With opening day set for Friday, the No. 17 Florida Gators baseball team has been putting together final preparations for their weekend series against Duke.
The dreary weather on Wednesday didn’t put a damper on the team’s practice nor could it curb the excitement of being days away from hitting the field in an official capacity.
“Our practices have been awesome and I couldn’t be more excited,” sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue said with a smile.
Although the team anxiously awaits the opportunity to kick off the season, it was announced earlier Wednesday they will be doing so without the services of pitcher Karsten Whitson.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said the news was obviously a disappointment, but the Gators have been aware of the Whitson’s issues for a while now.
“We knew that there was a possibility that he might not pitch the first two weekends; we were kind of prepared for this so it hasn’t really changed a whole lot in regards to this weekend,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan revealed the starting lineup for this weekend would consist of all right-handers, as Jonathon Crawford, Tucker Simpson and Justin Shafer are in line to take the mound.
While Crawford has established himself over the years in Gainesville, Florida fans saw very little of Shafer last season, and have yet to see Simpson at all, as the Alabama-native is just a freshman.
However, O’Sullivan expressed confidence in his young hurlers on Wednesday.
“I know that Justin didn’t pitch a whole lot last year because quite frankly we didn’t need him to, but he’s earned his starting role,” O’Sullivan said. “Our hitters are 2-for-38 since we started scrimmages so he’s been really good and I think he’s forced our hand to put him in a starting role.”
O’Sullivan expressed a similar sentiment in regards to the 6’6 Simpson, who has drawn rave reviews since his arrival in Gainesville. Sully stated that it’s Simpson’s competitiveness that really stands out as well as his experience.
“He’s been a guy that’s been on the national scene for quite some time,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s certainly ready for this challenge I think.”
A Whole New Team
Last year, the Gators entered the season as the undisputed No. 1 team, a far cry from where they currently rank. Florida was the beneficiary of power up and down the lineup in 2012, but this year, the Gators will have to use their speed and athleticism to put runs on the scoreboard.
“It’s definitely a different feel than we had last year; with all the power that we had in our lineup – it’s unmatched,” Gushue said. “This year, I think we have so much more speed than we did last year … I think that’s going to help us tremendously.
The Florida squads of the last few years were seemingly unmatched from a pure talent perspective, and the power bats were certainly major contributors. According to O’Sullivan, the lineup Florida had last year is a rarity in college baseball, but the type of team the Gators will trot out this season is still capable of getting to Omaha.
“Your philosophy changes from year-to-year and everyone keeps talking about last year’s team. It is extremely difficult in the college game to get that type of power,” O’Sullivan said.
“To put things in perspective, we’ve lost 28 players the last two years; we’ve lost 11 recruits and 17 players off of our team to professional baseball.
“But, when you dissect our team and what its strengths are; we can run, we’re athletic and we’re going to do that. The teams that win in Omaha every year; it’s not about home runs or that type of thing. I’m very proud of who we have right now and what we’ve been able to do and I think this team has got a chance to be very successful; it’s just going to be in a different way.”