Last season, the Florida Gators stumbled their way through the tail end of the season, losing four of their final six conference games before a one-and-done in the SEC tournament and a two-game exit in the Indiana regional.
It was a long plane ride home for the 2013 team but not something that the team has talked about or let linger in the locker room this season.
“We really haven’t talked a whole lot about last year,” Kevin O’Sullivan said on Thursday. “There’s been so many positive things that have happened to this team this year and we really haven’t talked a whole lot about it. I think the focus has been just on trying to get through the regular season.”
Getting through the regular season was no easy task. Florida played 51 games this season against teams ranked inside the top-100 in RPI. Before the season began, O’Sullivan joked about the difficulty of the schedule saying, “I don’t know who makes this schedule,” (he does). Florida navigated their way through the tough slate of games, finishing with 40 wins and an SEC Championship. O’Sullivan has fielded some pretty good baseball teams in his seven years at Florida but this team holds a special place in his mind.
“To bounce back from last year, to have so many different guys contribute and so many different guys lend a hand and accomplish the goal of winning the SEC,” he said. “Just the way they played in Hoover; I was really, really pleased with the way they played, they didn’t take anything for granted.”
“For me personally, it’s been extremely gratifying. I feel good about this team, obviously we’ve gotta win. We gotta play well this weekend but up to this point I feel as good about this team as I have about any others.”
Consistency is what lacked last year. Anytime the team would put together a good string of wins, a losing streak was soon to follow. This season, Florida has played consistently from start to finish. Consistency is something Harrison Bader — who missed the first 19 games due to a suspension — has brought to the team, starting every game in center field since returning.
“Consistency is the most important thing,” said Bader. “Especially in times like this in the regionals and when you get into playoff play and everything; all the teams are good. There are no breaks at any time and at the end of the day if you want to win the whole thing you have to win game-by-game.”
Bader’s impact is irrefutable. The day he returned all you had to do was look at the Florida lineup on paper to see a difference. Sure, in theory, it was just one bat in a lineup. In reality, however, it was so much more. Bader brought an every day presence in centerfield and consistency at the plate. Bader took over the team lead in batting average after a 10-18 performance in Hoover. He’s been swinging a hot bat of late, something he will admit to, but Bader bats away talk that would elevate himself above his team.
“It’s just part of the game, it just sort of comes and goes,” Bader said of his hot streak. “Right now I’m seeing the ball good, just trying to take my singles, listen to the coaches and just stay with my same approach. Hopefully I carry that into the weekend.”
Friday night starter
Logan Shore will toe the rubber when Florida opens up regional play on Friday night, a move Kevin O’Sullivan didn’t even give much thought to once the regional brackets were released.
“To be honest with you not a whole lot went into it,” O’Sullivan said of the decision to go with his ace against the fourth seeded Cougars. “When we saw College of Charleston pop up on the screen I figured we were going to end up throwing him. They’re a really good opponent, they won 41 games. I know enough about their roster by seeing them as far as recruiting and seeing these players and looking at their number and knowing how quality their coaching staff is, I just figured, didn’t really put a whole lot of thought into it other than we’re going to throw Logan.”
Shore was named a 3rd team All-American after posting a 7-3 record and1.99 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts) this season.