Year three, the Gators were young, but with recruiting ties established, a quartet of talented freshmen took the Gators to their first Super Regional. Then, in year four, it was the best season in school history with a SEC title, Super Regional win and a spot in the College World Series. To take it to another level, the Gators reached the NCAA finals against Texas before settling for second place.
I sat down with Coach McMahon to talk at length for a two-part story on Gator baseball. Today, we talk about what this team accomplished and how it got done.
LV: Pat, I know the season ended two wins short of your goal, but are far enough removed from the losses to Texas to appreciate what a great season this really was?
PM: No. Really, I appreciate so many things. As we come back I meet with all our players in what is typically a very emotional meeting because it's the last time we meet as a team. Then we meet one-on-one. The look in our players' eyes, the feelings they have for each other … they still believe the wrong team won and that's a good thing. A lot of teams get to Omaha and they're just so happy to be there … our guys weren't. They continued to play with great effort and represented everybody very well I thought.
LV: Was there ever a point during this season when you got a feeling that this team would do something very special?
PM: You start preparing for a season from day one and you have to prepare for a national championship from day one. I really believe that. I thought as we went through the year so many different guys contributed. When that happens, you can be a very tough club when you get things going on all cylinders. And to our guys' credit, they did.
LV: The Vanderbilt series was so important. You went on the road with an SEC title on the line, facing perhaps the best pitching staff in the conference and gutted out three tough wins. That seemed to me to be the springboard for an outstanding post-season.
LV: People are going to focus on being NCAA runner-up and rightfully so, but you can hang your hat on four major accomplishments this year. You won the SEC Championship. You won a Regional at home without losing a game. You won a Super Regional at home, beating Florida State to boot and setting attendance records in the process. Any of those four would make for a great year and you got 'em all.
PM: After the SEC Championship we had two great comeback wins at the SEC Tournament but just couldn't finish the deal against what I thought was the best team in the country not to make it to Omaha in Mississippi. Most baseball experts thought our Regional was one of the toughest in the country and to play through that was outstanding. The Super Regional took on a whole different deal. I mean you had everything at stake trying to earn a spot in Omaha and dealing with an arch-rival as well. It was an electric atmosphere around here with the great crowds and to do that well against a very talented and well-prepared club was special.
LV: When you and I talked for the GatorZone show back in January we really focused on the "Super Sophs" who had played so well as freshmen in 2004 (Jeroloman, LaPorta, LeClerc, Davis). You gave a lot of playing to those guys when they were rookies and boy it paid off big time.
PM: What was exciting was that most coaches don't play freshmen that much because we don't feel it's the right thing to do. But we felt with the restructuring and the foundational standpoint of our program it was something we needed to do. That club played themselves as freshmen into a Super Regional. So I think that experience and time was a step in the right direction and it showed up this year with the investment in that young crew.
LV: I know you hate to single guys out too much, but two weeks ago I wrote that the Gator MVP had to be Brian Jeroloman with the job he did catching every day and improving his offensive numbers as well.
PM: We had so many MVP's on this ball club because it was an MVT --- Most Valuable Team and that's what I think was special about this team. Brian Jeroloman with what he did with our pitching staff, throwing out runners (37, tops in the SEC) and delivering clutch at bats, we're very excited about him.
LV: Brian just seems to have this aura about him as a guy who treats every day as the most important one of the year. I bet Brian would play every day of the year if you had a game and would be the first guy in the locker room each day.
PM: That's Brian … he's a baseball guy. He's the first guy here. He's the last guy to leave and he's always watching tape. He loves the game of baseball and he studies the game of baseball and when you have that investment in time by a player they can accomplish a lot.
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Pat McMahon also talked about his guys' academic performance being much better this year as well, something else he wanted to point out.
In the second part of our conversation with the Gator baseball coach we talk about the returning veterans, pitchers who have to step up and preparing to be a "target" in 2006.