The Florida A&M Rattlers learned today that they were selected to play in the Gainesville Regional against the University of Florida Gators on Friday. The Rattlers and Gators are familiar foes, as annually FAMU makes the trek to Central Florida to take on the Gators after winning the SWAC Baseball Tournament.
It is not without some success that an HBCU faces the juggernaut. In 2014, the Rattlers got their lone win, a 4-3 nailbiter, against the Gators at Condron Family Ballpark. Additionally, a feisty B-CU baseball team defeated the Gators in the NCAA Regional in a game before the Gators exacted their revenge in the finals of the regional championship before going on to win the national championship in 2017.
With this conference championship, several FAMU baseball records and a SWAC record were broken. The Rattlers become the first team to win the SWAC Baseball Championship after first being a member of the MEAC. FAMU players Jared Weber and Zach Morea, the SWAC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, are the first two players ever to win both a MEAC baseball championship and a SWAC one. FAMU head coach Jamey Shouppe becomes the first coach to navigate the same team to both a MEAC and SWAC title.
Shouppe is familiar with NCAA Regionals
Shouppe became the head coach for FAMU in 2013, playing his first season in 2014. With the 2020 season a wash because of covid, he has coached nine years at FAMU and won three conference titles. Oddly enough, they are evenly spread. He won every fourth year starting with 2015, then 2019, and now 2023.
Prior to coming to FAMU, he was an assistant coach at Florida State University. During that time he experienced 21 NCAA Baseball Regionals and went several times all the way to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha.
“They (conference championships) are all special. You see the experience the kids have,” Shouppe said. “ I am on the back end of my career and not trying to progress my personal career, now it’s about seeing the young men being happy and being excited about an experience that not many kids get in the college game of baseball. It warms my heart to see these guys get so excited about the opportunity…80% of the country is not playing college baseball right now.”
Weber and Morea are both excited to have the opportunity to experience both the MEAC and the SWAC. Like Shouppe, they all feel that the SWAC is a much deeper and tougher baseball conference that requires a team to be performing at peak performance to win a championship.
“It’s great to come in and win it as a freshman. We really got to see how much work it takes to get to a championship. Not just to get there but to win it in a tougher conference,” Weber said.
Morea echoed those sentiments. “Being a freshman and getting that ring right out of high school was amazing. Getting another one as a fifth-year (player), and the extra year we got because of covid, getting a SWAC Championship is one of the best feelings.”
The Rattlers started the season relying on the arm of ace pitcher Hunter Viets. Somewhere during the season, the bats woke up to record-breaking proportions. Sebastian Greico distinguished himself as the FAMU single-season home run leader with 17. Three other Rattlers Janmikell Bastardo (12), Ty Hanchey (10), and Weber (10) all finished with double-digit homers. This alone displays the balanced hitting the Rattlers had throughout their lineup.
FAMU VP/AD Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, who jumped the fence to run on the field and celebrate at Georgia Tech baseball field, is expecting the Rattlers to continue striking. “ I’m expecting a win. I want to keep playing some more baseball as long as we can on the road to Omaha. It all started at the beginning of the season and that’s what the guys have been talking about all year,” Sykes said. “We’ve won conference tournaments in the SIAC, we’ve won them in the MEAC and now we’ve won one in the SWAC. FAMU baseball can play with anybody, anywhere, and win.