GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There seems to be one definite when it comes to the Florida baseball team and the NCAA tournament: Preston Tucker is going to show up.
As good as he has been during the regular season in his career, Tucker has been even better in the postseason -- and that’s a big reason the Gators (45-18) have made back-to-back trips to the College World Series and are just two victories over N.C. State in this weekend’s Super Regional from a third in a row.
The senior outfielder has a .371 batting average in 26 NCAA tournament games and holds school postseason records for hits (40), at-bats (107), doubles (10), home runs (10) and RBIs (40).
"I think it’s focus, rising to the occasion," UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Tucker. "It’s good makeup. It’s just a year’s worth of work showing up at the end of the year and he’s worked extremely hard and good things usually happen to good people when they work hard.
"Hopefully he’ll do it again this weekend because we’re certainly going to need him."
It seems like that’s when Tucker is at his best.
Tucker was named the Most Outstanding Player in the regionals in 2009 and 2011. He hit .692 (9 for 13) with two home runs and six RBIs in UF’s victories over Bethune-Cookman and Miami (twice) as a freshman in ’09. UF was swept by Southern Miss in the Super Regional, but Tucker finished the postseason hitting .531 with 14 RBIs, which capped a season in which he set the school’s single-season record for RBIs (85) and was named the Southeastern Conference’s co-freshman of the year.
Tucker struggled a bit in the 2010 postseason, hitting .258, but he did drive in seven runs in seven games. In 2011 he hit .500 (7-for-14) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in the Gators’ victories over Manhattan and Miami (twice). That was just the beginning to a monster postseason run for Tucker. He hit .304 and had 11 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 11 games.
Tucker is coming off another solid performance in last weekend’s Gainesville Regional. He hit .385 with one double, one home run and five RBIs in UF’s victories over Bethune-Cookman and Georgia Tech (twice). That earned him regional all-tournament honors for the fourth consecutive season.
It’s a performance that followed a poor showing in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Tucker went just 3-for-16 with no extra base hits and no RBIs in four games. He was so disappointed that he decided to try something he hadn’t done in nearly two years: batting gloves.
"I wasn’t quite feeling as comfortable as I would have liked," said Tucker, who last wore gloves as a sophomore. "I tried mixing it up a little bit, put some batting gloves on, see how it felt. It’s a completely different feel and I felt a little more comfortable, so I decided to try it."
It obviously worked, and the top-seeded Gators are hoping it continues against N.C. State (43-18) this weekend.