Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Kevin O’Sullivan’s club is talented. They’ve got the bats. They’ve got the arms. They’ve got the defense. They’ve got national title potential.
But that would have read as a spot on synopsis of the last eight years, too. In five of those last eight years, the Gators validated the hype to the extent that they reached the game’s ultimate stage in Omaha- and all five times the Gators failed to bring home the ultimate prize on that ultimate stage. That includes flaming out as the #1 overall seed with two-and-que performances lowlighted by losses to Cinderella squads Kent State and Coastal Carolina. That also includes two roller coaster rides deep into the double elimination CWS bracket, only to have their hearts broken in the end.
All in all, Florida is 6-10 in their five trips to Omaha since O’Sullivan took over, with one trip to the Finals. No bueno.
But that can’t be the worry now. The Gators open their season tonight, against a William and Mary team that rebounded from an opening game loss in last year’s Regionals and made it all the way to the Regional final. In other words, the Tribe aren’t a joke. The Gators will then play about 60-70 more games before the College World Series begins. Thinking about Omaha four months before a game is played there, or really at any point prior, is a sure fire way to not get there. All Florida can do until then is use those heartbreaks to fuel them to make their return. And that’s no easy task.
At this level, baseball is all mental. If there’s a talent gap between the Gators and their SEC opponents, let alone potential CWS opponents, it’s so marginal that it’s not even noticeable. Florida has future MLB pitchers in Alex Faedo, Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer, but the likes of LSU, FSU, etc. do too. The Gators have a surplus of big bats in their lineup, between JJ Schwarz, Mike Rivera, Jonathan India, Deacon Liput, and the on base machine Dalton Guthrie, but so do their opponents. You don’t get recruited to play SEC baseball if you don’t have some tool that could someday be on display in the majors. Everybody on the top 10-20 teams has similar physical abilities; that’s not what separates the champions from those who lose in the CWS.
And so that’s the task for this Gator team: come out hungry and determined tonight, and then maintain that level of hunger and determination throughout the season. Get into the routine of playing every game like it’s the College World Series.
Yes, this team is loaded. But the narrative about how this team is stockpiled with talent is getting tiresome. I’m interesed in seeing how the Gators fare in games where things aren’t going well, and where they get tested unexpectedly. How they do with those tests will be a much better indication of how things will go in the postseason.
And if they pass those tests with flying colors, this might be the year they finally break through.