Liput a leadoff catalyst for Gators entering CWS

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Florida's Deacon Liput follows through on a swing during batting practice Friday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. Florida plays Texas Tech on Sunday in the NCAA College World Series. [Nati Harnik/Associated Press]

Florida junior shortstop Deacon Liput took in the blue skies and green grass during Friday’s open workout at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., before the start of the College World Series.

Liput’s third straight trip to Omaha has as special a meaning to him as his first two.

“This feeling never gets old,” Liput said by phone Friday. “Just being here and being able to step on this field is an honor.”

Liput has been the catalyst at the top of the Gator lineup this season, batting .291 with nine home runs, 37 RBIs and nine stolen bases from the leadoff spot.  He’s also adjusted to a new position, moving from second base to shortstop to replace slick-fielding Dalton Guthrie, who is now in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization.

Like Guthrie, Liput could have left the Gators to pursue pro baseball last June as a 21-year-old drafted sophomore after being taken in the 29th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would have been easy to walk away on top. Liput came up with a huge hit last year in UF’s national title clinching 6-1 win over LSU at the College World Series, a two-RBI single that put the Gators up 5-1 in the eighth inning.

Instead, Liput opted to return for his junior year at Florida. But Liput’s junior year got off to an inauspicious start. Due to a disciplinary situation that occurred last fall, Liput was suspended for UF’s first 14 games this season.

“It was really difficult to disappoint my family, my friends, my teammates, but to be taken away from the game like that is incredibly hard,” Liput said. “Not many kids my age have had that so I have a whole new level of appreciation for the game.

“I learned a lot. I learned that my actions off the field, they affect more than just me, including my school, my teammates, my coaches, my family, my friends and I’ve learned I need to make smarter decisions because it’s not just about me and I can’t be that selfish and make some of the decisions that I’ve made.”

Liput began the season hitting eighth when he returned to the field March 7 against UCF, but eventually moved up to the leadoff spot.

“The leadoff role is pretty important,” Liput said. “I think the biggest thing is in order to be a good leadoff hitter, you have to have a selfless mentality, and you have to realize that, especially your first at bat, is more for the team than it is for yourself and you let the team see the pitches that the other pitcher has got.”

With 27 walks and a .378 on base percentage, Liput knows how to work a count. But Liput also has the power to turn on a first-pitch fastball if a pitcher is looking to get ahead.

“I don’t want the pitcher to think that they can have an easy strike every single time they get to the plate for the first pitch of the game,” Liput said.

Liput is coming into the College World Series on a hot streak, having gone 5 for 14 with one double and one RBI in UF’s Super Regional series against Auburn.

“I’m really just staying within myself, not trying to do too much, and just go out and give myself a chance to stay on my legs and see the ball,” Liput said.

The Dodgers drafted Liput again earlier this month, this time taking him in the 10th round. As a result, Liput will likely be playing his final games in a Gator uniform this upcoming week in Omaha. Florida, which opens CWS play Sunday night against Texas Tech, is looking to become the first school since South Carolina in 2010-11 to win back-to-back national titles.

“Defending the national championship is something we’ve done all season so I don’t think that really puts any extra pressure on us or anything like that,” Liput said. “I mean, we’ve had a target on our back all season. We’re obviously really excited to get going and win another one.”


Sunday

What: College World Series

Who: Texas Tech (44-18) vs. Florida (47-19)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (Neb.)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

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