Ridaught: School record start ignites SF College

Redshirt sophomore Jahlani Rogers (19) leads the Santa Fe College baseball team with a .526 on base percentage. The Saints (27-1) won a school-record 26 games to start the season.
Courtesy of SF College Athletics

Records are made to be broken.

But at Santa Fe College, one record, in particular, may never get broken. 

I mean, it’s not every year that a baseball team starts the season at 26-0. 

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Santa Fe College did before suffering its first loss of the season this past Sunday at Seminole State College.

The fast start could be an indication of what’s ahead for the Saints, who are seeking their first state title in seven years. 

The Saints won state titles in 2009 and 2016 under head coach Johnny Wiggs, a former University of Florida pitcher. 

In 2009, they made it all the way to the national championship game and finished national runner-up. 

“That was a team that really kind of came out of nowhere,” said Wiggs, who is in this 17th season as head coach. “We were 9-11 through our first 20 games and really just got going in conference and played our best baseball at the end.” 

The 2016 team won 42 games and only had seven losses during the regular season. 

“Any time you win championships, either conference championships or state championships, those are your special years and definitely the ones you remember the most,” Wiggs said. 

Could this be a special year? 

The Saints reeled off 14 straight wins to start the season before their first loss of the season against Hillsborough Community College. However, HCC had to forfeit the win due to an ineligible player. 

SF proceeded to go on another streak by winning 11 in a row, carrying a 26-0 record into the third game of a three-game series against Seminole State College last weekend. 

On Sunday, down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Seminole rallied with a run to tie the game at 2-2 and they won it, 3-2, in the bottom of the 10th inning.

After 26 wins to start the season, the streak that began on Jan. 20 had ended. 

Photo by C.J. Gish Santa Fe College baseball coach Johnny Wiggs

The program-best start could mean SF is in for a special year. 

However, Wiggs was quick to make his point on what it really means. 

“It’s been a special non-conference season,” he said. “I told my guys nobody will remember the start most likely unless we finish it off. But the team has played really well. We’ve done the little things right.” 

For starters, they are No. 1 in Florida in the least walks given up and they’re No. 1 in fielding percentage in the state of Florida, 

“So, when you don’t walk anybody and you don’t make errors you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning junior college baseball games,” Wiggs said. “This is a fun group. They come to play and come to work every single day.” 

Wiggs downplayed their only loss. 

“We played really well,” he said. “We played great defense. We pitched really well. It was probably the one game that we hadn’t hit all year. It was a rarity for us not to score that many runs that day.” 

Scoring runs has not been a problem for the Saints (27-1), who defeated Daytona State College, 6-3, on Wednesday to get back in the win column. 

Santa Fe College, which improved to 3-1 in the Mid-Florida Conference, has scored 10 or more runs 13 times this season. 

They’ve also hit 28 home runs, with eight of them coming from redshirt sophomore J.P. Herrholz (Miami Columbus). He ranks fourth in the country with 43 runs driven in. 

“He’s just a good left-handed hitter,” Wiggs said of his first baseman. “He’s been outstanding for us. It just seems like every time he comes up there are multiple guys on base. He’s had some really big home runs for us. Forty-three RBI is crazy through 28 games, especially with the competition we play here in the state of Florida.” 

Freshman Josh Hogue (Palm Beach Gardens High School) leads the team with a .443 batting average. He also leads the team with 51 hits. 

“He’s been special,” Wiggs said. “He can play anywhere for us. But he’s a very versatile guy, another left-handed hitter that hits the ball all over the ballpark. He doesn’t just pull the baseball, he hits it to all fields.” 

The Saints have a .970 fielding percentage and as a pitching staff they are only allowing 2.46 walks per game. 

Sophomore right-hander Tobin Moran (Palm Beach Gardens) leads the way with a 5-0 record on the mound and a team-leading 45 strikeouts. 

He has only issued four walks in 45.1 innings pitched, which leads the team, and has a 2.58 ERA.

Freshman Casey O’Dell (Trenton/P.K. Yonge) leads the team with three saves in just 9.1 innings of work. 

“It’s gone really well,” said O’Dell, who has been attending Wiggs’ baseball camp since he was six years old. “I can’t ask for much more out of my defense. The guys that we have on the field are tremendous. All I’ve got to do is go out there and throw strikes.” 

O’Dell is one of four area players on the team, along with Jacob Guthrie (Trenton), Ryan Brown (Santa Fe), and Logan Head (Williston). 

“We try to get as many local guys as we can,” Wiggs said. “Some guys are always looking to get away from home and do something different but I think it’s great when we have local flavor on our team. It brings more mamas and daddies to the game. It just creates a little more of a local atmosphere so we try to do our best to do as good locally as we can.” 

Guthrie said the long winning streak helped from a confidence standpoint. 

“We knew we were good, we knew we could play,” he said. “But it really just showed how good we could be once we got rolling,”

The Saints are ranked No. 6 in the country in the NJCAA D-I rankings, but Guthrie knows that what happened in the first 26 games is now in the rear view.

“It was a great start but we can’t really think about it, just keep playing one pitch at a time and one game at a time,” he said. “We play in one of the best conferences, obviously.” 

SF is competing in the ultra-competitive Mid-Florida Conference with Daytona State College, Seminole State College, which handed them their only loss, and the College of Central Florida in Ocala, which is ranked No. 1 in the country. 

“We’re ready for the challenge,” Wiggs said. “We had a great non-conference season. We got off to a really good start. We like right where we’re at.” 

The Saints conclude a three-game series with Daytona State this weekend, followed by a three-game series against top-ranked COCF next week (March 22, 24-25).

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