Off the Wall With FGCU's Eli Lovell
Florida Gulf Coast was one of last season’s biggest early-season surprises, as the Eagles raced out to a 24-3 start and climbed as high as No. 11 in the Top 25. FGCU has this season flown a little more under the radar, but again put together a strong first half and is 24-7.
FGCU has won 11 of its last 13 games going into a key Atlantic Sun Conference series this weekend at Jacksonville. FGCU and Jacksonville are two of three A-Sun teams with top 40 RPIs (Stetson is the third) and they were the top two teams in the conference last season. Jacksonville upset FGCU in the regular season a year ago, ending the Eagles’ hot streak. FGCU got revenge in the conference tournament, beating Jacksonville twice to claim the championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a Division I program.
FGCU doesn’t have the marquee series wins it compiled last season, but it has shown it has a powerful offense. Eight regulars in the lineup are hitting better than .300 and the Eagles are averaging 7.65 runs per game.
Outfielder Eli Lovell has been a key piece of that lineup since transferring from Kansas City Kansas JC and this season is hitting .314/.403/.419. Baseball America caught up with the senior to talk about FGCU’s start, making history last season and Chipotle.
You guys are off to another strong start this season. What’s been the key?
“The key for us is just us playing our game. Coming out and playing hard and basically not beating ourselves. We feel we’re a very good team and we can play with anyone in the nation. It’s just a matter of us coming out and playing our game.”
This weekend you play Jacksonville in a rematch of last season’s A-Sun Tournament championship game. You guys had some spirited games with them last year. What are you expecting from this series?
“It’s two programs that honestly don’t really care for each other too much. But two very talented programs too. It’s going to be a fun weekend. I know they haven’t forgotten what happened last year – we sent them home. It’s going to be an intense weekend. It’s going to be a fun weekend. It’ll be a good challenge for both teams this early into conference play. It’ll be a good series for sure.”
Last season FGCU advanced to regionals for the first time since moving up to Division I. What was it like being a part of that?
“Being a part of last year’s team, words really can’t describe the run we had. The ups and downs throughout the season. We started 24-3 and we had to suffer too. We ended up having a pretty rough second half but figured it out at the end to make a little bit of a run. With that group of guys, it was crazy, it was a good time and it definitely laid a foundation for where we want FGCU baseball to be every single year.”
What was the biggest adjustment for you moving from junior college to Division I?
“The biggest adjustment was the intensity level. Junior college was a little bit more laid back. Here, every game counts. Our goal this year and our goal last year was to make it to a regional. Every day you’ve got to be locked in because that team that you’re playing that day is standing in the way of your goal. It’s just a different ballgame.”
You’re a Nebraska native and one of the few players on this team who isn’t from Florida. How did you end up picking FGCU?
“Honestly, coming out of junior college, I just wanted to play in warmer weather. I was done playing in the snow and scooping snow from our field at juco. I was done with it. So, when Florida Gulf Coast came calling, (former recruiting coordinator) Rusty McKee came calling, and I came down for a visit and saw the type of schedule they played and the teams they played, I knew I wanted to come here. Once I met the guys, everyone down here welcomed me with open arms. It was great. The guys on last year’s team were brothers from Day 1 and we’re just looking to carry it on. These are my brothers this year and we’re just looking to do what we did last year here.”
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Who is the toughest pitcher you’ve faced in your career?
“I would have to go with (Stetson righthander) Logan Gilbert. I faced some good arms in juco who are in the minors now, but Gilbert last year, he gave it to us pretty good. And obviously you know what he’s done this year and what he did in the summer. He’s definitely one of the top arms in this conference and the nation.”
What is your walk-up song and why did you choose it?
“This year, it’s ’Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy.’ Honestly, I’m from Nebraska and I’m a bit of a country dude and that song sounds good coming out of the speakers. It gets me right when I’m going up to the plate.”
What’s your go-to order at Chipotle?
“I would go with a bowl with double chicken, white rice and pinto beans. Mild and medium sauce, sour cream, extra cheese and a little guac. And a tortilla on the side for sure.”
What is your favorite part of playing at FGCU?
“My favorite part is the blue-collar tradition that coach Tollett has kind of shaped this program as. Every day we come to work and – don’t get me wrong, we’re blessed with some great facilities and a great field – but by no means are we handed things. And I think that’s a chip on our shoulder when we go play the bigger schools. It’s fun to beat those schools that get all the cleats, everything they could ever ask for. The blue-collar effort and the blue-collar work that we put in, that’s probably my favorite thing. Every day we come to work no matter if it’s last year when we were nationally ranked or this year when we’re just starting to make a little noise. We’re going to come to work and we’re going to play our best game against everyone.”