West Florida

CARY, N.C. ---- Mike Jeffcoat has a special connection to West Florida, a connection that goes beyond simply being the head coach of the baseball team.

Jeffcoat is a former reliever who shined for the Argonauts in 1990 and 1991 after transferring from Chipola Junior College. He was part of a two-year run in which West Florida won 79 games and a pitching staff that led the Southern States Conference in ERA.

As impressive as the win total was, none of those victories resulted in a national championship.

But here on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, 20 years after Jeffcoat wrapped up his college career, the Argonauts were national champions for the first time in program history.

They had defeated Winona State 12-2 and Jeffcoat stood back and watched his players jump around the field like children at a party, passing around the championship trophy they had worked their tails off to earn.

He talked after the game about what it meant to win the title. It was tough for him to put that meaning into words. In fact, there was a point during the press conference where he became overwhelmed with tears of joy.

“To be able to put on the uniform of this school as a player and then, as a coach, take this program somewhere it has never been is great. The feeling of it is hard to describe,” Jeffcoat said. “I may never win another one but this is a great accomplishment. I want to savor it. You always want to make the team better every year, and we took it to another level this season.”

Jeffcoat was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals after graduation and played minor league baseball before joining the West Florida coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1993. He would end up coaching at Alabama Southern Community College before becoming an assistant with the Argonauts in 2000.

Five years later, he was named the head coach and the rest is history. Jeffcoat has won more than 100 games and has led West Florida to three appearances in the NCAA tournament.

This season has been the most remarkable. West Florida finished the year 52-9. The Argonauts entered the national tournament in Cary as the No. 4 team in the country, but earlier this year, they rose to No. 1 for the first time in school history.

Jeffcoat isn’t surprised the season ended with a title. He knew when the season began in February that the Argonauts had a chance to make history.

“I knew we had a special team when the season started,” Jeffcoat said. “These guys were very close and all pushed each other to be the best. We started off the year very well, executing on all cylinders, and we gained a lot of confidence from our strong start.”

The fact that this team was poised to make a title run isn’t a surprise. Jeffcoat learned all about building a championship team while working as an assistant at West Florida.

“I’ve been here since 2000, so I learned all about evaluating talent and gaining an understanding of what it takes to compete at the Division II level,” Jeffcoat said. “You write down your plan for success on paper and try to set things up to work out. It all came together this year.”

Taye Larry helped bring it together. The junior lead-off hitter finished with three hits against Winona State and came into the national final batting .298 with 33 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. Larry was glad he could help deliver a title to Jeffcoat.

“It feels great,” Larry said. “Coach Jeffcoat is such a great guy and great mentor. He has taught us so much. To be able to give back to him after he has given us so many opportunities is awesome.”

The bar has certainly been raised for the Argonauts. They will likely be one of the better teams in the nation heading into next season and should contend for another title.

But Jeffcoat didn’t want to think about next season just yet. He wants to enjoy this title for awhile and wants his players to enjoy it as well.

“It’s just an amazing moment for West Florida baseball,” Jeffcoat said. “As a coach, you work hard and you wonder sometimes if anyone is ever going to see the fruits of your labor. I am so proud of this team. They stuck with it and believed in what we were selling. Words can’t describe what it means to win this title.”

No words are really needed. The national championship trophy that his players raised on a warm June afternoon speaks for itself.