Schwarz leading Gators to Omaha

JJ Schwarz was coming off the best week of his career. What he didn’t realize is that it might be his best ever.

After totaling seven home runs in one week in a game against Stetson and a three-game series against South Carolina, the freshman slugger was in a groove. He carried it into the midweek game that followed at Florida State, going 2-4 with another home run and just missing a second home run by a few feet.

Schwarz was locked in.

So when he didn’t continue hitting homer after homer the following weekend at Mississippi State, the freshman’s frustration began to build.

“I wasn’t coping with my failures as well as I should be,” J.J. Schwarz said. “I learned from some of the older guys how to channel my anger or whatever I had in me. That really helped a lot.”

He worked his batting average up to .314 going into that series at Mississippi State, but a 3-22 slump slowed him over the next seven games. Kevin O’Sullivan wasn’t overly surprised. He knew freshmen can be inconsistent, but Schwarz was causing the issues he was going through.

His seven-homer week set the bar so high that Schwarz was upset at himself when an at-bat didn’t end in a home run. The hot streak he built at the plate had worn off and he was in a tailspin offensively.

O’Sullivan took his aside before the Gators opened their series at Georgia on May 1.

The Florida coach told Schwarz that weeks like his seven-homer one were the rarity, and there was a good chance that would never happen again in his entire baseball career. He had to relax and get back to what made him successful during the first half of the season.

“It’s hard to do that for multiple reasons,” O’Sullivan said about Schwarz’s seven-homer week. “A lot of the reason is you’re not going to get pitches to hit like that when you’re going good. I think he handled it great and has really caught fire.”

He had a few hits that weekend against Georgia, but the big breakout for Schwarz came the following weekend in an important series at Vanderbilt. After an 0-3 against first-rounder Carson Fulmer in the first game, Schwarz went 5-10 with one triple, one home run and four RBI the rest of the weekend to help the Gators clinch the series. Since a 1-11 weekend against Auburn in the final regular season series, Schwarz has caught fire again.

His postseason numbers look impossible for a freshman. In 10 postseason games, Schwarz is hitting .564 (22-39) with five doubles, four homers, 14 runs and 17 RBI. In five NCAA Tournament games, Schwarz is hitting .600 (12-20) with four homers, nine runs and 11 RBI. In two games against Florida State in the Super Regional, Schwarz hit .714 (5-7) with three home runs, five RBI and six runs scored.

“If you’re going to win a championship, a couple guys have to get hot,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s getting to that point where he’s carrying us now. He’s got a good demeanor about him where he understands that the game has a bunch of ups and downs. He’s a very even keeled kid. He’s about the team. He’s a special player, special hitter, special catcher. He has put together quite the year.

“He’s an awfully good hitter. He was an accomplished hitter before he got to us. He’s got a knack. The barrel gets to the right spot a lot and he doesn’t miss pitches. He’s seeing the ball really well.”

The focus now turns to making that happen in Omaha. The Gators open the College World Series against Miami at 8 p.m. on Saturday. One week after the Florida softball team won a national championship with Schwarz’s sister playing first base, she challenged her brother with a simple “it’s your turn” message earlier this week. It sunk in.

“I think it’s our turn now,” Schwarz said. “We’re really excited to get out to Omaha and hopefully take one home.”

Fightin Gators Top Stories