NEWARK, NJ - It's been a few years since former Gov. Livingston baseball standout and current University of North Florida's senior catcher Keith Skinner (Gov. Livingston 2012, Berkeley Heights) has had a chance to play in New Jersey before his family and friends, but this past week Skinner made the most of a rare homecoming opportunity when UNF Ospreys visited NJIT for a regular season ending 3 game series. 

Skinner, who is having an outstanding senior season, pounded out 6 hits in 12 trips to the plate (.500, 4 RBI)  much  to the delight of the large contingent of family and friends who were on hand to watch the Ospreys sweep the three game series played at Bears Riverfront Stadium in Newark. The six hits Skinner collected in the series raised his season batting average to .395 which has him currently ranked 15th in the nation this season (NCAA, DI).  

Skinner's outstanding play this year has not gone unnoticed as he was recently named as one of the 15 semifinalists for the prestigious Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's top catcher each year. 

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The homecoming for Keith and the Skinner family began on Wednesday night as Nancy and John Skinner hosted the entire UNF baseball team and coaching staff for dinner at their home in Berkeley Heights. It was at this homecoming dinner with all his teammates and coaches that he learned that he was named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, and was able to share the exciting news with his parents.

The distinguished Johnny Bench Award criteria calls for all nominees to have been the starting catcher for their team in 75 percent of their games and is based on athletic ability, sportsmanship, team leadership, and character. Ironman Skinner has started all but one of the Ospreys games this season behind the plate and has thrown out 15 runners stealing and has not committed an error in 388 chances.

His .395 batting average  leads the Atlantic Sun Conference and his .481 on base percentage is 29th highest in the nation. Finalist for the award will be named on June 3 with the winner being named during the College World Series. Skinner has also been named a unamious first team Atlantic Sun All-Conference selection.

The three game series with NJIT was played in just two days with day games on Thursday and Friday (2) due to possible poor weather moving Saturday's game to a Friday doubleheader. Unfortunately for NJIT the Ospreys pummeled them over the three games, outscoring the Highlanders 37 to 4 over the three games. The sweep enabled UNF to secure sole possession second place in the conference as they headed back home.

While at Gov. Livingston, Skinner was an All-State selection and left GL as the all-time leader in career hits (117) and a school record of .564 average as a junior. He was a member of the 2011 Group II NJ State championship team playing under Coach Chris Roof. Roof, who was able to get out to Bears Riverfront Stadium to catch Skinner in action had this to say about his former player, "I can't be any prouder of Keith both to where he's gotten as a baseball player, but more importantly as a young adult. I was very impressed and proud when I recently watched him play. And the fact that he's on the Johnny Bench list is a credit to how hard he works at the game both offensively and defensively."

"After meeting and talking with his coach (North Florida, Smoke Laval), he shared with me how in two quick years there how Keith has become the leader of the team," said Roof. "I hope our current Highlanders that aspire to play in college take a page out of Keith's book."
 
After their big weekend in New Jersey, the Ospreys record stands at 37-17 as they head to Nashville as the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Championship to face No.5 Florida Gulf Coast in the opening round. The winner of the double elimination Conference Tournament will be awarded an automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA baseball tournament.

Catch Skinner in action as each game of the tournament will be live on ESPN3.