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Baseball returns postseason-tested roster for 2017 campaign

(Photo courtesy of Linwood Ferguson)

Entering the 2017 season following its first ever ASUN Championship game appearance last season, the FGCU baseball team kicks off the new campaign with a four-game weekend series against Sacred Heart from Feb. 17 to 19 at Swanson Stadium.

Returning all but three seniors from last season, the Eagles will face off against eight 2016 NCAA Tournament teams 22 times throughout the campaign.

Six of the eight 2016 NCAA Tournament teams were either the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their respective NCAA Tournament Regional fields. While Ohio State, UNC Wilmington and FAU entered the Big Dance as No. 2 seeds, Florida, Miami and FSU hosted and were the top seed in their regional tournaments.

“We’ve, once again, put together one of the tougher schedules in the region, if not the country,” FGCU head coach Dave Tollett said. “These are the caliber of teams we are going to be playing if where we set out to be at the end of the season. It’s a challenging schedule, particularly during March, but it also presents us with a great deal of opportunity. I know the guys are especially excited to get the season started in front of our home fans this year.”

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Twenty-six of FGCU’s first 30 games will be played in Southwest Florida, with 24 games scheduled to be played at Swanson Stadium and two games slated to be played against Florida and FSU at JetBlue Park.

Opposed to the first half of the season, the Eagles will spend the bulk of the final half of the season on the road with 19 of its 26 final games at away venues, kicking off with a two-game set at FSU on Tuesday, April 4 and Wednesday, April 5.

Selected to finish fourth in this season’s ASUN Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Eagles went 27-32 last season, finishing fifth in the 2016 ASUN regular-season standings.

Playing half the season without 2015 All-American Jake Rivera, the Eagles welcome Rivera back to an experienced roster that reached the ASUN Tournament for the first time in program history last season.

Tabbed an ASUN Baseball Preseason All-Conference team member for the third straight season, Rivera played all but 17 games due to an injured wrist. Before missing the second half of the season, the Cape Coral native was locked in at the plate, going 13-35 from the plate and hitting two home runs and six RBIs in a ten-game span.

“Nick has probably been through more in his career than any player I’ve ever coached, but he hasn’t let those obstacles deter him whatsoever,” Tollett said. “He’s an invaluable leader of our team both on and off the field, and I know he’s itching to get back out there after missing most of last season.”

Entering his final season at FGCU, Rivera has the program record for career doubles with 63 and ranks in the top 10 in program history in games played (187), games started (182), hits (215), home runs (26), RBIs (160), runs scored (126), total bases (360) and walks (120).

With the hopes to finish in the top-six of the conference regular season standings, the Eagles look to compete in the ASUN Championship hosted by Stetson from Wednesday, May 24 through Saturday, May 27 and win the program’s first-ever ASUN Tournament Championship.

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