Not even Kevin O’Sullivan did when he called on his senior early in the fifth inning on Saturday. A.J. Puk was having trouble settling into the game and gave up eight base runners in four innings of work. O’Sullivan needed someone to throw consistent strikes, and in the Florida bullpen, that’s Poyner.
The senior earned the win by tossing five shutout innings of relief on Saturday, giving up just three hits while striking out two.
“I knew there was a really good chance coming into today that it was going to be my last time playing on this field,” Bobby Poyner said. “I couldn’t ask for a better outing and a better group of guys to do it with.”
O’Sullivan had four different relievers -- Taylor Lewis, Aaron Rhodes, Kirby Snead and Danny Young -- warm up throughout the game but none were needed. Poyner was in control, moving his fastball to both sides of the plate and getting swings and misses with his slider. Poyner locked FSU hitters up with his fastball inside, producing weak contact through his five innings of work.
With his dominance on Saturday, it puts the Gators back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012. Poyner and third baseman Josh Tobias are the only players still on the team that have been to Omaha. They’ll be important sounding boards for the other members of the team that have never been there, and Poyner’s prepared to answer questions.
The most important thing in his mind is to be prepared to handle the crowds of 20,000+ that will be in TD Ameritrade Park starting next weekend.
“The biggest thing, in my opinion, is reminding yourself it’s still baseball and not getting caught up in the big crowd,” Poyner said. “You’re playing for a national championship, and that in itself creates a lot of pressure. The biggest message is that it’s still baseball. We’ve got to do what we did against Florida State and all season.”
TURNING POINT OF THE YEAR: O’Sullivan knows it sounds weird. The Gators were in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference title throughout the year and were seen as a national seed throughout most of the season. But something wasn’t right, as the Gators weren’t playing up to their potential.
“I knew we had the personnel to play better,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s hard because we played well. We went into the last weekend or two with a chance to win the SEC championship. We won 40 games in the regular season. It just, there was something missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was consistency more than anything else. We’d show flashes and then we’d back off a hair.”
It started to click on May 2. The Gators were coming off an embarrassing 11-1 loss the night before at Georgia. It was the Bulldogs’ first home SEC win of the season, and Georgia made it look easy.
The next day is when A.J. Puk got going, tossing six shutout innings and jumpstarting a strong end to his season. The Gators were able to grind out a 3-2 win in Athens and won on Sunday 7-4 to clinch the series after the ugly Friday night. The Vanderbilt series followed, and the Gators won two games in Nashville before closing out the regular season with a series win over Auburn.
After winning the SEC Tournament through the loser’s bracket, Florida has won five straight NCAA Tournament games and returns to the College World Series for the first time since 2012.
“When you look back, the second game at Georgia was a big game for us,” O’Sullivan said. “We got beat up pretty good on Friday. We played a close game on Saturday. Jeremy (Vasquez) came off the bench and had a big base hit for us. Alex came out and we won the Sunday game.
“If you put your finger on one game, I think it was that second game at Georgia that kind of got us going."
CROWDS: The two games this weekend went in the record books as two of the top 11 crowds in Florida history. Friday’s crowd of 5,709 was then topped by 5,772 on Saturday. The crowds were loud and energetic, helping the Gators continue their momentum.
When Florida State took a 2-0 lead on Saturday, the large contingent of Seminoles fans in the crowd were loud and had Florida playing on its heels. The Florida fans started some more UF-centric cheers to build energy as the Gators came to the plate in the top of the inning, and Florida took the lead soon after. O’Sullivan said the crowd had a lot to do with it.
“I want to say thanks to our fans,” he said at the beginning of the post-game press conference. “It was an incredible atmosphere this weekend. They inspired our guys, motivated our guys. Today was a great example with how we kept answering back offensively.”