Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

At crunch time, Kevin O'Sullivan pulled the right strings for Gators

Kevin O’Sullivan maintained this year that his Gator squad was good enough to win it all, even when things weren’t going as well as they were late in the year. It was going to take some manipulation on his part and some growth from some of his players that he wasn’t sure where it was going to come from, but Sully had faith in a group of guys that he just had a good feeling about.

It was the first College World Series Finals Championship for O’Sullivan who had been there as the Gators’ skipper six times in the last eight years. Tuesday night was an unfamiliar feeling for him and one he was still trying to recognize a little after the game.

“You never know how you're going to feel when you get the last out in the College World Series, and I'm still kind of numb,” he told the throng of reporters there to listen to the post game comments from him and some of his players. “(I’m) just overwhelmed with emotions for our players.

“They're the ones that put in all the hard work and have to juggle the classroom and all that type of thing. And our staff, (assistant coaches) Craig, Brad, we've been together for 10 years, and we've been working so hard to get to this point.

“It's all about the players to my right and the players on the bus, and I'm just really happy for them. I really am. And I'm just really happy for these guys here because they deserve it and they're the ones who go out there and play. And we'll let it sink in and we'll enjoy this for a little bit.

There have been some that have doubted Sully’s plan at Florida. Despite the fact that his teams have won more and more frequently than any in the history of the program, Sully is a pitching / defensive minded coach first. He believes in those two areas and wants to fill in the gaps with quality offensive players where he can.

Sometimes a 1-0 or a 2-1 win isn’t the sexiest thing for the fans, but enough of them at the right time will get you places, and that is just what happened with this team, this year.

19 times this squad won one-run games, the nation’s most by four games. That is nearly 40% of their 52 wins and all those wins added up to better seeding late in the year and in some cases a win or two in post season that would advance the team to eventually where they are now.

The season was won on a core pitching staff of three starters, closer Michael Byrne and a few other moments from some younger arms along the way and the defense behind those pitchers almost each and every time out.

The Gators were dynamic in the field for almost all of the College World Series. They didn’t record a single error in the last five games of their CWS run. In a game Tuesday where runners were in scoring position several times, The Gators gave up just one run.

“Obviously our starting pitching was outstanding, but when you go five games without making an error and you don't beat yourself, it just makes it more difficult on the other team that you're not giving them more outs, they're working with 27 outs.

“And we take pride in our defense. We take pride in how we play fundamentally.”

Despite that, Sully found his team in a bit of a quandary after winning game one on Monday. The length and consistent game schedule of the CWS routinely takes its toll on pitching staffs and on Tuesday Sully was pressed into starting freshman Tyler Dyson. The righty started just one game previously this season and his longest outing before Tuesday was 5.0 innings he pitched against Wake Forest in the Super Regional in Gainesville a couple of weekends before.

Tyson went out and pitched the game of his life, going 6.0 innings before turning the ball over to closer Michael Byrne in the seventh inning. Byrne would then turn the ball over to Jackson Kowar, who was expected to start on Wednesday if the game was necessary.

The game situation seemed to be in flux late in the game, but eventually Byrne and Kowar were called on to try and finish the game off.

“First when we got to the ballpark today, Jackson said he had a couple of innings in him if I needed him,” Sully said. “I didn't really think about it until he said something to me. The biggest factor is I didn't want to see (LSU starter) Alex Lange tomorrow… that was the situation that was not going to probably work in our favor to be honest with you.”

Byrne has been probably the biggest find on the entire team this year with his school record 19 saves on the season, but he wasn’t able to get LSU batters out when he went in. So, Sully made the next move to Kowar to try and get through it. Kowar came in with two on and one out in the eighth and delivered.

“With (LSU cleanup hitter) Deichman up I thought at that point it wasn't a good matchup with Michael,” Sully said. “And Jackson got that plus change and we needed an out. And I thought he was the best option at that point to get a strikeout to slow it down. And it worked out.

Sully found himself in the Super Regionals throwing starters as relievers (both Alex Faedo and Brady Singer started and relieved) because of weather issues that derailed the normal game schedule. Byrne was a big surprise as a closer that didn’t come about until a third of the season, and then he found a CWS Finals starter in Tyler Dyson who had mixed reviews throughout most of the season.

He mixed and matched throughout the playoffs and came away looking like he knew what was going to happen. A coach that would normally throw 4-5 pitchers in a big game, kept it to two on Monday and three on Tuesday. He could see some of this coming before the start of the season.

“To be honest with you, we just didn't have a lot of depth,” he said. “I knew going into the season that we were going to have to depend on our starters. Alex threw very little during the fall after the U.S.A. experience. And Jackson Kowar did not throw at all during the summer. Brady Singer got shut down after very limited innings in the Cape. And their workload in the fall was very light.

“And we started their throwing program a little earlier than most years knowing we'd have to rely on them. And the biggest thing was figuring out the back end of the bullpen. We just didn't have as much depth as we usually do. I do think next year we will have more depth but our team was just built differently, and those guys had to rise up and pitch and be consistent week in week out and they were.”


Fightin Gators Top Stories