O’Sullivan: A new ‘season starts now’

The past 17 games — they were warm-ups.

Despite the fact the Gators matched the school record for most consecutive wins notching their 14th against the Seminoles Tuesday night, Florida will start a new season come Friday. The orange and blue will come face-to-face with their first Southeastern Conference play of the season, opening with a series against Vanderbilt.

“The second part of the season starts now,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the FSU victory. “The conference is really important. All of the games are important. But I think this game and playing Miami on the road, certainly helps prepare you for conference play.”

The tough, in-state competition also allowed for Florida to peel back layers on its offense and defense to bare areas that need mending before conference play sparks.

Though the Gators have owned the season thus far, registering its sole loss in their season opening series with Cal State Fullerton, there are areas that still need some TLC. Particular problems bubbled to the surface in the Seminoles matchup Tuesday, including missed signs in both hitting and running situations.

In the bottom of the eighth inning of the FSU game, UF hitters were given signs to sacrifice to reel in base runners; however the hitters instead attempted to drag bunt.

“Not a whole lot of physical mistakes tonight,” O’Sullivan said after the FSU matchup. “I think it was more the mental stuff. Sometimes when you miss a sign in a game like tonight, it could easily get overlooked. But if you miss a sign in a 3-2 ball game in the eighth, you get exposed.”

Early on against the ‘Noles in the third inning, freshman Josh Tobias made an error at third base, missing his throw to fellow freshman Taylor Gushue at first. His error allowed two runs — tallying the only runs for the visitors. 

“He’s a freshman and when you have young players, you’re going to have really bright moments and sometimes not-so-bright moments,” O’Sullivan said of Tobias. “But I believe in him. I know he’s a good player.”

Tobias performed well at the plate, proving the depth of the Gators’ stacked lineup. The freshman third baseman hit a double down the left field line, eventually crossing the plate for Florida’s fourth run.

Offensively, Florida has had impressive performances as FSU’s game upped Florida to share the No. 1 spot for the nation’s most homeruns at 26. Junior Nolan Fontana and senior slugger Preston Tucker both posted homers against the Seminoles.

“The bottom half of our lineup is really swinging the bat well,” Tucker said. “When the bats come alive there, there are guys on base for the guys at the top of the lineup.”

Tucker said the Gators must continue to work on not leaving runners stranded on base. Two instances include the bottom of the third and fifth inning, when designated hitter Brian Johnson and catcher Mike Zunino were stranded after freshmen Taylor Gushue and Casey Turgeon registered the last two outs of the innings.

“We had a ton of guys on base,” Tucker said. “We did score a lot of runs, but I think we could’ve done a better job of that.”

However, the orange and blue has been flexing their muscles on the mound with stellar outings speckled throughout the bullpen.

“You can just throw anybody out there,” Tucker said of UF’s pitching. “And they won’t give up a run, and if they give up one, they won’t give up two.”

Tuesday, Florida and Florida State rifled through five pitchers on the hill. UF showcased freshman Bobby Poyner, senior Greg Larson, junior Steven “Paco” Rodriguez, sophomore Daniel Gibson and junior closer Austin Maddox.

“Everybody came out and threw strikes,” Rodriguez said. “We pounded the ball into the zone and we got outs — and that’s what matters.”

Before Friday’s conference opener against Vanderbilt, the Gators will get one more opportunity for live competition in an exhibition game against the Ontario Blue Jays at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the friendly confines of McKethan Stadium.

“When we meet before the exhibition game, we’ll do like we always do,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll go over all the mistakes that we had tonight. There was quite a few. We’ll also point out the positives. There were plenty of those as well. But we really don’t change our approach on how we handle the next day.”