The Florida Gators baseball team suffered their first defeat after an 11-game winning streak at the hands of Virginia. Now, Florida’s road to a National Championship will be tough, with elimination games from here out.
Up first is Miami, who the Gators will be playing for the fifth and final time this season. Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre review the loss to Virginia and preview the rest of the College World Series before breaking down some recruiting.
Andrew: Gator Country! Your man Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre are back, and we’re going to talk some baseball. After a late night on the diamond in Omaha; Nick I know it was probably about…sunrise before you got to bed but Florida fell one to nothing in a pitchers duel. You know, if you love baseball that’s a game that you like. I know it may be for the normal person who doesn’t watch baseball, they’re like “Ah, it’s a boring game,”but for somebody like myself who’s a baseball enthusiast, a guy that loves baseball, and somebody like yourself that loves baseball, I know you loved it. Give me your thoughts.
Nick: I mean, outside of Carson Fulmer throwing a complete game shutout against Florida back in May, that’s the best any pitcher has looked against Florida all year. Talking about Brandon Widdell. You know, he throws seven innings and shuts the Gators out before they turn to their closer. A little note about Widdell; people were brining up his season stats to me, which weren’t great, but after that performance against Florida, Widdell has thrown 23 innings in the past two College World Series and has allowed just two earned runs in those 23 innings, so there’s something about him; he likes the mound there at TD Ameritrade, I don’t know. But that’s baseball, you know. Crash Davis said it best: “Sometimes you win- or some days you win, some days you lose and some days it rains.”So, you know, that’s baseball. You run into a guy throwing like that, and I told you, he looked a pitcher that you probably loved growing up in Tom Glavine. He was painting the outside corner, keeping the ball low, raising the ball up in the zone to keep the hitter’s eyes moving. Inside, outside, up, down, he commanded the strike zone last night, and, you know, you’re just going to run into things like that. You know, great pitching beats great hitting every time.
Andrew: Yeah, you just got to tip your hat to him, and, you know, kind of walk off. You know, I guess the thing for me, though, that was kind of weird is…from the…at the beginning of the game, he hangs a slider and it’s like, Harrison Bader’s about to put the Gators up one to nothing, and then all the way through until probably fourth or fifth inning Florida didn’t have a legit, you know, solid hit…contact in the game.
Nick: I think Mike Rivera hit two balls that might have been out at McKethan Stadium. You know, we talk a lot about how it’s so hard to hit a ball out of TD Ameritrade and it’s not really the distance of the actual fence. You know, it’s 330 in…down the lines and that’s not, you know, monstrous, it’s definitely not a small park. I think it’s just something there, especially at night, where the ball isn’t traveling, because, you know, you see earlier in the day and you’ve seen throughout the tournament guys are hitting home runs. I mean, Vandy walked off, you know, at 3:00 the same day with a walk-off home run. It’s something at night; the ball just really doesn’t carry there, so, you know, I think Bader had one, I think Pete Alonso might of had one and Rivera might of had two that could have been home runs, you know, maybe even just a different time of day at that park.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree, it was, you know, I…a lot of people complain about it, but I think it’s a good ballpark to play in, though. I think that it kind of levels the playing field out a little bit, but, you know, going back to the pitcher duel, AJ Puk, I mean, he looked like AJ Puk. He struggled in-
Andrew: The first inning and then, boom, he set it on and goes and he’s one play on the ball that is kind of driven into the dirt in foul territory. Rolls fair and he just outruns the throw. Bases loaded. Next guy hits a sac fly or who knows? We still may be playing at TD Ameritrade right now, so I think that Puk threw as well as the Virginia pitcher did, just maybe didn’t as big of luck as he did, and then you have Taylor Lewis coming out of the pen and Poyner coming out of the pen that did a really good job as well.
Nick: Yeah, and I think with Puk, you know, I said it at the time, and Puk said he took too long to throw to first, I would rather, in that situation, you know, a 6’7 pitcher having to take four steps off the mound where he finishes, to pick up a ball and turn to throw to first, I would rather he take too long to throw it and have the throw be accurate than to have him rush the throw, have it end up in right field and now you’re down two runs instead of still 0-0, even though the bases are loaded, so I don’t fault Puk for taking his time there. You know, you need a sense of urgency, but I’d rather be safe than sorry when you’re throwing behind two runners.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree, and then, I mean, Florida still had chances. Harrison Bader hits a ball as hard as you possibly can, takes off to-
Nick: Yeah, well, you talk about that eight inning; you know, you finally get a, you know, a hit. You get Dalton Guthrie on; he worked a walk. Ryan Larson can’t get the bunt down, which is so aggravating for a coach. Ends up blooping a ball into center field. Now you’ve got first and third, no outs, only down a run and Virginia’s playing back. They’ve got the middle infield in double play depth, third baseman’s playing back. They’re conceding the run. They’re saying, “If Harrison Bader hits a ball on the ground, we’ll take two outs and we’ll take the tie.”Bader, like you said, can’t hit a ball much harder than that, it hits, I think I’m going to ruin this kid’s name…Sborz? It’s like S-b-o-r. Hits the ball, takes the kid’s glove off and, you know, it’s just one of those things. That’s baseball. The ball could’ve careened off his hand into foul territory and allowed Larson to get to third. Instead, the ball falls right in front of him, he has time to look at third and Florida actually got lucky that the third baseman wasn’t covering because Dalton Guthrie was halfway down the line; he could have been taken out at third base. They end up making the force at second and then you get Richie Martin up. A lot of people question why isn’t O’Sullivan trying to squeeze; trying to manufacture a run. When it comes down to it, Florida’s the away team. You never play for a tie when you’re the visitor. If Florida was the home team, and that’s a whole ‘nother issue we’ll get into because Florida will be the away team again on Wednesday. You know, if you’re the visitor team you don’t play for a tie because you don’t get the last at-bat. If Florida’s the home team, does Kevin O’Sullivan squeeze there? I think absolutely, 100 percent he tries to squeeze there, tie the game knowing, hey, no matter what, we’ll have the last crack at it. You know, Martin ends up going down, Tobias goes down, we hit a line drive to second, ground out to second and that’s the eighth. And then they go quietly in the ninth and that’s it.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, you know, I’m not going to lie, you know, when Bader came up and he smoked the ball, the thoughts of, ok, Martin can squeeze that ball, put it down that first base line like he did earlier in the game, that thought did come through my mind, and it’s definitely there, but then you go back and you think, ok, if Martin just flies out, it’s a run. There’s several different ways and we all know the squeeze is probably the hardest play in baseball to execute outside of the hit and run and a couple of other things so I’m ok with that, but, you know, we’re turning the page on that a little bit-
Nick: Hold on real quick; a couple of other things I want to touch on. Florida batting, the top of the order- Bader, Martin, Tobias- driving the struggle bus right now. The middle of the lineup, which is Schwarz, Reed and Alonso, doing alright, and then the bottom of the lineup, with Rivera, Guthrie, Larson is really hitting the ball well. Right now, Rivera, Guthrie, Larson are a combined 7-16, hitting .438. Reed, Schwarz and Alonso are 6-21, hitting .285 and the top of the order, your table setters to start the game, Harrison Bader, Richie Martin and Josh Tobias, and right there; two juniors, a first-round draft pick, a fourth-round draft pick…or, excuse me, a third-round draft pick and a senior in Josh Tobias are 2-24 in Omaha. That is .083. You need to get more production from those three and, you know, Florida got it done in a blowout win against Miami with Rivera, Guthrie and Larson combining to go 6-11. So the bottom of the half…bottom half of the lineup carried them through that game but you need to start getting production from your big three guys in the top of the lineup. They’re hitting one, two and three for a reason and that’s because O’Sullivan wants to get them as many at-bats as possible and you just need to start getting production from them. 2-24 is unacceptable. And then obviously we don’t really need to touch on the game Wednesday too much. You’ve seen Miami four times now. They went walk-off win to advance to this game and, you know, you’re probably going to get Alex Faedo on Wednesday for Florida. I’m not sure who Miami’s going to throw. But it’s win or go home. You know, the winner stays in Omaha for a little bit longer. They’ll play Friday and the loser gets to go back to sunny Florida. Whether that’s Gainesville, Florida or Miami, Florida, we’ll see Wednesday.
Andrew: Yeah, I guess, you know, to hit on the Miami series and look back, I guess potentially, do you think you go back to Guthrie in that lead-off spot? Because I’ve told you this before; I don’t like the lineup of Bader, Martin, Tobias. I just see three guys who go in too many stretches of not putting the ball…not putting good contact on the ball. Now, do you maybe switch it up now and go back to a Guthrie, Martin, you know, Bader, with Bader the three hole? I know he’s struggling, but he’s still has put good bat on ball. Would you go to that on Wednesday? Nick…
Nick: Hey, it’s something that if I’m the manager, I think about. You know, Bader struggled a little bit. I think he had two strikeouts in, you know, in that first game against Miami, but he made really good contact. It’s not something I see Kevin O’Sullivan doing. He’s not very, you know, knee-jerk reactionary. They made the move to put Harrison at one because of an injury, won two elimination games because of it and, you know, went on a big winning streak after that, so I don’t see it changing too much. I think Kevin O’Sullivan sticks with that lineup. And you got to think too is that if a guy is struggling, is moving him down in the lineup going to help him mentally? Because so much of the game is mental. It’s, you know, we’ve talked about it before, it’s a game where you fail 70 percent of the time, you’re considered very successful. So managing that mental part of the game and dropping a guy when the stage is this big and there’s already pressure on, ok, if we lose today, our season’s done; for a lot of these guys, if we lose today our Florida careers are done. Now what are you doing to him if you drop him down in the lineup, where is he at mentally from going, you know, maybe hitting one to now hitting seven?
Andrew: Right, right. Well, you know, I guess that’s why Kevin O’Sullivan gets paid the big bucks. You know, you can play adjustments to a certain extent before you start to mess with the mental makeup of it, but, well, Nick, any final thoughts on baseball before we start to talk some gridiron? Nick?
Nick: Yeah, I think, I think that…You know, I really think that there’s a lot of people that maybe haven’t watched this team, you know, all season. Obviously, when you get to this stage, you know, playing the College World Series, there’s going to be more eyes on you. But just, you know, there’s a lot of people getting down, and I see a lot on Twitter saying, “Oh, the same old, same old Florida, you know, laying an egg in Omaha.”But, you know, this team won 15-3 in the first game and they just ran into a pitcher who was on his stuff last night. So, you know, I would say, you know, look at the whole picture of what Florida was able to do this season. You know, SEC Tournament champions. One of the final eight teams…you know, one team has been eliminated now, so one of the final seven teams playing in the country. I don’t think they laid an egg. They hit the ball…you know…all things considered, they hit the ball well last night against a pitcher who had his A-plus stuff. So, you know, hold back on the negativity a little bit. I understand you’re frustrated. The goal every year is to win a national championship but it’s not a complete failure of a season if you don’t win a national championship. Only one team gets to win it every year.
Andrew: Agreed. Baseball is a game that you can not look at one game. You have to look at an overall game and that’s why in the major leagues they play 162. But, well, Nick, let’s turn our attention a little bit to some recruiting to finish off our show today. You know, Florida’s in the mix of a long two-and-a-half, three week, you know, camp and they’re going on. Couple days ago last Wednesday, 2017 quarterback Jake Allen, from your school, St. Thomas Aquinas-
Nick: Go Raiders.
Andrew: Came on campus, big guy, come on campus and, you know, worked out for Florida, picked up that Florida offer from the Gators and, you know, says he’s going to go on a few more trips. Called Florida his leader. You know, in my opinion, he’s probably the guy for 2017, when it comes to be…you know, when he comes to make a decision at end of July, first of August. I think he, you know, will make a decision to Florida. He’s a 6’3, about 200-pound quarterback. Went up to Baltimore for the Rivals Five-Star Challenge and won the quarterback of the camp over all quarterbacks. Came to Florida, impressed Nussmeier, got the offer. You know, Florida’s his dream school. He’s a guy that told me last week that he wants to commit early so he can build a class around him. He said, “What’s a team if I don’t have superstars to make me look good around me?” So, I personally like that about him. Nick, I know you were able to see a little bit about him. Any thoughts on him and I guess what do you think about getting a quarterback so early in 2017?
Nick: Well, I mean, you know, I’ve been the worrier here, you know, in these past podcasts asking you when Florida is going to get the, you know, their quarterback for 2016, and hey, you know, some of the quarterbacks for 2016 are starting to, you know, make commitments elsewhere and good for Jim McElwain to be thinking of the future and, you know, still obviously not, you know, giving up on the position this year, but starting to, you know, catch up with everybody else. Like we’ve said before, obviously he was behind the 8-ball coming in finishing up last recruiting class and then he made the point, which I believe and agree with, that he was behind this year’s class and even a little bit behind 2017 because these are…recruiting now is…you know, eighth grade years are getting scholarship offers and these relationships are not just, ok, we’ll check out the guy after his junior year of high school and start talking to him. No, Nick Saban’s talking to, you know, middle schoolers and freshmen and relationships are being built for three and four years before guys are, you know, making a final decision, so good for Florida to go out, you know, and I think really wow a kid who is going to be one of the top quarterbacks in that 2017 class and I think you need somebody, you know, like we said, if you don’t get the guy this year, the guy, by that I mean the guy you think is going to be your franchise type quarterback, you know, in air quotes there, then you need to get that guy in the 2017 class. So, I think if you can get a commitment from a 2017 guy early in someone who’s as talented as Jake Allen, it takes a little bit of the pressure off for getting the quarterback in this class. But, like we said before, Jim McElwain hasn’t pumped the breaks on this class. Florida’s actually hosting somebody right now. I believe you broke that story last week. Andrew, tell the people who Florida has on campus right now.
Andrew: Yeah, quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, from Houston, from Westfield High School. An Elite 11 finalist. One of the 18 finalists. Him and his buddy, Tyrie Cleveland, the big receiver from his high school as well. Cleveland actually grew up and was raised for the beginning of his childhood in Jacksonville before moving to Houston. And so the two of them came from Houston. They drove over yesterday, are staying through the day and supposed to leave some time on Wednesday. And Sterling-Cole is kind of an Arizona State, Houston, Florida, UCLA, maybe Notre Dame battle right now. In my opinion, it’s kind of a Florida-Arizona State battle, so we’ll see how it goes, but is Sterling-Cole a franchise quarterback? No. Is he a quarterback that if you need him to play, he plays? Absolutely. He’s a very good quarterback. Is he the guy that can step in from day one and play? No, he’s a guy that needs a year of seasoning under Nussmeier to play before he becomes really good. Arm strength, no question about it. Accuracy, no question about it. Footwork is the question mark for him and his…kind of his pocket presence of being under center, having to go through his progressions. That’s kind of where his biggest question marks with Nussmeier is going to be. As someone told me, if he’s a guy that you’re wanting to sit behind Will Grier for two years and then play, he’s your guy. If he’s somebody that you want to start from day one, he’s not your guy. Everybody knows Sterling-Cole is not going to be asked to play from day one when he gets on campus, so, you know, I know some people are saying, “Well, he’s a bust because he hasn’t committed anywhere.”That’s not true. He’s from Texas, where there’s 50,000 quarterbacks out there, so Florida needs to go all in on Sterling-Cole. You know, it’d be nice to get a commitment out of him this week while he’s on campus. I doubt it happens, but they’re a guy need to put their foot in and have a leg up, be the leader as he goes back to Houston, Texas. And then, of course, with his buddy, wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland. Another big receiver. I mean, if you get him…if you get him, you just add to your already talented pool of receivers. He’s a big guy as well, 6’3, 175, 185, depending on where you are, and you can match him possibly with Binjimen Victor and Isaiah Johnson if you land Victor and you have a great receiving class, so just a huge, huge week for Florida as they finish off their camp for this time until July. Also coming on campus this week is cornerback Jayvaughn Myers for his third trip in two weeks, so that should be a big one as well and, yeah, McElwain’s doing a great job in June. Can’t fault him for not getting the players on campus.
Nick: Well, let’s go back real quick to Sterling-Cole. It’s not really a list that you hear a lot with Florida targets. You know, you mention Arizona State and Florida kind of being the big two. What are the kind of challenges that McElwain and the Gators face when they’re competing against, you know, a west coast school for a kid. You know, Texas is not necessarily considered the west, it’s still considered the south, but he’s kind of, you know, right there in the heartland in the middle of the country, so distance is going to kind of going to be very similar each way. What are the challenges of getting a kid, you know, who is really considering a west coast school to Gainesville?
Andrew: Well, I think the major difference that we look at here between Arizona State and Florida is Arizona State’s going to be more of a spread-it-out, you know, gunslinging offense compared to McElwain and his under-center approach. You know, again, another big difference here is Arizona State’s been after Sterling-Cole for a year-and-a-half now. Florida’s kind of been after him since February. Or not even February, really March, so you start to balance that out, but I guess the biggest thing for Florida with Sterling-Cole is he says, “I don’t care, I’ll go home.. I’ll go away from home, I don’t care.”And when you look at Arizona State you still have to get on a plane there; when you look at Florida you still have to get on a plane there. I think the biggest thing Florida has working in it’s advantage right now is the fact that he says he kind of wants to work in a pro-style offense because he knows that’s what’s going to get him to the NFL and he likes working with Nussmeier, so in my opinion, that’s where Florida has the leg up. Where they have the leg down as far as relationships go and Nussmeier and McElwain’s built a good enough relationship now to where that’s not a question mark, but still you did have to play catch up there.
Nick: And that is, you know, we mentioned it, that’s of no fault of their own, you know, that’s just the reality, the situation with them coming in and being a first-year coaching staff. Is this a situation where you think Sterling-Cole will play this out; kind of see what Florida looks like on the field or is he someone that wants to have his decision made before his senior year?
Andrew: Well, he’s gone back and forth. He says one time he wants to enroll early, then the other day he told me that he was unfortunately not going to be able to, and then he said he may want to go ahead and end his recruitment at the end of the summer and then focus on his team, then he said he may make a decision in the middle of the season, so he’s just kind of all up in the air right now. He’s one of those quarterbacks that I think he knows, “I’m the last little big fish out there,”and I think he understands that as well. I don’t think he’s worried so much about Florida’s offense, I think he’s just more so trying to see who’s all going to come in and he doesn’t end his process early, if that makes sense. Texas A&M was a school that, you know, he liked a little bit. They didn’t show him no love, so he eliminated them. So, I think he’s kind of a kid that’s very observant of who’s after him and maybe who they’re building their class around, so I really want to see what Sterling-Cole says after this Florida trip as to what McElwain says. If I’m McElwain, I’d tell him, “Hey, look, I need you to make a decision soon.”Florida can’t mess around and wait ‘till October, not have a quarterback and then be sitting here having to go to a one-star quarterback who has no chance of ever playing at Florida. We’ve already seen…that’s too many wasted scholarships; Florida just got rid of one in Skyler Mornhinweg. So, they need Sterling-Cole to give them some kind of indication of “Yes, I plan to go to Florida soon,”or “I’m going to make a decision in the next three weeks and let you know.”So, that’s my opinion is what Sterling-Cole says at the end of this visit will be very important to me and my reaction on this quarterback position.
Nick: Gotcha, and then with the evaluations coming, you know, the summer camps are kind of winding down, but with the evaluation period coming, is there anyone…I guess anyone that we should be looking out for? Maybe someone under the radar? Anybody that maybe isn’t a household name that Florida is kind of looking at? We know that this coaching staff in particular is doing a lot of research and you’re seeing, you know, Florida State fans poking fun at, you know, Three-Star U, but as you’ve mentioned before, this is just Florida doing their due diligence and going out and finding these kids before recruiting services are even finding them. So, are there any names to watch out for, you know, as the coaches go back and review everything after the camps are done and start to, you know, make some final decisions on some offers?
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. Before I get into that I want to poke fun at that Three-Star U for just a second. I overheard Coach Nussmeier and Coach McElwain talking to a high school coach and the high school coach said something like, “Yeah, I heard y’all are getting referred to as Three-Star U,”and he goes, “Well I guess it’s called the Super Bowl U as well, because the three-stars made up the Super Bowl,”so, yeah, get you some of that. That’s kind of where McElwain was, but, you know, I think that the three-star guys and some of the guys that you’re going to look at are Jayvaughn Myers, the cornerback. You know, I know that everybody thinks that he just got offered because of his brother being Nate Craig-Myers; that’s not true. He’s a guy that a lot of schools have started to really, really like. He’s a guy that I think that Florida will definitely push for and he’s coming on campus again for another visit. I think when you start to look at the linebacker position as well you’re going to start to look at some of the guys. Emmett Rice, the Florida State commit. I know he’s a guy that’s a little underrated. He came on camp, impressed the guys there. He’s a guy that could get a…you know, could be getting pushed for a lot harder. He already has an offer but I think that they could start pushing for him a little more. I think that the main thing they’re going to do is they’re going to go back after camp and they’ll look at the offense line tapes that they’ve had of all the guys that came in for camp; see who all looked good, probably hand out a few more offers there. And then, of course, kicking. They’re going to go back, they’re going to look at that kicking camp again, look at all the numbers they had, look at all the guys that came in and then they’re going to offer a guy out of there. The guy they did offer was Eddy Pineiro from Miami, he was a JUCO guy. He did commit to Alabama. In my opinion, maybe not a bad thing; he only had three years left to play and Austin’s starting, so that’s two, so, you know, who knows if that was going to be a smart decision, so, again, I think they’ll go back and they’ll look at the camp in general; the whole three weeks. You’ll definitely see some offers come out but I would specifically look at the offensive line, the linebacker and the kicking game as to where the offers will come out.
Nick: Gotcha, and we’ve missed on a couple kickers that Florida has had in. I think the main one being Mr. Aguayo, who, you know, would’ve been nice to had just based on his…just based on his brother and the success that he has had.
Andrew: Yeah, and I mean, you know, Nick, you and I have talked about this before. You know, offensive linemen are hard to project; kickers are hard to project, too, because when you see these guys are kicking in shorts and t-shirts and in the middle of the field with no pressure. You know, Austin Hardin, great guy, good person, good player. Could do everything you possibly in high school and it still hasn’t kind of translated now. You know, you look at a guy like Caleb Sturgis, he wasn’t as highly ranked coming out of high school and then…I mean, he’s kicking…well, was kicking in the NFL, I don’t know if he’s still going to kick this year or not, but, anyway, so, again I think it’s all about getting the right guy. Coach Nudleberg, the GA/quality control coach, whatever you want to call him, is in there helping Coach Nord. They’ve been watching camp, so I feel like they’ll get a good kicker in the class to go replace Austin Hardin in two years but it’s going to be fun. Media days is around the corner, Friday Night Lights is coming around the corner. Nick, you and I talked about it, it should be a fun, fun Friday Night Lights and recruiting’s going well, I mean 15 commits already.
Nick: Yeah, that’s not.. that’s not bad. Definitely ahead of where…where they were last year, so we’ll see how…how everything shapes up. Obviously we mentioned The Opening coming up early here in July. Florida will have Chauncey Gardner out there gabbing up, talking up Florida so still a lot of recruiting to go, a long way to go and, hey, as we record this, 81 days until football is back. 80 days probably, if we can get this back up, turned around in 24 hours when you’re listening to this, 80 days until football starts. Andrew, you’re making plans to be in Birmingham for the SEC Media Days; can’t wait for that.
Andrew: Absolutely; it should be fun and as Chauncey Gardner will say he’ll be out at The Opening talking mad crap because he said he’s the best player in the country and, you know, you can’t argue with the man. Hey, you’re going to talk crap, talk crap. But Nick, let’s sign this bad boy off. I know a little Braves baseball today, a little more World Series, some Game 6; go Warriors. Nick, say your thing and let’s sign off this bad boy.
Nick: You stay classy, Gator Country.
Andrew: Stay tuned, Gator Country.