Baseball faces big challenge

As if the pre-conference schedule for the Rattler Baseball team (1-8 overall) had not been tough enough already, today’s game against the University of Florida (6-1 overall) has to be a battle against Goliath in the making

But the Gators, who come into today’s game ranked No. 1 nationally, are not looking past the struggling Rattlers.

“We have learned early this season that you have to come to play your best each inning of college baseball,” said John Hines, sports information director for UF baseball.

A 2-3 loss Feb. 12 to Mercer, the only team that FAMU has defeated this year, provided a wake up call to the Gator ball club.

The 2005 Southeastern Conference Champions followed that loss with a three-game sweep at No. 16 Miami last weekend. The Rattlers were also in Miami that weekend, but lost a doubleheader to Florida International University.

Still, Florida’s loss to Mercer should provide optimism for the Rattler squad, as the typically potent Gator offense was only able to squeeze out four hits in the defeat.

“The backbone of this year’s team is offense,” Hines said. “And if we are having a tough time getting our bats going, we are very likely to struggle.”

While the Rattlers have had a tough time finding consistency in the pitching game early on this season, the Gators’ pitching staff is also a question mark. The end of last season marked the departure of four key starters for the Gators. Take away sophomore Steven Locke, who is red shirting this season following a Tommy John elbow surgery this off-season, and there will be a Gator pitching rotation that lost 65 percent of its total innings pitched last year.

This provides an excellent opportunity for the Rattlers’ bats to come alive.

Rattler leadoff hitter Stanley Knat, who leads the team in runs scored this season, should be able to get on base early. Also, look for Corey McFadden, who is batting a team high .324 with six RBIs this season to provide a spark against an unproven Gator pitching staff. The sophomore shortstop from Tampa is third in the Rattler batting order. With junior Peter Guastella, who is batting .303 for the season, the Rattlers have a chance for success against the formidable Gators.

Offense will be key in winning Wednesday’s game. The Rattler defense will have to play a near-perfect game to limit the powerful Gator offense. Clean-Up hitter Matt LaPorta is the key man for the Gator offense. LaPorta finished last season with 26 home runs, the top in the nation. He also earned the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Award and was a First-Team All-American in 2005 as a catcher in 2005.

The Rattlers do have the benefit of playing the UF at home. Wednesday’s game takes place at Moore-Kittles field and begins at 6:30 pm. It will be a tough game for the Rattler ball club, but a win could jump-start the team’s season as the beginning of conference play approaches.

Contact Kenneth Whaley at