No. 1 Florida Still Finding Motivation

There wasn't a lot that went wrong for the Gators in the Gainesville Regional. The offense scored 25 runs, the pitching allowed just five runs and the defense made multiple sparkling plays to give the Gators the best weekend they had played all year. It came at the perfect time. The Gators head into this weekend's Super Regionals against North Carolina State with extra motivation.

They're tired of hearing the same thing. After Florida breezed through last weekend's Regional, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan wasn't shy about his feelings on his team's play. The narrative throughout most of the season has been that when Florida plays its best ball, they will be tough to beat.

O'Sullivan doesn't think his team wants to hear it anymore.

"This team is probably tired of hearing how people haven't thought they've played up to their potential," O'Sullivan said. "We're the No. 1 seed, and we're using that as motivation moving forward."

It's hard to blame him or the team for that. The Gators have maintained a top-two RPI throughout the season and earned the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, there's still a belief that more is expected.

It's hard to think more can happen after the production from all phases over the weekend in a win over Bethune-Cookman and two wins over Georgia Tech.

"The whole weekend was (a glimpse of what Florida can do)," O'Sullivan said. "Crawford throws a no-hitter, and we play a game (Saturday) night against one of the better pitchers we've faced this year in (Buck) Farmer. (Sunday), we swung the bats."

The offense is what drew the biggest criticism. After bringing back a majority of the productive hitters from last year's team, the Florida offense wasn't producing to the expectation of those across the country. O'Sullivan remained calm about it, saying his team would break out of the slump.

The Florida offense has improved in recent weeks, but it's not a quick fix. With the state of college baseball for multiple reasons, it might not be a quick fix this season.

"If you look across the country, offensively, there have been struggles—the bats have something to do with it and the pitching," O'Sullivan said. "We've played the No. 1 schedule in the country. I think people sometimes forget that. We've played some very good opponents throughout the year and have not had many off games."

It wasn't just the offense, but the entire team started to play its best ball during a series at Auburn to close the regular season. Florida got 16 combined innings of one-run ball from Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall that weekend while the bats were consistent and the defense was just as good.

Since then, the team has played much better, but the criticism remains.

"You're tired of hearing it when we're facing good pitchers every day," Johnson said. "It's a grind. (The weekend) was a good showing and what we're capable of."

The pitching and offense has the talent to be among the best in the country, but it's the Florida defense that has elevated its play. The Gators made one error, a throwing error by left fielder Justin Shafer, on the weekend. Two freshmen—third baseman Josh Tobias and second baseman Casey Turgeon—made one sparkling play after another to seal a strong weekend, including at least one each during the no-hitter.

With Nolan Fontana considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the country, the Florida infield defense is coming together at the right time.

"Everybody talks about our pitching and everybody talks about our offense and its power," O'Sullivan said, "but our defense is really good.

"Josh Tobias has done a really good job. His first step on balls to his left is really good. He saved some balls that earlier in the year might've gotten by him. He has solidified that infield. Obviously, Nolan is the best in the country, and you've seen enough of the plays that Turgeon has made. I'm really pleased with how Tobias has come on defensively."

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