Steven Branscombe / USA TODAY Sports

Sully goes for 400 as the Gators take on the Hurricanes

What could make the home series between the No. 2 Florida Gators (3-1) Baseball team and rival No. 17 Miami Hurricanes (2-1) bigger? How about Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan going for win number 400?  O’Sullivan stands at 399 wins in his head coaching career, all at Florida, and the monumental win, if it happens, couldn’t come at a better time.

There is no doubt that O’Sullivan has raised Gators Baseball to a level of success that it has never seen before. In his nine years at the helm. Florida has reached the College World Series five times, won three SEC Championships, two SEC Tournament Championships, and he has had 16 All-Americans and 16 Freshman All-Americans. The list of accolades goes on.

O’Sullivan is grateful to be in the position he is in and says that a great deal of the success has been about the continuity his program has had over the long haul.

“It’s been a great nine years,” O’Sullivan said after practice on Thursday in preparation for the Miami series. “Thinking back to when I first got the job. You hope that you get the opportunity to coach at a place like Florida, but you just never know in this profession. I feel very fortunate. There are a lot of people that work very hard in their whole career and don’t get this opportunity.

“The expectations in this league… you go to the SEC Coaches’ meeting every year and there are 3-4 new faces every year, so it’s not easy. I feel very fortunate and very grateful that I was given an opportunity. I have a great staff that has been together for nine years, this is our tenth year, which is unheard of in this profession. We’ve had a lot of continuity in our staff, so I think that has been a huge part of our success. We’ve been able to recruit very good players, but I think the continuity of our staff and keeping everybody together, everybody is on the same page, and we all work so well together, I think is probably the biggest reason why we’ve been so successful.”

It’s always a good thing when his teams play rival teams and it seems like the stakes are higher. That is what you get with the 17th ranked Hurricanes. 

“You always want to play some good people early to see where you are and gauge where your team is at, maybe see where you’re deficient in some areas,” he said. “I always enjoy playing Miami because if you don’t play well you’re going to get exposed. It ramps things up a little bit. Obviously it’s big because of the intensity of the rivalry. The fans get into it. I hear we’re going to have really good fans this weekend and sell out a couple of times. It will be fun.

O'Sullivan understands the importance of the series, not only for the fans, but just for the program in general.

“I would hope that it would be important to them,” he said of what his players think of the series. “It’s Miami, and the same thing goes for Florida State or anybody else we play in-state. Certainly the Miami and Florida State games are important for our fans and they’re important for our program. It’s important for recruiting. It helps you with your RPI when you’re playing a team like Miami or Florida State. They’re not more important than the other ones but I think with the intensity and being an in-state rival it obviously makes things more interesting.”

The Hurricanes have had one series to date and won the first two games against Rutgers while losing the last one. It was a mixed bag on the mound pitching a shutout in game one and giving up just four in game two, while Rutgers put up 17 runs in game three. The Hurricanes were able to plate 17 runs in the three game series, so they can score.

“The first two starters threw the ball very well,” O’Sullivan said of righty Jesse Lepore and lefty Jeb Bargfeldt. “The top half of their lineup is some older guys that we’re familiar with. They have a couple of JC transfers in there. They have a few freshmen that are playing. Carl Chester’s been a three year starter for them to lead off. Johnny Ruiz is a senior. Third base (Edgar Michelangeli) is a senior. They’ve got some older guys. They can use (Andrew Cabezas) to set up. They’ve been using Frankie Bartow as their closer. They’ve kind of got some roles figured out. It is a typical Miami team, although I don’t know if they have quite the power that they’ve had. Their very efficient offensively, they handle the bat well… it should be a good test for us.”

Pitching mind games…

The Gators have also had a mixed bag in their four games played this season. In all it was a good start, maybe especially on the mound. But a couple of guys didn’t have outings they were hoping for so far this year.

Friday starter Alex Faedo went 4.2 innings last Friday in the matchup with William and Mary and gave up 4 earned runs before he was pulled. It wasn’t a typical outing for the junior 13 game winner from 2016. Freshman Andrew Baker saw action in three games so far. He came in against William and Mary twice and threw 2.1 innings of scoreless baseball. Then he was brought in to close against Jacksonville University in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-0 lead and ended up being the losing pitcher of record in the 3-2 loss to the Dolphins.

Sully thinks the two will be alright.

“Alex probably tried to do too much and it was the first night out,” the Gators’ skipper said. “He had a really good bullpen this week and he will be fine.

“Andrew is freshman stuff. First time on the road and the game kind of sped up on him. We spent a lot of time on Wednesday talking about it. He’s fine. It’s kind of expected with those young pitchers and young position players. They have an awful lot to learn and there is only so much you can teach them in a bullpen session, they have to get out there in a game.”

And that is why it is important to start getting some of the bullpen arms out there to pitch. Depending on how things go this weekend, O’Sullivan could find a way to get several freshman arms out on the mound.

“I would like to,” he said about getting the young guys on the mound. “We talked to our team on Wednesday. I need to find some innings for these younger pitchers. There are five or six of the freshmen that are very talented. But, what I’m trying to do is find the right time to insert them and give them some confidence. It may have been a little unfair to put Andrew in that position the other night, but we needed to kind of find out.”

What he needs is for the offense to live up to what he believes they are capable of, then he can get the young pitchers out there in situations where they can just get the butterflies out and pitch the ball.  

“I would like to swing the bats and give us some cushion, give us some runs so we can have more opportunities to get those guys out there,” he said. “I think ideally we would love to get a few of those guys out there this weekend. If not, we have two mid-week games next weekend and two more mid-weeks the following weeks, so we’ll get them out there.

“I think the key to our team eventually is going to be the development of four or five of those freshmen (pitchers). I talked to them yesterday as well and I have full confidence in them. A few of them haven’t had a chance to get out there yet and if they have it’s only been an inning. It’s really important for us over the next month to kind of get their confidence going, get them out there, get them acclimated to game speed at this level, and develop those guys because we’re going to need them.”

 


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