The Florida Gators (47-16) earned the No. 4 overall and with that came the right to host a Regional and potentially a Super Regional. The Gators took care of business, sweeping the Gainesville Regional and will now host the Florida State Seminoles (44-19) this weekend with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska on the line.
How did Florida get here? The Gators are a team that has relied heavily on freshmen and their deep pitching staff but freshmen can go through ups and downs as they play the longest season of their lives and Florida’s pitching staff — which may be the best and deepest in the country — has been gone through some rough patches.
Baseball is the only sport where you can fail offensively seven out of 10 times and be considered very successful at what you do. The Gator bats have gone through stretches where they couldn’t buy a hit, specifically on Friday nights, which is the main reason Logan Shore’s 8-6 record doesn’t truly reflect how well he’s pitched this season.
Baseball is full of ups and downs, pitchers and batters know that there are so many variables that they can’t control they need to focus on controlling what they can and that has been defense.
“That’s the biggest thing we focus on in practice,” shortstop Richie Martin said. “Once we start today, we’re going to stretch, throw and the first thing we’re going to do is take ground balls. We’ve been doing that all year and it’s been working, so we’re going to keep going. Pitching and defense is the most important part of the game.”
Florida committed 62 (.975 fielding percentage) in 2014. Martin was the biggest culprit, committing 21 errors (.930 fld%) at shortstop in 2014. Martin — who will likely be drafted in the early rounds of the MLB Rule 5 Amateur Draft later this month– is considered to be a solid defender. Scouts rave about his “baseball actions,” meaning how he looks in the field, his approach to the ball and how smooth he is fielding, transitioning and throwing.
Martin cut that number down drastically this season, committing just eight errors (.973 fld%). Martin makes the difficult play look routine and can make the impossible plays look possible.
He hasn’t been alone. As a team the Gators have committed just 35 errors in 2015. That .985 fielding percentage is not only an improvement from a season ago but it leads the country.
“They pound defense into us. That’s the main thing. Defense is the most important thing that we work on,” senior third baseman Josh Tobias said. “We don’t make errors unless there’s a mistake in our game. Defense and pitching wins championships, and that’s what we focus on the most.”
Tobias was the gold standard this season. The senior went into the final weekend of the season without an error on his résumé. Tobias did make one error in the final series but has been a brick wall over at the hot corner for Florida.
In a sport where there is only so much that you can control, Florida has made a point to master the one thing that they can always control — defense.
If defense wins championships, the University of Florida might have something else to celebrate soon.