The Florida Gators (50-18) finished their season in disappointing fashion with a loss to the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday at the College World Series.
The Gators entered the 2015 World Series riding high on a 9-game winning streak and extended it to 10 with a dominant win over the Miami Hurricanes but Florida couldn’t figure out Virginia pitchers Brandon Waddell or Josh Sborz. In two games Waddell threw 12 innings, allowed eight hits, four runs (3.00 ERA), walked six and struck out eight. Sborz pitched six innings, giving up just three hits, one walk and struck out two without giving up an earned run.
The goal was to win a National Championship, the first in school history, and while the Gators fell short of that ultimate goal this season was successful on many other levels.
1. The Gators met expectations in 2015
Florida arrived a year early in 2014. The Gators were young and were thought to be a year away before winning the SEC regular season. That season ended unceremoniously with an 0-2 showing in a regional, but Florida was poised for a run in 2015.
Expectations both outside and within were high and even though Florida won’t be the last team to win a baseball game this season, Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his ball club have a lot to be proud of and plenty to show for their efforts.
The Gators won 50 ball games, the SEC Tournament and were one of the final four teams playing baseball this year. They won’t win a championship but they might have been the best baseball team in the country this year from top to bottom, pitching defense and offense.
“No crying in baseball,” junior outfielder Harrison Bader said on Saturday night. “I just want to go on record and say there’s just so much that kids have poured into this program outside of what you see on the field.”
2. Two seniors go out in style
Florida had just two seniors in Josh Tobias and Bobby Poyner.
Josh Tobias came to Florida as a switch hitter but didn’t hit from both sides of the plate until this season. To see a kid not switch hit for three years, only to give it a shot as a senior and lead the team in batting (.355) is impressive. Not only did Tobias lead the team in batting but he was sensational in the field. Tobias made one error in 141 chances this past year at third base. That is remarkable.
Bobby Poyner made 26 appearances this season — third on the team — and his 2.56 ERA was third best on the ball club. Poyner started the season off hot as Logan Shore’s backup on Friday night. He finished his final season in Gainesville with a 5-2 record and four saves.
Congratulations to both seniors on going out with their best seasons in Orange and Blue.
3. They’re not freshmen anymore
The Florida Gators leaves heavily on their freshmen class and the youngsters didn’t disappoint.
JJ Schwarz was named the SEC Freshman of the year after hitting .332 with 85 hits, 16 doubles, 18 home runs and an SEC-leading 73 RBI. Schwarz turned it on towards the end of the season but you can’t forget his four-home run game against Stetson, part of a seven home run week.
Mike Rivera looked like anything but a freshman behind the plate. Rivera could be heard barking at pitchers and umpires, firing the ball all over the diamond and he was a brick wall behind the dish. Rivera never looked like a freshman behind the plate and his clutch hitting helped Florida throughout the year, including a home run that sent the Gators to the SEC Championship.
Dalton Guthrie leadoff most of the season and started every game but one due to an injury. He was solid in the field and will be a rock in the middle of the infield and top of the order for years to come.
Jeremy Vasquez, Christian Hicks and Taylor Lane will all be solid players for Florida, with Vasquez showing how talented of a hitter he is this season, while Hicks and Lane will be brought on a little slower.
Alex Faedo earned the Sunday starter job this year and helped Florida beat Virginia on Friday night. Faedo will be in the mix with Dane Dunning for the third starter job next season.
The freshman class was a huge part of how successful Florida was this season and they’ll continue to lead the team as sophomores next season.
4. Best pitching staff in the country?
Florida will likely lose a lot of pitching moving into next season. Eric Hanhold, Danny Young, Taylor Lewis, Bobby Poyner, Mike Vinson and Aaron Rhodes are all likely to sign professional contracts, but what Florida has coming back is impressive.
Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Alex Faedo and Dane Dunning will make up the rotation next season. Shore has been the Friday night guy for two seasons, Puk looked like a potential No. 1 overall pick in the last month of the season, Dunning and Faedo were both lights out at points of the season.
Kevin O’Sullivan would line those four pitchers up against any four in the country and feel good about his odds.
In the bullpen, Florida will still return Kirby Snead, Shaun Anderson, Brett Morales, Scott Moss, Tyler Deel, Logan Browning and Frank Rubio.
5. They’ll be back and they’ll be better
Thanks to the recruiting efforts of Kevin O’Sullivan and his staff, Florida is poised to make a run like they did in 2010-12.
The Gators have talented bats from top to bottom, a formidable pitching rotation and staff and the experience of making it To Omaha under their belts.
The Gators will be back in a big way in 2016.