April 18, 2008


Another Power in the Sunshine State 

By Andrew Finley



When coach Dave Tollett arrived at Florida Gulf Coast University six years ago, he began from scratch. In 2003, the Eagles did not have any facilities, so they played all 50 games on the road or wherever they could find a field. They were competing at the NAIA level then, with minimal money for scholarships.


Six years later Florida Gulf Coast is leading a Division I conference, is on pace to win 35 games and took the best team in the country to extra innings. FGCU now plays its games in 1,500-seat Swanson Stadium, has a full range of athletic facilities and is fully funded for scholarships.


In their first season as a Division I program, the Eagles are 26-12 overall and have a two-game lead over Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun with a 16-5 conference record. Last Tuesday, FGCU lost to top-ranked Miami in the eleventh inning.


Tollett attributes his squad's success to outstanding team chemistry. The team is led by a group of eight talented seniors, many of whom will be drafted in June. “We have eight seniors and they are all just awesome,” Tollett said, “they all lead in their own way.”


“We weren't sure where we should be (in terms of talent) – so we're very pleased with the success we've had,” Tollett said.


The offense is led by first baseman Jason Peacock, a senior transfer from Polk Community College. Peacock is leading the Atlantic Sun with a .465 average and a .551 on base percentage. Senior outfielder Ozzie Borrell and junior outfielder Josh Upchurch have also been important cogs in the Eagles offense. Both are hitting over .350 and the trio has combined for 94 RBI this season.


Crumbley is the career leader in pitching appearances with 79 so far. “There has definitely been a huge transfer from the time I got here,” he said. The Tampa resident recalls how much the campus has grown and the atmosphere has changed in four years. The team has also gotten many new facilities, “they (the school) have supported us all the way.” Crumbley is 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA and of course leads the team with 17 appearances. He leads a relatively young pitching staff that has had great success this year.


Tollett thinks that his weekend starters, who have a combined record of 14-4, could pitch anywhere in the country, as could senior closer J.J. Crumbley. FGCU boasts the best pitching staff in the Atlantic Sun, with a team ERA of 3.44, more than a run better than the second-best team.


“We set our goals high, especially with the pitching staff,” Crumbley said.


Casey Coleman has been another key man for FGCU. The junior is the number two starter and the starting second baseman on days he does not pitch. He is 4-2 on the mound and has a .336 average at the plate with 16 extra base hits and 27 RBI.


Coleman had offers from several Division I schools out of Cape Coral, Fla., but chose FGCU because he wanted to hit and trusted that the coaches would let him. At the time he had no idea he would end up in games against schools like Florida and Miami. “It's been awesome, playing some of the bigger schools” he said of moving to Division I.


However, Tollett, Crumbley and Coleman were all quick to note that the Division II competition is nothing to scoff at, noting that there are many quality players at that level. However, they all agreed that the depth of Division I is what sets it apart.

After the Top 50 teams there is a dropoff in Division II, Tollet said, but in Division I anybody can beat anybody.


Both Crumbley and Coleman noted that in Division II the one through five hitters are solid, but in Division I all nine hitters in an order are tough. The pitchers are typically “harder throwers, consistently,” Coleman said.


“For the first part of the year we were always underdogs, nobody knew us,” Coleman said. Now the Eagles are typically favored, “this is the year we put the school on the map,” Coleman said.