This season has been quite unlike the past three for Kevin O’Sullivan’s baseball team. Gone are the big names like Zunino, Fontana, Maddox, Tucker and Johnson. All names that led the Gators to three straight College World Series appearances and a 147-56 record over that time period.
Florida was tasked with not only replacing those players who had led the Gators for the past three years but also trying to fill out a roster while losing high school recruits to the MLB draft. Florida has lost 28 players, either incoming recruits or roster players to the MLB draft in the past two years alone. Florida had six members of their 2012 recruiting class never make it to campus after being selected in the draft out of high school before this season.
With 28-of-36 players on the roster being either freshmen or sophomores, the Gators entered the 2013 season as green as the grass they play on.
The learning curve was slow, predictably, and the team lost seven of their first 10 games. The Gators struggled at the plate, on the mound and on the field. Over that 10 game stretch, Florida hit just .270, the pitchers had a combined 4.50 ERA and the team committed 15 errors. Numbers like that won’t win you many ball games.
But then, mid-way through the year, something clicked. As Casey Turgeon said “the puzzle is coming together.”
“I think we pulled ourselves out of a very difficult situation about half-way through the year” Coach O’Sullivan said of his team. “And we’ve put ourselves into position where we can make a push here in the end and make the post season. But we still have some work to do.”
And he is right; the Gators have one of the most important sets of games coming up against SEC West leader, LSU. The Tigers come into the series boasting a 40-6 (16-5 SEC) record.
However, LSU is coming off of two consecutive home losses to South Carolina, a team Florida swept three weeks ago. As freshman Richie Martin told the media, this fact does not go unnoticed.
“It shows that any team can beat them.” Martin said of LSU. “We have confidence going in that we can beat any team.”
While it is true, any team can win on any given day in the SEC, playing the Tigers at Alex Box Stadium is unlike playing just about anywhere else in the country. LSU averages more than 10,000 fans per game and they are some of the most intense baseball fans in the SEC.
The trip to LSU is the first time the aforementioned 28 freshmen and sophomores will get the opportunity to play in Alex Box and it will be important for them to not get caught up in the moment.
At one point this season it seemed like this Gator team would be the first under O’Sullivan to miss the post season. However, with a strong showing this weekend, and in the 11 remaining games on the schedule, the Gators have a shot at hosting a regional.
Florida will face three pitchers, Cordy Glenn, Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades, who are a combined 20-2 on the season and boast a collective 2.45 ERA. Nola, the scheduled Friday night starter, is 8-0 with a 2.14 ERA on the year and could be the best pitcher in the entire country.
With that being said, it is still baseball, and like O’Sullivan told the media, anything can happen.
“There’s a lot of good teams in this league.” O’Sullivan said. “And on any given weekend, any given day, anybody can beat anybody.”
Florida will play three games against LSU with the first coming tonight at 7 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPNU. Jonathan Crawford will take the mound for the Gators as he looks for his fourth win on the season.