Tim Casey / UAA Communications

O’Sullivan and Baseball Gators not shy of expectations

Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan sat down to talk to reporters prior to the first practice of the season on Friday. Much of the talk centered on expectations, as earlier in the day his team was announced as preseason #1 in a FIFTH different poll.  Coach O’Sullivan assured those present that expectations are nothing new at this program. 

“We always have expectations here, to be honest,” he said. “I would hope to be sitting in front of you every year with the expectation to do well in the SEC, get back to Omaha, and hopefully win a national championship.”

During his eight seasons in Gainesville, Coach O’Sullivan has developed this program into a threat to compete for championships, with five combined SEC regular season and tournament titles and numerous deep inquests into the College World Series. He did not mince words about the current status of Gator Baseball.

“Every year, we expect to get to Omaha,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the standard.  Somebody said it this way: there are Omaha teams and then there’re Omaha programs. And I think we’re getting to a point where the expectation is that, and I think that’s great.”

The Gators made a run to national semifinal in Omaha last year, before being outlasted by the eventual national champion Virginia Cavaliers in the decisive game of the series, 5-4. Lingering disappointment, while present, is nothing to be worried about, as the coach assured us.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the way last year ended,” said O’Sullivan. “Do I think it motivates our team? Maybe to a certain degree, but last year is last year. We got beat by a Virginia team that just played flawlessly. I think this team is ready to play good baseball this year and we’ll see what happens.”

When pressed on whether or not this was the best team he has had in Gainesville, O’Sullivan discussed his expectations for improvement.

“I think on paper, it’s a very talented team. But obviously, it takes a lot more than talent to win in this league.

It’s hard to say. We need a lot of things to happen. We need some freshmen to step in and be able to play to they’re abilities. We need some higher profile guys to have the years that we expect them to have.”

When asked for specifics, Coach O’Sullivan discussed the need to replace the right side of the infield. With the departure of the prolific combo of Josh Tobias and Richie Martin, the need to replace their defensive prowess was vital throughout the offseason.

“Infield,” he said definitively. “We spent a lot of time this fall working on defense quite honestly. Obviously last year with Richie and Tobias in the left side of the infield, that’s the best we’ve had here.”

Sophomore Dalton Guthrie will move to shortstop. “He had a tremendous fall,” said Coach O’Sullivan.  “So we have to replace 2nd and 3rd. Christian Hicks has gotten better.”

The heralded, #1 rated 2015 recruiting class will be heavily relied on to assist in this area, with Jonathan India (taken in the 26th round by the Milwaukee Brewers) and Deacon Liput (taken in the 39th round by the Yankees) expected to contribute early. With both freshmen batting over .400 this fall against a loaded Florida pitching staff, it’s fair to say that they have impressed since their arrival on campus.

Although not without question marks, the roster that Coach O’Sullivan has assembled for this season, as evident by the acclaim, is the envy of college baseball. He has a pitching staff that, by his own admission, has eight or nine guys with mid-90’s velocity. The junior class has taken on the leadership role for the team, and O’Sullivan spoke glowingly about their contribution to the program. “We have a bunch of older players that are committed to the team’s success, which is vital to our success,” he said. Even with the added expectations of this team, their leader has given a lot of credit back to the team for not getting caught up in the hype.

“It’s a credit to our players. They are smart enough to understand that we have a long way to go and how difficult our schedule is.”

With 19 days left until the opener, it will be awful hard for Gators fans not to get a little excited about this team and what they can accomplish. They possess every facet necessary to be a dominant team. And with seemingly everything going according to plan, you have to wonder if this will be the year that the Florida Gators conquer Omaha.

 


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