Gators almost at full health for NCAA Regional

The Florida Gators will host a NCAA Regional starting Friday and for the first time in several weeks they are almost completely at full strength. Dalton Guthrie is expected back at shortstop and near the top of the order while Nick Horvath should take center field ad be called upon to pitch at some point over the weekend. The lone missing Gator should be senior outfielder Ryan Larson. 

The Gators open up with Marist Friday at 7 p.m., but more than anything to this point, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has trying to get the pieces back together from a team that has seen a good deal of injuries this season and just see what he has to work with at this point.

“Not a whole lot yet,” O’Sullivan said when asked about what he has told the team about their first opponent. “We’re putting that together right now. Really what we’re trying to do is focus on ourselves and trying and get healthy and see what our roster looks like this weekend

Guthrie was a casualty of the last home SEC series against Kentucky. In game two, while trying to avoid the foot of the first baseman on an infield hit, he stepped on the side of the bag and badly sprained his ankle. He missed most of the second game against Kentucky, all of the third, and all of last weekend in the SEC Tournament. 

O’Sullivan has been pleased with his physical progress since last weekend.

“I think Guthrie’s fine,” he said. “He moved around real good yesterday. He’s been doing some sprints, took some ground balls, (and he took) some (batting practice) this past weekend up at Hoover.

Larson was hit in the helmet in the first at-bat of the game for Florida in the SEC Tournament. Usually the helmet protects against severe stuff, but it caught enough of his face to make a dramatic impact.

“Larson I think will be out for the weekend and be ready for Supers,” O’Sullivan said if the Gators win the weekend four-team bracket.

“It was weird. He went down and I thought it caught most of the helmet and when he got up he looked fine. But, when he ran the bases and came off the field, he did not look right. So, obviously we are going to try and be very cautious with him. It was unfortunate, but injuries happen to everyone. We’re looking forward to getting him back for the Supers if we get one.

“I think other than Ryan, we’ll be at full strength.”

In place of Larson in the opening game against Auburn in the SEC Tournament, Nick Horvath played in center. Horvath too would come out of the game after a ball hit to the outfield bounced up and hit him in the mouth causing him to get multiple stitches to repair it.

“He got some stitches, but he’s fine,” O’Sullivan said of Horvath.  “He probably does step back into the lineup in center field. It’ll be interesting because we’re going to need him on the mound. Obviously the DH rule and moving him from center to the mound will be interesting, so we have to kind of think that through a little bit.

The Gators got junior catcher Mike Rivera back for the SEC Tournament after weeks off and surgery to repair a broken Hamate bone. He is certainly one of the leaders on the squad, but others played well in his place.

“He’s our heart and soul,” O’Sullivan said of Rivera. “He’s got great make up. He handles the pitchers. We’re fortunate to have three really good catchers with him, J.J. Schwarz, and Mark Kolozsvary. We’re fortunate, but it’s good to have him back.”

Guthrie missed time earlier in the year. Third baseman Jonathan India missed a few weeks with an injury late in the season, and there have been others. This team has had its share of players missing time on the field and persevered through to finish as the number three seed in the entire NCAA Tournament.

“It’s been a weird year,” O’Sullivan said. “Going back to all the personnel from last year’s club, I think we lost about $11 million dollars worth of signing bonuses. We’ve had a lot of shoes to fill and all the balancing acts with the injuries and all those types of things. I think we won 17 1-run games. I think our recipe for success has been our starting pitching on the weekend. We’ve got some timely hitting the last 5-6 weeks. J.J. has gotten hot which I think has made the rest of the lineup get hot. We have a guy at the end of the ball game in Michael Byrne that’s been able to close things down for us and broke the school record with 14 saves.

With all the injuries and losses to Major League baseball a year ago, others have had to step up, and some have been unexpected surprises.

“We might not have quite the depth on the mound that we’ve had in years past, but we’ve had a lot of role guys step up and have great years for us… Christian Hicks Mark Kolozsvary, Ryan Larson, Michael Byrne. Those guys have had great years for us and I think that is kind of one of the main reasons we’re at where we’re at… other than the obvious, our three starting pitchers and J.J. getting hot. 

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