They don’t need their coach to sit them down and talk about the history of the rivalry. The players remember losing two of three to the Seminoles (44-19) this season. Many of them grew up watching this rivalry in different sports, knowing exactly what it meant.
There’s enough on the line to get the players excited. The winner of this weekend’s best-of-three series will earn a spot in the College World Series. But when Florida State comes to town this weekend, the Gators (47-16) know how important it is.
“The players know what’s at stake,” Kevin O’Sullivan said before practice on Thursday morning. “We’ve been playing really well, so I’m just trying to stay out of the way.”
That’s not foreign for O’Sullivan to do late in the season.
It started weeks ago when the Gators started on their roll at Vanderbilt. Florida won two-of-three in Nashville then did the same thing at home against Auburn. After dropping the opener in the SEC Tournament, the Gators blew through the loser’s bracket to win the tournament for the second time in eight years under O’Sullivan.
He noticed the team playing well and knew it was time to back away. That’s possible when he can trust the leadership of a team, knowing that the older players wouldn’t allow the team to lose sight of its goals.
“This time of the year, obviously there’s a lot at stake,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve been playing so well. I think we’ve got some really good leadership. I think Josh (Tobias) and (Bobby) Poyner and (Aaron) Rhodes have done a really good job as far as taking over the team. Our juniors have done a nice job, our sophomores have grown up and our freshmen have contributed.
“We’ve got a nice little mix. We’ve got good mojo going right now, and it’s totally up to the players at this point. They’ve got to go out and play and perform. I trust them, so I’m just going to let ‘em go.”
Most of Florida’s regular season was full of perceived inconsistency. Despite that, the Gators won 40 games in the regular season while just finding their stride over the last two weeks of the regular season.
“Teams evolve as the season goes on and I think this one is kind of a unique team in terms of we’ve played consistent the whole year – we won 40 games in the regular season – but I think the general consensus was we hadn’t played our best baseball yet,” O’Sullivan said. “And I know that’s kind of odd to say, we were in the SEC hunt coming up to the last few weekends. At least I still felt like we still had our best baseball left to play.”
That’s happening now. The Gators had multiple stretches during the regular season with starters out injured, but now that everyone is healthy, they’re playing well. Florida swept through the Gainesville Regional 29-3 last weekend and has momentum on its side before hosting the Seminoles.
“I just think a lot of pieces have kind of come together for us,” O’Sullivan said.