It’s been a while since the Florida Gators baseball team has played in a Super Regional; so don’t feel bad if you need a refresher.
It was 2012 the last time Florida made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After beating Bethune-Cookman and Georgia Tech twice, Florida advanced on to face N.C. State in a Super Regional that they hosted. The Gators took game one with ease, 7-0, before sweating out a 9-8 win in 10 innings to earn a trip to the College World Series.
Of the 33 players on the Florida Gators roster, just two were on the team the last time Florida ventured this far into the postseason. Senior Josh Tobias and Bobby Poyner were both freshman at the time but Tobias earned a start at third base in both games against N.C. State. Tobias was 3-9 (.333), with two runs scored and one RBI. Poyner pitched in relief twice, tallying one full inning of work, striking out one and hitting one batter.
“I actually remember it pretty well, playing against N.C. State especially,” Poyner recalled. “I hit a lefty in the back with a slider. It was definitely the most emotion packed games that I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here other than Tennessee last year, clinching the SEC.”
This season, Kevin O’Sullivan has leaned heavily on a talented freshmen class. Seven freshmen have made a combined 240 starts this season led by JJ Schwarz — who has started all 63 games for the Gators this season. Since the postseason began, Florida typically starts for freshmen — Schwarz, Mike Rivera, Dalton Guthrie and Jeremy Vasquez — on a daily basis and freshman Alex Faedo has anchored the tail end of the starting pitching staff for most of the season as well.
You can’t fake experience and, for the most part, a good chuck of the Gators are earing on the job experience game-by-game. They’re not showing it, however. Schwarz was named the Gainesville regional MVP and is 17-32 (.531) in postseason play this year. Vasquez is also swinging a hot bat, hitting 6-12 (.500) in Regional play.
The mix of veterans like Poyner, Tobias, Richie Martin and Harrison Bader along with that youth is a formula that is just starting to blossom.
“I think a lot of the guys have been able to learn from the mistakes that we made in the past,” Poyner said. “A lot of the older guys are hungry to get back to playing well in the postseason and hopefully reaching the ultimate goal of winning a College World Series Championship.
“I think we’re more mature and I think the incoming freshmen, enough can’t be said of how much those guys have contributed to this team. That combination.”
Florida made it clear in February that they had a singular goal in mind. They allowed a few brief moments to relish the accomplishment of winning the SEC Tournament in Hoover a week ago but that wasn’t the ultimate goal. When the 27th out on Sunday landed safely in Buddy Reed’s glove in center field, it was business as usual after the game. The Gators lined up to shake each others hands near second base before turning to do the same with FAU.
No Gatorade showers, no jumping up and down. If you didn’t know the significance of what had just happened the scene after the game could have looked like the end of an intrasquad.
This team is young, but they’re hungry and they’re focused.
“These things are hard to win, these regionals,” O’Sullivan said. “The goal of getting to Omaha is real. Every team wants to get there so badly. Our guys are playing well at the right time and I think if we can stay within ourselves and not get in our own way we have a chance.”