Taylor Gushue didn’t pull any punches on Monday after the Gators were awarded the No. 2 overall seed in the country. This is what he graduated early and came to Gainesville for.
“It’s not to be understated but Florida makes the postseason every year, it’s just one of those things,” he said. “It’s just like, the sky is blue, Florida’s in the postseason. That’s just one of the high standards that the coaching staff has set here and the tradition that’s been established.”
In the seven years that Kevin O’Sullivan has been at Florida that has been the case. This will be the fifth regional that the Gators play host to since O’Sullivan arrived in Gainesville and a school-record seventh consecutive regional appearance for the Gators.
Florida barely scrapped their way into the post season a year ago, getting a four-seed in the Indiana regional before a quick exit from postseason play. Three consecutive losses to end the 2013 season left Florida with a sub .500 record for the first time in the O’Sullivan era. It also left the team with a bad taste in their mouth and a chip on their shoulder heading into this season.
“Last year was rough,” pitcher Bobby Poyner said. “We had to put it behind us and it’s always motivation, you know? We went two and out last year and it’s still in the back of everybody’s minds. We’re going to use it as motivation moving forward.”
Still, even with that motivation, Florida got off to a slow start. A tough schedule to start the 2014 campaign, coupled with Harrison Bader’s suspension left the Gators at 7-6 after 13 games and it looked like Florida would be stuck rebuilding again this season.
“Obviously, I think not having Bader in the lineup for the first 19 games, you guys have seen how much he’s helped our offense,” O’Sullivan said. “There were a lot of different factors but we’ve come a long way, we’ve played a good schedule and I think we’ve earned the national seed. I don’t think anyone gave us anything.”
Nothing is given. Gushue learned that last season. After enrolling at Florida on the tail end of back-to-back-to-back College World Series appearances, he might have assumed that every season just ended in Omaha. Gushue said the struggles the team faced last season and early on this year let them know that anything worth having, is worth working hard for.
“It’s definitely not just given; nothing good that comes is, you have to work hard for it,” he said. “Not to say that we didn’t work hard [last season] but to come back this year and realize that it’s not easy and just take that approach into every single day that you come out to the field. It definitely makes it more of a priority to work hard and just to know that you gotta come ready to play every day.”
This isn’t your typical No. 2 seeded team. Florida is a blue collar, grind-it-out type of ball club. The Gators finished 11th in the conference in batting average, 10th in slugging percentage, 11th in on base percentage and runs scored, seventh in ERA and hit just three more home runs as a team than Kentucky slugger A.J. Reed (to be fair, Reed’s 23 home runs were more than 185 teams’ home run totals this season.)
All week in Hoover during the SEC Tournament, national reporters who haven’t followed Florida closely looked at the team on paper and were left scratching their heads. How did this team win the SEC? On paper the Gators are a middle-of-the-road ball club. They don’t appear to be great in any one statistical category — other than wins– there’s no ‘wow factor’ according to most in the national media.
“We just know how to win, that’s it,” Gushue said. “Like they said, we’re not gonna impress you with a whole bunch of ‘wow’ factors, but, take our 40-win season and hardest schedule in the nation to beat your ‘wow factor’. It’s just one of those things we got done this year.”
“I feel like our team is definitely one of the best teams out there and we definitely deserved the seed we got. It’s all good.”