The college baseball season is long; 56 regular season games, followed by a conference tournament and then, if you’re good enough, the NCAA Tournament.
When the Florida Gators (47-16) take the field on Friday night, hosting Florida State (44-19) in a Super Regional they will play their 64th game of the season. Along the way the Gators have played great baseball as well as frustrating baseball. They’ve run the gamut of emotions since play began in February but they seem to be peaking at just the right time.
“I think we’ve got a chance to play really well in the postseason. I said that before when we started playing before we got into last weekend,” manager Kevin O’Sullivan said. “If we played up to our capability and if we don’t get in our own way — I think that’s the term I used last week — I think we have a chance.”
And they do.
In February the Gators — to a man — all stated that the only goal in 2015 was to get to Omaha. They’re two games away from that now and have use the arduous season to find an identity. It may have taken all the way until a May series against Vanderbilt for the flip to switch and the light to turn on, but it’s better to play your best at the end of the season, rather than the beginning. It is, after all, not how you start but how you finish.
“I think we’re getting to a point now where we know exactly who we are, how to go about our business and playing at a level where, really, we’re not really focused on anyone else in the other dugout, the fans, whatever it may be,” junior outfielder Harrison Bader said. “Anything else that might have affected us a little bit prior to really this point in the season, I think that we’ve conquered that as a club.”
The defense has been there all season. Florida is also hitting .298 as a team — third best in the SEC, 29th in the country and fourth best among the 16 teams still playing.
The biggest change that has helped the Gators turn it on the past few weeks has been their starting pitching, specifically sophomore A.J. Puk. Puk has been lights out over his last five starts (30.1 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 48 K, 1.19 ERA) but he isn’t doing it by himself. After seeing his win/loss total fall to 6-6, Logan Shore has won his next two starts (12.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1.42 ERA), returning to the form that earned him Freshman of the Year honors in 2014 and the bullpen staff has been incredible led by Bobby Poyner, Kirby Snead and Taylor Lewis.
“We were a little inconsistent on the mound,” O’Sullivan said referencing earlier in the season. “But I think A.J. Puk’s emergence and the way he’s been throwing the ball, and I think Shore has really gotten back to his freshman form. Our bullpen has been solidified and Alex Faedo threw great obviously this weekend. I just think a lot of pieces have kind of come together for us.”
The Gators are two games away from a berth in the College World Series. With just two wins separating them and the goal of every collegiate baseball team in the country, they feel confident in riding with the players that brought them to this point. O’Sullivan won’t mess with the pitching rotation — Shore will get the start Friday, followed by Puk on Saturday and freshman Alex Faedo on Sunday (if necessary).
“Logan’s been lights out ever since he stepped on campus. And A.J. has been dominant also,” said junior shortstop Richie Martin. “I’ve never seen A.J. throw the ball like he has. So if he can come out with that, I think we’ll have a pretty good chance of winning. We just have to do our thing defensively and score some runs for him and I think we’ll be fine.”
They say you dance with the one that brought you, and Kevin O’Sullivan plans on doing just that this weekend.