Since losing the opening game of the SEC Tournament three weeks ago, the Florida Gators baseball team has been on a tear. The Gators have reeled off nine straight wins, winning the SEC Tournament, sweeping the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional on their way to the College World Series.
There is no hotter team in the country than Kevin O’Sullivan’s boys and they will begin their quest for a National Championship this Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes in prime time (8 pm).
Across the street in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators football team have been hosting prospects from around the country, as recruiting heats up for the summer.
Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre cover both topics thoroughly, as well as look back at the Florida Gators back-to-back softball National Champions in this week’s podcast.
Nick: What’s going on Gator Country? Your boys Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey back with another podcast. I guess Andrew we can call this the championship edition?
Andrew: Championship edition or the repeat edition or however you want to give it, I mean, you know, props are in order for myself because you still haven’t gotten a ring yet, buddy.
Nick: I’m sorry, I didn’t know that Tim Walton sent you a ring last year or that you were on the list this year.
Andrew: Oh, yeah, yeah, I mean, you know a lot of people don’t know that, but we have that kind of relationship where rings are sliding on, you know, and I’m waiting on that next one here.
Nick: Alright, so Andrew Spivey: national championship ring bearer.
Andrew: That is correct, that is correct. Now, all honesty though, it was a great year for softball, was very fun to cover from February to…well, I guess it was…the late May, early June, so it was a great season, 60 wins on the year. You know, I think you and I talked about this at the beginning of the season that I felt this was going to be a team that was going to repeat, and you know, that wasn’t me being biased, that wasn’t me being a homer, that wasn’t me being anything except for…Florida was the best team in the country and I think they showed that throughout the tournament, throughout the regular season and that’s why they’re national champions. Tim Walton’s built a powerhouse program. You keep calling it the UConn women’s basketball program of softball and you’re exactly right, I mean, not to get ahead of ourselves but you look to next year and…they’re going to be pretty good next year.
Nick: Yeah, I mean you’ve got- I think there were five seniors, including, you know, Lauren Haeger that you’re going to have to replace, but, you know, we had that same conversation last year. “Well how do you replace Hannah Rogers?”And you replace Hannah Rogers with a repeat championship, so like we both said, it just seems that Tim Walton is, you know, in a constant state of reloading rather than rebuilding, and this team looks like, you know, they’re going to be contenders, if not favorites, year in and year out.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, Alicia Ocasio is a freshman All-American, All-American in general, comes up, gets Game 1 of the World Series in dominating fashion with the win, she’s a freshman. Delanie Gourley comes in as a sophomore in the circle, gets a big save and then oh, guess what? The number one player in the country is a pitcher who plays for Team USA is coming to Florida here in a week. So, yeah, I mean, you know, again, am I going to sit here and say they’re going to three-peat? No, I’m not going to sit here and say that because I have seen the team on the field yet, I haven’t seen the makeup of the team yet. I have a little bit of question mark of how Alicia Ocasio, how Gourley and how Kelly Barnhill the freshman will do as leaders in the circle; I think that’s the big difference. You know, you had Hannah Rogers; she was a leader. You had Lauren Haeger who was kind of a silent leader in the circle as well, so my question is is does Ocasio, Gourley or even a freshman in Barnhill step up to be the leader? Now the biggest thing for me, not a question mark is next year’s senior group is the senior class that holds it together when you start talking about Kirsti Merritt, Taylore Fuller, Kelsey Stewart, you know, so on and so on, Aubree Munro. That is the group that holds this team together so leadership as a whole won’t be a problem, my question is leadership in the circle, but, yeah, can’t give props enough to Tim Walton. Great job by Tim Walton, great job by his coaching staff and congrats to the girls.
Nick: And that leads us from one dirt field to the next. The Florida Gators, since losing the first game in the SEC Tournament, have just been dominant. Win four straight elimination games in Hoover to win the SEC Tournament championship. Sweep the Gainesville regional. Then they host Florida State in the super regional, sweep them. Florida is going back to Omaha for the first time since 2012, so congratulations to Kevin O’Sullivan and those guys. And really, I think Florida is poised to make a run in my opinion and in a lot of national baseball guys, especially the guys at d1baseball.com, Florida has the deepest pitching staff in the country. I mean, we’ve talked about it over and over but, you know, you’re going to get Logan Shore on Friday, get AJ Puk for Game 2 and then you’ve got Poyner, Faedo, Rhodes, you just have a bevy of pitchers that Florida can trot out there that would be number one guys on even some of these teams that are in Omaha. And then right now everybody, led by JJ Schwarz, who is hitting out of his mind- I think he is hitting .536 in the postseason- led by JJ Schwarz, top to bottom everyone’s just hitting the ball really well right now.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think that it’s funny how this team did this year compared to last year. Last year they were hot as a firecracker heading into the postseason, then they got cold. Now they were…I don’t want to say cold at the end of the season because they finished strong but the bats were cold. And now it’s like, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. I mean, it’s just…they’re hitting on all cylinders Shore, is throwing well. AJ Puk is one of those guys when he gets in a groove, shut it down because you ain’t hitting it, period, and the bullpen’s there. The one thing I want to say is real quick, Nick who predicted a back-to-back kind of a blowout wins on Friday and Saturday? I think that was myself who said the Noles would be ran out of town, and it was. And, you know Friday was my first experience of a super regional atmosphere of a Florida Gator baseball game, and Nick I know that Kassidy and I were there earlier in the day and it was just kind of like a buzz, it was like people were filing in, 4:30, 5:00. It was just this buzz that was different than any atmosphere I had seen around this baseball team.
Nick: Yeah, people were lined up, you know, about an hour before the gates even opened at 5:15, and, you know, coming off a weekend where the final regional game against FAU was the lowest attended game of the season, regular season or postseason, you know, it was nice to see. Florida started off the year ranked as high as number two, they were the number one team in the country at certain points of the year, and they never really got that kind of support, you know. LSU averages, and I know LSU’s a whole different beast, same with A&M, but LSU averaged 10,000 people a game this year. They had 5,000 people at a makeup game due to rain at noon on a Monday. I don’t know what those people are telling their bosses or if they have jobs to be at a baseball game at noon on a Monday, but it was nice to see Florida finally get some of that appreciation from fans. You know, everyone says, “I’m a Florida Gators fan.”Well, are you or are you only watching the football team? You know, it was nice to see some unfamiliar faces come out and support the baseball team, but since you want to bring up predictions…
Andrew: I lost, I will admit, I lost…
Nick: Since you want to bring up predictions, I predicted seven of eight super regionals correctly, with Florida, Miami, Virginia, Arkansas, LSU, Vandy and TCU. The only team I missed was Louisville, who we both picked and Cal State Fullerton ended up upsetting them in three games.
Andrew: Yeah, you’re right, I mean, hey, I’ll give you props for that, but I think we’d be remiss not to talk about the heck of a ballgame between TCU and A&M, and what a heartbreaker for A&M, I mean a routine ground ball that’s fumbled and then is thrown, you know, through the wickets of the catcher to end a season in the 16th inning. I mean, just incredible; one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen and I know some may argue, “Well, there wasn’t hitting.”It’s super regional baseball; it’s the best of the best and it was one of those games. It was kind of like the LSU-Florida game in the SEC Tournament that it’s like, “Wow, this is what baseball’s all about.”
Nick: Yeah, well both teams really had their chances yesterday. A&M was 0-11 with runners in scoring position. They struck out 25 times. A&M struck out almost enough times to have an entire baseball game worth of strikeouts. So, you know…but that was, you know, a great game to watch. It kept me up until about three in the morning watching it. Had to get up today, which is Tuesday, to talk to the Gators before they leave for Omaha. But yeah, this whole super regional, you know, Vandy handled business, Miami handled business, LSU and Florida handled business and then there were some really good series, you know, outside of those.
Andrew: Yeah, it was, it was but, you know, I think we start to look ahead a little bit to Omaha and, you know-
Andrew: You kind of hit on it a little bit, and, you know, is LSU a team that’s probably the favorites? I would think so, I mean, their numbers-
Nick: You know, I don’t even know, because you get a team like…right now I think the two hottest teams in the country are Florida and Vanderbilt. LSU is very good. Florida is very good. I mean, listen, we’re down to the last eight teams in the country so every team here is really good, but when you look at it, I think momentum plays such a big factor and right now nobody’s playing hotter baseball than Florida and Vanderbilt. LSU is a great team and I really think we’ll probably see an SEC final, you know, whether it’d be…you know, there’s four…half the field is from the SEC, so I’m really not going out on a huge limb there, but, you know, I think Florida having faced Miami and having faced all these other SEC teams, I think, you know, Florida’s already faced five of the eight teams that are in the tournament so there’s a lot of familiarity there, which helps out with scouting reports. They’re a young team facing teams you’ve faced already, that’s going to help out with your nerves, you know. The stage doesn’t get bigger than this in college baseball so you think, “Well what is a guy like Dalton Guthrie, you know, Mike Rivera, JJ Schwarz, these freshmen, how do they handle that?”It helps when you’re going up against a team like Miami and you know, “Ok, we already played them three times this year. Here’s the scouting report; I remember what this guy threw.”Stuff like that, so I think that familiarity is really going to help Florida this week.
Andrew: That and I believe that, you know, you go up against Miami, it’s a rivalry game, so you don’t have to self…motivate yourself any more because it’s there. It’s a rivalry game, it’s Florida-Miami, just like it was Florida-Florida State. It’s a big game for Richie Martin and those guys. It’s a big game for JJ Schwarz, the in-state guys, they understand that it’s a big game and I think that, you know, if Florida wins that they can that momentum into the next game, if Miami wins that, I think they can take that momentum into the next game. You know, I think for me the one thing with Vandy, and I know this is going to sound repetitive because I said this last week, I still wonder how they’re going to do in a big ball park like Omaha with their sticks. Are they going to be able to score enough runs in a big ball park, which they weren’t able to do at the Hoover Met, so can they do it enough in the games? LSU relies a lot on gap-to-gap, just like Florida does. Vandy relies on a lot of long balls and that’s something that we see that doesn’t fly out of Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha.
Nick: Well, I’m interested to see how the ball plays, because, you know, we definitely had more home runs in the SEC Tournament this year than in year’s past, so I’m interested to see if that theme will carry over into this week with the new ball helping out some of the power numbers. Also, I’m really looking forward to Saturday night, primetime, Florida-Miami, eight o’clock, and you’re going to get a rematch of, you know, the star-studded pitching match-up we though we were going to get in February with Andrew Suarez and Logan Shore. So, Suarez was a late scratch, I think with an oblique injury and Shore left I think in the first inning? After throwing maybe nine pitches?
Nick: Left with an injury of his own, so, I asked Kevin O’Sullivan about that today and he just kind of chuckled and said “Yeah, I guess we’re finally…we’re going to…finally going to be able to get a chance to see what those two guys do up against each other.”I’m really looking forward to it. I think, you know, you make a good point about Vanderbilt, but I do, I am interested to see if the ball will help those power numbers which have been almost non-existent in the College World Series since they’ve moved to these terrible composite bats.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree, and I mean it doesn’t matter if it’s a, you know, a wood bat, a metal bat, if it’s a golf ball, JJ Schwarz is sending ‘em to the parking lot, so it doesn’t matter, but I think-
Nick: JJ Schwarz could hit it out of the Grand Canyon right now; I don’t even know what the ball is looking like when he’s up there. He’s being very humble about it and saying, you know, he’s just getting good pitches to hit. Well, if I’m throwing to him, I’m throwing four pitches to the other batter’s box and letting him take first base.
Andrew: Yes, after the monster shot that the ball is still traveling on Saturday, yeah, I’m not giving that man anything else to hit. He looked like he was hitting a BP change up from a Little Leaguer that he just swung and looked and said, “I got it, I’m gone.”
Nick: It’s funny, I was sitting in the press box; I was sitting next to a Florida State writer from the Tallahassee Democrat and he told me on Friday night, you know, the game started, he had a hand, he’s like, “Listen, I think, you know, Mike Martin is just going to punt on this game,”meaning he’s just going to put in some of his back-of-the-bullpen kind of arms, take a loss on Friday, and save the bullpen for Saturday and then hopefully Sunday, and he goes, “At this point, I’m just hoping JJ Schwarz hits one on top of the O-Dome,”and I said, “Watch out, you’re joking, but I he actually might be able to,”and he almost did on Saturday.
Andrew: Absolutely. Well, let’s transition a little bit to the money makers in recruiting-
Nick: Before we do, congratulations to Richie Martin. Martin was selected 20th overall by the Oakland A’s yesterday. He will not be a Gator next year. He’ll come to terms. I think he’s slotted a signing bonus just north of two million dollars at that spot, so congratulations to him; I know that’s a huge weight of his shoulders heading into Omaha, so now he can just stay focused. And also three recruits unfortunately for the Gators were drafted in the first couple of rounds, so it’s unlikely that they will be making it to campus with the headliner there being Kyle Tucker, brother of Preston Tucker, who was taken coincidentally enough by the Houston Astros at number five overall, so he’ll be joining his brother in the Astros organization.
Andrew: Yeah, big ups to Richie Martin, and any other year you might be looking at a top-ten pick. I mean, three of the first three…I mean, the first three picks of the draft were college shortstop, college shortstop, high school shortstop, so-
Nick: Yeah, this draft was just loaded at shortstop and, you know, probably two of the best. We’ve talked about it before, Richie Martin, you know, didn’t get a ton of recognition this year and a lot of that is because you’ve got guys like Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman playing the same position in the same conference and they’re two of the best players in the country, you know. And we’ll be able to see all three of them this week and next week in Omaha.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely, well let’s transition and finish the show with recruiting a little bit. Had the big football camp Friday night, where they had the seven-on-seven tournament. Had offensive line/defensive line camp with several local and in-state high schools as well, and running through the 20th of June they’ll have Florida Gators football camp and, you know, Nick, I talked with you about it after the baseball game on Friday night and I told you, I was like, the energy on Friday night at the lacrosse fields where they were doing the seven-on-seven tournament was just something new, and it was something different to me. I don’t think I’d seen a player, a coach, a parent, anybody not shake hands or be introduced to the entire coaching staff at Florida and that was something that’s very different from the past staff. This staff is very personable, they were intense, engaged with everyone. Every game had a Florida football coach with a Florida Gator logo watching their game and that was something different. You had the players out there, as well, and it was just a very different energy and hey, it saw two recruits commit to the Gators in cornerback Aaron Robinson and then his buddy Lavarus Tigner, a 2017 receiver, so evidently they noticed the energy as well and it paid off.
Nick: Yeah, and that’s something different. You know, I’ve been yelled at these recruiting camps before for being in an area where I wasn’t supposed to be or taking pictures, stuff like that, and it seems like this new coaching staff is really kind of embracing the media, especially in recruiting, because they know that people that cover recruiting have a can, you know, have a lot of say in what these recruits are reading and, you know, that you guys build relationships with the recruits and they look to you guys sometimes, you know, even for advice. What’s the coaching staff like? What’s this guy like, you know? Everyone is leery in recruiting about, “Well the coaches are only telling me, you know, one side of the picture because they want me to go to their school,”so they’re always looking to, you know get as clear a picture about a school as they can and I think, you know, it’s a good move for the coaching staff to kind of open things up and make it a little more accessible to us in the media.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree, and, you know, it was a very good turnout on Friday night. I’ll start out with Friday night first. You know, you had three Gator commits…or four Gator commits, three Gator commit wide receivers in Rick Wells, Josh Hammond and Isaiah Johnson. You know, Nick, you and I have talked about this class a lot, but when I physically got to see Isaiah Johnson run his routes and go through a game, this guy’s legit. You know, he’s a big guy and we all know he’s a big guy; there was no question that he was a big guy. He’s 6’3, you know, 185, 195, but he runs routes really, really well for a guy his size and I was very impressed with him. I was also very impressed with Josh Hammond, little Frankie Hammond…Frankie Hammond, Jr.’s brother who just committed on Thursday. You know, he comes in, he’s a little smaller guy, only about 6’0, about 180, 185, somewhere around that range, probably is going to play 175, 180, but quick hands…I mean, quick feet, good hands, good route runner, is a guy that runs that slot really, really well. I was very impressed with him and that’s not to say I wasn’t impressed with Rick Wells, the other receiver that was on campus as well, but his offense struggled a lot more and I would say he was the third best out of the group. But maybe the guy that stole the show was Cavin Ridley, a guy that’s going to make his decision on June 22nd and is going to kind of narrow things down over the next couple of days and make a final decision. I think it’s Florida right now, wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t already told people that, but he’s a guy that’s a big ol’physical receiver, kind of like his brother who was a five-star that signed with Alabama last year and at 6’1, 190, 195 pounds, he’s a monster. He’s a guy that is going to run you over when he catches the football and he’s going to go up and get the football, so overall I think that for the first time in maybe five years you’ve seen receivers at Florida that can play ball in the SEC.
Nick: Yeah, and that’s, you know, obviously a position of need, and I don’t think you get into a situation where you might scare off some receivers just because of the sheer number that Florida is going to try to recruit and that Florida needs to recruit this year, but, you know, there is something to be said for…we don’t want guys who are staring at the depth chart. You know, we want guys who look at the depth chart and see, “Oh, well, they’re getting six people in my position this year. Good, I’m going to win a starting job because I believe that I’m better or that I can be better than those guys,”and you want people that are ready to come in and compete, so, Will Muschamp used to say it, you know, “If a kid asks me about the depth chart once, I start to worry. If he asks me about it twice, then I don’t worry about that kid anymore because that’s not someone that we want,”so yes, Florida is going to be trying to get a lot of offensive linemen, a lot of linebackers. You know, you even need to reload at cornerback a little bit, and safety, and definitely at wide receiver and you don’t want kids who are thinking, “Well, where do I fit in into this mix?”No, you want kids that are thinking, “It doesn’t matter how many they’re getting because I’m confident in myself.”So, you know, I think you might seem some of those kids maybe who are early commit start to waver because you see more kids rolling into their position and if that’s the case, then, you know-
Andrew: So be it.
Nick: Good luck and don’t let the door hit you, you know. You need kids who are ready to compete, not kids who want to come into a situation where they’re going to play immediately, regardless of how they perform in camp.
Andrew: Well, here’s my thing, six receivers, they’re all probably going to play. I mean, let’s face it, they’re all going to play. You most of the time have three to four receivers-
Nick: And…yeah, receiver is a different position, you know. If I’m a quarterback and I see, hey they’re taking three quarterbacks this class, alright, well where do I fit in, because only one quarterback plays, but you’re saying, you know, a receiver position, you could have three, four, five on the field at one time and you could run an entire series with four wide receivers, someone’s going to get tired, so now you have a fifth, sixth guy come in, so definitely at a position like receiver, you know, you really don’t want to see kids who are too concerned about the depth chart.
Andrew: Well let’s also face it: Florida is in a rebuilding mode rebuilding mode at the position. There’s not very many talented players on the team at that position, so a lot of these guys will come in and see early playing time. You know, even a guy like Josh Hammond, a guy like Isaiah Johnson, if Florida does land Binjimen Victor and Cavin Ridley on June 22nd, those are all guys that you’re going to expect to come in and play. I mean, Demarcus Robinson’s gone after the year…it is, I mean, unless something serious happens and he has a bad injury and he has to come back, he’s gone, so your top receiver and only receiver that has done anything is Ahmad Fulwood, so…yeah, I mean, it’s there. You know, talk a little bit about the offensive lineman that was on the campus. Marcus Tatum, the big offensive lineman from Daytona Beach Mainland. Florida has started to pull away there. They’re now becoming the team to beat by far now with him. I would expect a decision to come in the summertime. He’s a guy that’s a little lean, about 265, but he’s a guy that has very, very, very long arms, which you can’t teach in football, and is a guy that’s going to be able to carry 295 really well and be able to play in the SEC. The thing that I liked on Saturday, going forward to Saturday is Chauncey Gardner, he’s a guy that everyone wants to say he’s going to flip to somebody else. Nick, you and I went through the Quincy Wilson deal where he became the Gators’spokesperson, so to say, for their class. Chauncey Gardner is that spokesperson. When he sees a recruit come on to campus, he automatically goes up and meets ‘em, introduces ‘em, “My name is Chauncey Gardner,”give them his cell phone number, wants to take a photo with them and wants to take them around campus. That’s the guy that in my opinion Florida needs Chauncey Gardner to be, is to be that guy that is the leader of the class and does that. He’s a superstar, that’s all it is. You know, it was funny, I asked him about how much he talked trash, he goes, “Why shouldn’t I talk trash? I’m the best player in the country.”Ok…can’t blame him there.
Nick: And that is a little…he is a south Florida boy, like myself, and that’s just how we grew up, you know. We walk the walk and we’re going to let you know about it. We talk the talk as well, so, he is a very confident…he tows the line between confident and cocky, but you need some of that, you need some guys with some attitude on a football team and on a football roster, and, you know, I guess Chauncey is putting his name in the running for the award I give out every year, the Nick Washington Recruiter of the Year Award. We’ve had three recipients: Obviously Nick Washington, who the award is named after; Quincy Wilson was two years ago and Tyler Jordan won last year, so Chauncey Gardner must have seen that and is trying to be the fourth recipient.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean and see, that’s the thing that you really like about him. You know, last week he put out a tweet, he goes “I’m so tired of people asking me why I’m committed to Florida because they suck.”He said, “Question is is, why did I commit? Because I’m committed.”You like that from a guy and here’s my thing other with Chauncey Gardner: He’s a guy that’s going to talk trash and there’s not going to be a person in America that doesn’t know about the Florida Gators. And he’s heading to the The Opening in Oregon in July. Nick, you know how many prospects are out there and you know how the time is there and you can guarantee Chauncey Gardner’s going to be talking trash in The Opening.
Nick: Yeah, that is…you know, The Opening is huge for recruiting. You get kids out there and, you know, I know it didn’t work out in Florida’s favor, but really The Opening is where, you know, Florida was about to get guys like Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, really, Thomas Holley, who was uncommitted and even committed to Penn State, the Florida bug was put into his ear that week. These kids are around each other 24/7 for a good solid week, you know, from on the field to in the hotel room to doing some charity events, in the players lounge playing video games, they’re around each other 24/7 and everyone that is committed is just trying to bring in more commits so that is a huge recruiting weekend, and someone like Chauncey Gardner, who is outspoken and who, you know, especially very outspoken about his school, will definitely be an asset to the Florida coaching staff while he’s out there.
Andrew: Yeah, agreed, you know, he’s a guy that I personally love. You know, Nick-
Nick: He’s not shy to get in your face and he’s not shy to let you know what he’s thinking.
Andrew: Yeah, and Nick, you know me, you have to tell me to shut up, that’s kind of my personality. Kind of a little outspoken too much, and so of course I like Chauncey Gardner, but overall, can’t say enough about the weekend. I have to mention my guy, Lamical Perine from Alabama, 5’11, 220-pound back. He came into town this weekend and met everyone. Him and Chauncey hit it off and, you know, there’s a lot of excitement building around him. A guy that, Nick, I told you, this guy’s going to be a stud in the SEC. Next weekend is going to be another big weekend and I’m sure we’ll preview that later in the week, but hat’s off to Jim McElwain and his staff. The Florida buzz, in my opinion, wore off a lot when Will Muschamp was the coach. It’s slowly coming back and that’s nothing but props to Jim McElwain, Drew Hughes and the rest of the coaching staff at the University of Florida.
Nick: Yeah, it was…the brand was definitely damaged when they took over and I think that they might not have known it when they signed on the dotted line but they figured it out pretty quickly and they’re definitely doing a lot in terms of repairing the brand and getting some of the kids excited about the University of Florida again and then, you know, obviously this is only the first step in doing that, you know, the offseason. The next step is, you know, showing some progress on the field this fall, but first step, getting the job done. Good job coaches.
Andrew: Got to get the players in to do it, but Nick, this was a jam-packed show. We’ll have another one later in the week, maybe doing a little bit more previewing of Omaha as you try to get on my level and recruiting some more so I’m signing off here. Nick, say your thing and we’ll be out of here.
Nick: You stay classy, Gator Country.