports other than football. The national letters of intent signed by athletes are binding.

A second-team all-county selection, Morales recorded a 0.99 ERA in 491/3 innings, striking out 58 while walking 14. He filled in at second base after a teammate was suspended in the middle of the season and hit .293 with seven doubles, a triple, home run and 15 RBIs.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Morales later wowed scouts at June's Perfect Game National Showcase with his changeup, which complements his 90-92 mph fastball.

Once it became clear Morales would have his choice of schools, there was little question where he would go. His father had taken him to see the Gators play Vanderbilt when Tim Tebow was the quarterback, and the memories of that day never left him.

Morales picked Florida over a list of schools including Florida State, Miami and Central Florida.

"He was brainwashed," said William Morales, his father. "But we really enjoyed it. He gets up there as often as he can."

more baseball: Jesuit's seven signees tied the 2011 class for the largest single-day signing group in Richie Warren's six-year tenure as coach. The group consisted of: C/RHP/3B Adrian Chacon (North Carolina), LHP John Kilichowski (Vanderbilt), 2B/SS Vincent Miniet (USF), RHP Jordan Parnell (High Point), RHP/1B/OF Daniel Portales (USF), OF Leland Saile (Navy) and RHP/SS Spencer Trayner (UNC).

All own GPAs of 3.1 or better, with Kilichowski and Saile currently above 4.0. Three of them - Chacon, Miniet and Saile - hit .333 or better last season, when Jesuit reached the Class 5A state tournament. On the mound, Kilichowski and Trayner both worked at least 30 innings, posting ERAs of well below 1.00.

Saile is in the process of trying to receive a congressional appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy - a prerequisite for admission. The grandson of a Vietnam War veteran, he must serve a minimum five years of military service upon his commissioning after graduation from the Academy.

* * *

Chiefs standouts make it official

Roughly two dozen relatives, teammates, coaches and administrators convened in a Chamberlain conference room to recognize a fourth-generation Rattler and first-generation Ivy Leaguer.

Chiefs seniors Amber Fullwood and Lindsey Hagberg, both vital in their team's Class 7A state title run last spring, signed with Florida A&M and Harvard, respectively.

Technically, Hagberg didn't sign anything; Ivy League schools don't offer athletic scholarships. But the Chiefs' four-year starting catcher has been asked to join the Crimson's program and is awaiting her letter of acceptance. She plans to study medicine in hopes of becoming a research doctor.

"I've been recruited by other schools, but Harvard was my No.1," said Hagberg, whose weighted GPA (5.98) is even more astounding than her junior year batting average (.542). "It was my dream to go there."

For Fullwood, who earned the victory as a reliever in both state tournament games, FAMU represents not only a dream, but a destiny. Her 98-year-old great-grandmother and grandfather attended FAMU, as did her mom, Angela Fullwood.

Fullwood hit .326 for the Chiefs (27-7) last season. When ace Rachel Dwyer struggled in both state tournament games, Fullwood stepped in, allowing eight hits and six runs in 82/3 total innings.

* * *

Plant golfer sees his choice pay off

Brad White made what amounted to a business decision when he gave up his favorite sport the summer before his freshman year at Plant.

Unconvinced he would ever be big or fast enough to compete at a high level in soccer, White decided to take up the sport he played only leisurely with his father - golf.

Three years later, White's prescient decision to switch sports paid off when he signed a golf scholarship to Guilford College in North Carolina.

"It was me being realistic with myself," White said. "If you're going to put in that amount of time, I wanted to be successful at it and have it pan out."

White was one of four Plant athletes to sign with college programs.

Panthers baseball stars 3B Pete Alonso and LHP John Suskauer signed with Florida and North Florida, respectively. Blair Martin, two-time Times' girls tennis player of the year, will attend Furman.

Alonso, a two-time first-team all-county selection, led all public school hitters with a .485 average and also had 24 RBIs, 11 doubles, six home runs and a .912 slugging percentage.

Plant coach Dennis Braun said the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder could eventually follow in the footsteps of former Florida and Panthers star Preston Tucker, who was a seventh-round draft pick of the Astros in June.

"I do think the sky is the limit here," Braun said.

Suskauer, a 6-1, 185-pound lefty, threw 28 innings last season and compiled a 3-0 record, 2.25 ERA and 17 strikeouts.

Martin and teammate Gabrielle Rodriguez went undefeated and won their second straight state doubles championship last year. She was also a district and region champion.

Meanwhile, White finished his high school career last month by finishing second in the Class 2A state tournament.

Check out more signings at tampabay.com/hometeam.

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