State College of Florida baseball team starts new era with Tim Hill II

Manatees pin hopes on returning offense, new pitchers

jdill@bradenton.comJanuary 25, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Replacing a legendary head coach is no easy task.

But the State College of Florida's baseball program is making the transition as seamlessly as possible.

Why?

Because the Manatees aren't changing much after Tim Hill left for retirement. They're getting Tim Hill II, whose tenure as a longtime assistant and former SCF player makes the shift less challenging than usual when a hall of fame coach departs.

"It's been a little different," Hill II said. "Not having Seven (Hill) around all the time has been a little bit of an adjustment, but at the same time some things just still feel the same because he gave me so much responsibility anyway. I guess the biggest difference is the administrative stuff you've got to do. It's good, and I'm all excited about it. These guys are playing hard, and I think we've got a group this year."

The elder Hill retired after 31 seasons with a 1,109-494 record. His teams qual

ified for 17 consecutive state tournaments.

This year's SCF squad features a roster mainly of Floridians, and several of those players come from Manatee County. Former Manatee Hurricane standouts Bryan Voelkl, Chase Sandberg and Trevor Beeman join Lakewood Ranch's Andrew McNett and Brandon King and Braden River's Dalton Busby on the 2013 SCF Manatees.

The program's rich tradition and performance on the national stage, where the Manatees advanced to the JUCO World Series most recently in 2010, set up a wide recruiting base.

However, SCF's recruits locally first, and Hill II helped secure several area players during his time as an assistant alongside current assistant coach Barry Batson.

"There's some outstanding high school programs here," Hill II said. "Lakewood Ranch had a lot of success last year. (Manatee head coach) Dwayne (Strong) has really put Manatee on the map. ... Clyde Metcalf has been doing it forever at Sarasota and (Craig) Faulkner down at Venice. ... This area is great for baseball and anytime we can get the local kids, if we think they're going to help us, it's just great for me to be able to go recruiting five minutes from my house."

Hill II will be given a gauge as to what type of team he has in the beginning of the season. The Manatees open play on Friday in tournament action at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg.

What may not be up for debate is the offense needing big seasons from Orlando Rivera and Connor Hale.

Both players are coming off stellar 2012 campaigns.

Rivera hit .335 and scored 45 runs in 48 games last spring, when he was mainly positioned atop the order. He stole 27 bases in 32 attempts.

"Orlando, I think, is the key to our offense," Hill II said. "He makes us go."

Hale, who was usually plugged in the heart of the lineup, belted 15 extra-base hits and sported a .330 average.

Hale's successful freshman season contributed to something every junior college player vies for: either locking up a high position in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft or a future at a top-notch Division I college program.

He's heading to Baton Rouge, La., to play for LSU next season. It's a decision Hale said he's happy to have behind him entering his final year with SCF.

"I can't wait," Hale said about starting the season. "We're all ready. ... I feel like our offense and our defense, but mainly our pitching (is strong). We're stacked with our pitchers this year."

SCF's offense returns nearly every position player, except for shortstop. And Hill II said he feels the Manatees are deep on the mound.

Last season's club was plagued by injuries that ultimately took enough of a toll on the club that it struggled compared to the program's lofty annual expectations. The Manatees (33-17-1) finished runner-up in the Suncoast Conference and won one game before exiting with two consecutive losses at the state tournament.

But for the Manatees to avoid any setbacks this season, aside from staying healthy, they'll need Hale to excel.

"I think he's got the chance to have a player-of-the-year-type year," Hill II said. "He's got that kind of ability. We'll rely on him a lot."

Another key is SCF picking up nine Division I transfers, which Hill II said is unusual. The norm for the Manatees is to get three or four. However, SCF's strong tradition, and Hill II's recruiting background rein in players on a yearly basis that switch for a better chance at landing a spot with an MLB franchise.

And it's why this season, despite the program losing a hall of famer to retirement, shouldn't see a drop or miss a beat with yet another successful campaign.

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