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Stetson well-armed in first NCAA Super Regional appearance

June 6, 2018
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FILE - In this June 1, 2018, file photo, Stetson players take the field during the NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Hartford, in DeLand, Fla. Stetson, the tiny Florida college that produced two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, is headed to the Super Regionals for the first time. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

Stetson’s recent claim to fame in baseball has been a two-time American League Cy Young winner and 2014 National League Rookie of the Year. But this year’s team is trying to change that.

The Hatters are in the NCAA Tournament’s Super Regional for the first time. The national No. 11 seed (48-11) will travel to sixth-seeded North Carolina (41-18) for the best-of-three series, which begins Friday, with a spot in the College World Series on the line.

“The buzz the past couple weeks around the program has been electric,” said coach Steve Trimper, in his second season. “This has been a great opportunity to go out there and prove we belong with some of the nation’s top programs.”

The smallest school remaining in the field is also the one with the most momentum. Stetson, which has 3,089 students and is located in central Florida, has the nation’s longest current winning streak at 18 games.

Stetson was 25-27 last season, but Tremper said there was a feeling things could turn around quickly. Brooks Wilson decided to come back for his senior season instead of going to Texas, which took him in the 22nd round of the MLB draft.

Wilson, a starting pitcher his first three seasons, said he came back because he wanted to complete his degree in business administration, but also because he saw the pieces of a strong team coming back.

The move paid off for both. Wilson switched to the closer’s role and became the team’s designated hitter. That has made him one of the nation’s top two-way players as he led the nation in saves with 20 and was the Atlantic Sun’s Player of the Year, batting .307 with 33 runs batted in. On Tuesday, he was drafted by the Braves in the seventh round.

“If Brooks did not come back, you and I wouldn’t be talking today,” Trimper said. “He is a great leader and that has carried through to the rest of the team.”

For a program that counts Indians ace Corey Kluber and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom as alumni, it is fitting the Hatters have a strong pitching staff. Three of their starters have more than 100 strikeouts for the second straight season, the first time that has happened since Rice did it in 2002-03.

Leading the way is Logan Gilbert, who on Monday became the highest-drafted player in program history when he went ninth overall to Seattle. The right-hander (11-1, 2.52 ERA) leads the nation with 169 strikeouts.

Kluber said he watched last Saturday’s 10-3 win over Oklahoma State because he had heard a lot about Gilbert. There are similarities: They both have great fastballs and an equally dominant second pitch in their slider.

Over the past two seasons Gilbert has put up Kluberesque numbers, going 21-1 with a 2.30 ERA and 264 strikeouts.

Gilbert said despite the increasing attention around the program, his teammates have been taking everything in stride.

“We are pretty loose, which is good to see. You would kind of expect it to be the opposite with more expectations, but we’ve been pretty laid back,” he said.

Junior Jack Perkins, taken in the 11th round by the Phillies, is more of a workhorse right-hander who uses his offspeed pitches to keep hitters guessing. The junior is tied with Gilbert for the team lead in wins, going 11-2 with a 2.34 ERA.

Left-hander Mitchell Senger, who could get the call if it goes to a third game Sunday, also has a lively fastball and likes to work quickly.

The offense has also started to come around. They are batting .277 during the winning streak, 22 points higher than their season average.

The middle of the order — center fielder Jacob Koos, Wilson, first baseman Eric Foggo, shortstop Jorge Arenas and third baseman Jonathan Meola — combined to go 25 for 73 with 16 RBIs in regional play.

“I think we have been more aggressive early in finding the right pitches and that has made everyone more comfortable in their approach at the plate,” Wilson said.

Stetson is hoping this year’s run can spur success in future years, and that his program can be on the same level as Coastal Carolina, which won the College World Series two years ago, and Cal State Fullerton.

“We definitely have seen an uptick in recruiting,” Trimper said. “We have good facilities, a great location and a tough schedule. I feel like this can keep us in the national forefront.”

Kluber said his only regret is that he wishes this run could have happened while he was there.

“But it’s fun to watch,” he added. “I think it’s an exciting time for the program.”

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Steve Herrick in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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