Photo by Danny Parker

Pressure’s off as Gators take strong defense to College World Series

With little doubt that the Florida Gators are in Omaha to try and win their first national championship in baseball. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan refuses to cast a win or fail mantra on this team. He’s got a really good defense and starting pitching staff and they can win it, but he also knows they have already done a lot to get to this point.

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES: #4 Florida (47-18) vs #7 TCU (46-

Sunday June 18, 2017; 7 pm ET

Omaha Nebraska, TD Ameritrade Park

TV: ESPN2

Starters: Alex Faedo (Florida); Jared Janczak (TCU)

While O’Sullivan has guided six of his last eight squads to Omaha, the Gators have yet to walk away with the big prize. And while that national title is always a stated goal for his team, he really wants them to not have the pressure of feeling like they need to win it all.

He believes his team has the right approach for what could be a week plus full of fun.

“I don't think they feel pressure at all,” O’Sullivan said Friday when he met with the media. “I think they're excited about the opportunity. We don't address that… ‘This has got to be the team’. I mean, we're lucky to be here. I know we've been here 6 of our last 8 years, but it's not easy. I do not want the players to feel pressure. There's no pressure from me.

47 wins with one of the toughest schedules in the country and getting to this point with a top four ranking is nothing to scoff about. Regardless of what happens in the next few days or more, this was a big year.

“I think the thing to keep in mind and remember, just getting to this point is a success,” O’Sullivan said. “I think -- I know everybody wants your team to win the last game of the year, but when you're one of the last eight teams standing, I mean, I can't look at this as a failure, and I don't want our players to feel that way either.

“There's no question we would love to win the first National Championship at Florida, but I never look back on the season and say that was a failure because it's so hard to get to this point.”

The Gators have gotten to Omaha on the arms of their starting pitching and a defense that annually is among the nation’s finest. This could very well play into their favor in Omaha in a park that doesn’t like the ball to fly out and defense is at a premium.

Pitchers Alex Faedo, Michael Byrne, and Jackson Kowar have all earned All-American status this season and starter Brady Singer may be the best of the bunch before all is said and done.

“It starts on the mound with Faedo,” O’Sullivan said. “We had Michael Byrne break a school record. He's got 16 or 17 saves at this point. We've got guys that bridge the gap in between. That's been the biggest challenge, to figure out the bullpen.”

But the defense doesn’t stop with the pitching staff. Florida just had three junior catchers drafted by major League Baseball this week in Mike Rivera, Mark Kolozsvary, and J.J. Schwarz and all three are dynamite behind the plate.

Junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie was also a high draft pick and will no doubt come up with some mind boggling play this weekend that will end up as a Sports Center Top 10. Sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput was also drafted and sophomore Jonathan India will next year when he is eligible. All three could play anywhere in the infield.

“As far as defensively, we've got three very talented catchers in JJ, Mike, and Mark Kolozsvary,” Sully said. “Very interchangeable back there and had guys play different positions. Deacon Liput and Dalton Guthrie are really good defenders in the middle of the field. Jonathan India is a really good third baseman. Three high school shortstops we've moved around and played in different positions.”

It is a solid outfield with pretty good speed. Senior Ryan Larson is the only regular senior on the team and he could play left or center. Sophomore Nelson Maldonado usually holds down right field at a good clip and provides some pop in his bat as well.

“We've got a unique situation where we have one of the two seniors in centerfield, Ryan Larson, who's done a really nice job, very consistent,” Sully said. “I would say our outfield play is very consistent. We usually don't beat ourselves.

Defensively, I think we're sound again... everything starts on the mound and defensively up the middle.

TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle chimed in with Sully talking about his defense.

“When you play good defense and strike everybody out like Florida, it really helps fielding percentage,” Schlossnagle said with a laugh.  

And Sully was quick to come back, “that's right”.


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