Gators have big plans for next season
OMAHA, Neb. – Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan knew going into the season that his best chance to compete for the national title was in 2011. Though ultra-talented, the Gators seemed to have too much youth to be serious contenders.
The Gators, however, didn’t show much of that inexperience in the regular season on the way to a fantastic 22-8 conference record and an SEC title. O’Sullivan’s youngsters didn’t slow down in the first two rounds of the NCAA postseason, either. They made easy work of the Gainesville Regional with three straight wins to advance to the Gainesville Super Regional against Miami. There, the Gators had little trouble, disposing of the Hurricanes in two quick games.
Things were going so well for the Gators entering the College World Series. But in Omaha, on the grandest stage, Florida’s youth finally showed up.
First, it was an opening round 11-3 loss to UCLA. Then, in an elimination game on Monday, the Gators played a very uncharacteristic brand of baseball on the way to an 8-5 defeat to rival Florida State in an elimination game.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or what,” O’Sullivan said. “We obviously didn’t play the way we have all season long. We’re a much better pitching and defensive team than this. We just need to get better and improve.”
As the innings ticked away against the Seminoles, O’Sullivan stood mostly motionless against the railing in the dugout, shocked at what he was seeing. In one camera shot between innings, O’Sullivan and some of his players were seen shaking their heads.
The Gators were shocked. They didn’t do many things right in Omaha except show some fight in the ninth inning against the Seminoles to make it only a three-run loss.
“Anytime you come to your last game it is awfully hard,” O’Sullivan said. “The way we battled way back and put the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth was good. We’re disappointed. But we accomplished more than most teams this season.”
Although he’s disappointed with how the Gators finished the season, there’s a reason the manager cracked a smile in the postgame news conference.
O’Sullivan knows that brighter days are ahead. After all, that’s what he expected entering the season.
The Gators will enter next season with three returning starting pitchers in Alex Panteliodis, Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson. Also returning are six underclassman pitchers.
At the plate, the Gators welcome back seven of nine offensive starters, including third baseman Austin Maddox and first baseman Preston Tucker.
“I do like our team coming back,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to have some great leadership. It was well documented this season that we had a young team. And this also is a competitive team and something like this won’t sit well with them.”
The Gators head back to the Sunshine State with nothing to show for their trip to Omaha in the wins column. But the experience of going to the CWS is something the Gators won’t soon forget.
“Anything less than a national title is a disappointment,” Florida first baseman Preston Tucker said. “This was new for everyone on the team. So, next year, we’ll have more experience and a bit more confidence.”
A year older and wiser next season, the Gators will expect to win the national title.
“Coaches and players alike get the taste and you want to come back again,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re looking forward to maybe breaking in the new stadium.”