Baseball team finishes high in A-Sun Tournament; Rhodes completes final season

Spinnaker

UNF baseball’s season has come to an end this year, finally obtaining full Division I status, after a four-year reclassification period, and claiming the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.

The team’s regular season ended 30-28 overall, allowing it to defeat some high caliber teams such as University of Central Florida, Jacksonville University and Florida State, while making its way to its first Division I postseason– winning out 14-12.

Senior pitcher Michael Kelly expressed his gratitude for this achievement.

“It’s something that no other team can say,” Kelly said. “We were the first team eligible [at UNF] for postseason play in Division I, that’s something that means a lot to all of us guys; especially for us seniors.”

Justin Preckjlo, who was named second-team all conference this year, said he knew the Ospreys readied themselves for Division-I play when they beat Florida Gulf Coast, who were ranked 28 in the country at the time.

“That’s when we realized that this is what UNF can be,” Preckjlo said. “To be able to say that I was on this team and that we had the first win for game one in UNF’s history in conference play; that’s pretty big, and I will always be associated with [UNF].”

Kelly agreed, recognizing that UNF beat some good teams during regular season play, but “to beat a team in postseason play in the conference tournament – that’s pretty surreal.”

Next year, the Ospreys will undergo some imminent changes. Hall of Fame head coach Dusty Rhodes, who’s been with the Ospreys for 25 years, will retire after this season. However, Rhodes was reluctant to leave his mark after nearly a decade of trying to get the Ospreys into Division-I play.

“I thought we should have done it ten years ago, but at that time, the administration didn’t think so,” Rhodes said. “Then, when John Delaney got here, he made that decision. … We are going in the right direction not only for the students, but for the athletes at [UNF].”

Kelly’s response to Rhodes’ retirement may be regarded as bittersweet.

“All of us seniors [and Rhodes] are going out together,” Kelly said. “He has left his legacy, and the program is going to continue to move forward. I’m confident in that.”

As Kelly mentioned, a lot of the team’s seniors are leaving – albeit, this only presents an opportunity for the next troupe of talent to step up.

Preckjlo is particularly confident about the Ospreys’ chances next season, even with the seniors and Rhodes leaving.

“A lot of the juniors are going to step-up this next year,” Preckjlo said. “We were fourth this year in the seeding going into conference play; if we’re less than second [next year], I’d be surprised. I’d be very surprised if we aren’t in the top two going into post season.”

Looking further down the road, Preckjlo conceded within two years the Ospreys could play in the super regionals and then on to the NCAA Men’s College World Series from there.

Raymond “Smoke” Laval will be taking the reigns as head coach next year with considerable praise from Rhodes and the other players.

Additional mentions of the team’s success include senior Preston Hale being tabbed First Team Academic All-American and the Ospreys gaining the program’s 900th win.