It wasn’t that long ago that the College of Central Florida in Ocala shut down its athletic programs for volleyball, and women’s and men’s basketball.
According to the Ocala Star-Banner in December of 2019, the move was necessary to trim the budget so the COCF could “concentrate on its core mission of education.”
But they kept softball and baseball.
And it’s a good thing that they did.
Earlier this month, both programs won a Florida College System Activities Association Athletics (FCSAA) state tournament title and advanced to the national tournament, which begins this week.
The softball team went 3-0, including a 6-1 win against nationally ranked Pensacola State College (No. 11/NJCAA DI) in the semifinals, to win the FCSAA and NJCAA South Atlantic District A Championship at Boombah Soldiers Creek Park in Longwood (May 6-9).
Central Florida’s coach Tike Gardner was recognized as the FCSAA Softball Coach of the Year, while five Pats made the All Tournament team, including tournament MVP Savannah Barnett, who pitched three complete-game wins in the tournament.
The Patriots (45-16), who went 16-4 to win the Mid-Florida Conference regular season title, will be the No. 11 seed at the NJCAA National Tournament, which starts tomorrow.
CF will play No. 6 seed Butler Community College (48-2) at 4 p.m. MST (5 p.m. EST) in the 16-team double-elimination tournament in Yuma, Arizona.
The Patriots will be joined at the tournament by defending national champion Florida SouthWestern State College, who won three straight elimination games to claim the NJCAA South Atlantic District B Championship.
Meanwhile, the CF baseball team, which swept Tallahassee Community College in a Best-of-3 Ocala Regional to advance to Lakeland’s state tournament, advanced to the JUCO World Series by going 3-1 in the championship round at Joker Marchant Stadium, the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers (May 12-15).
The Patriots lost to Miami Dade College, 15-9, to force the “if necessary game” on Sunday, May 15.
“Honestly, I didn’t tell the team much at all (after the loss),” said COCF baseball coach Marty Smith, who was named the FCSAA Coach of the Year. “We hadn’t lost two in a row in several months so I just wanted to treat Sunday like any other day. I didn’t want to get them too uptight about anything more than they already possibly were after a loss and an upcoming winner take all game.”
Sam Swygert was named the Robert Perky Memorial Award for The Tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher.
The University of South Carolina transfer tossed six innings In relief in the championship game and allowed no runs on only four hits with just two walks and seven strikeouts to earn the win.
“Sam‘s effort was almost superhuman,” Smith said. “He hadn’t thrown more than two innings all year. We had one more pitcher available that had not thrown in the tournament so we just asked Sam how he felt every inning and he was good so we weren’t going to argue with him. It takes effort like that to win the tournament in the Florida state tournament.”
With the win, the Patriots advanced to their first World Series appearance since 1998.
Smith said the two weeks off will help his team get healthy for the World Series.
“We lost (Nicholas) Calero to food poisoning and cramping which caused a hamstring pull,” he said. “Carson Bayne (outfielder) re-injured his hammy, and Jon Marant‘s shoulder has to get better over the two-week period.”
Central Florida (46-15), which is ranked fourth nationally, has won 33 of its last 36 games entering this week’s national tournament.
“The 13-day layoff is always a concern but this team has stepped up over the last 40 games and really played well no matter what the circumstances,” Smith said.
The Patriots will play this Saturday at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colorado, against an opponent TBA.