Season not defined by tournament frustration

No one enjoyed how the season ended on Saturday. Florida player sat at the podium next to coach Kevin O'Sullivan minutes after their season ended, struggling to hide their frustration. The message from O'Sullivan wasn't about the team's offensive struggles or the big innings allowed in both games. He said everyone should remember this team by what it accomplished.

And while that might be tough for players and fans to understand in the days following Florida's tournament exit, it's the truth.

The Gators went into the season picked to finish third in the SEC East. They had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country but predicting the impact a freshman will make is never easy. That proved to be the case after Florida's two best pitchers during the offseason -- freshmen Dane Dunning and Brett Morales -- struggled to find roles early in the season.

Thirteen games into the season, it looked like Florida was destined for a second straight season where it would have to fight its way into making the NCAA Tournament. But something changed. The offense turned it around, the pitching became more consistent and the defense improved.

The overall improvement surprisingly came against conference teams. While rolling through the 30-game schedule in the toughest conference in the country, Florida's youth grew up in a hurry. The Gators broke the school record by winning 12 straight SEC games on the way to winning the conference by two games, an unthinkable accomplishment while Florida was fumbling through a weekend when it lost three of four games to Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois.

The non-conference schedule provided multiple memorable moments. Florida opened the season with a series win over Maryland, who just won at South Carolina to advance to a Super Regional. The Gators also swept a midweek three-game series against rival Florida State.

The disappointment in the weekend losses to College of Charleston and North Carolina is understandable and met by even more disappointment from the players and coaches. But when the emotion wears off, everyone should remember this season in a positive light. It came a year ahead of schedule and put the young players in situations that will allow them to grow heading into next season.

Logan Shore spent most of the year as the Friday night starter and pitching in some of the most difficult road environments in the country. The rest of the young arms did, too. Florida also put young hitters in those situations, and they got plenty of at-bats. The growth of those freshmen hitters could define how successful the 2015 season is.

If this season played out as was expected after the first two weeks, Florida would still be seen as one of the top teams in the country heading into the 2015 season. However, some of the youth matured quicker than expected, giving this season an unexpected outcome. That shouldn't take away from what the Gators accomplished this season, even with a disappointing weekend bringing a season to an end.

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