Florida players including center fielder Nick Horvath (26) celebrate after defeating LSU in Game 2 to win the College World Series finals in Omaha, Neb., on Tuesday. [Nati Harnik/The Associated Press]

Florida just has right stuff

By Pat Dooley Columnist
Thursday, June 29, 2017 11:51 AM

So many times he took a team to Omaha and came away with the most empty of feelings.

He took teams with better talent to the land of steaks and baseball.

But he never took a better team.

On Tuesday night, Kevin O'Sullivan's always toothy grin was at a new width.

Somehow, a team that couldn't hit, hit just enough. Somehow, a team that couldn't score, scored just enough.

The final was 6-1, but anyone who watched knows it was closer than that. Way closer.

How many times have you seen a game getting tied and before you could regroup and try to figure out how the Gators could rebound it wasn't tied anymore because of an odd college baseball rule that killed LSU?

(Karma, Joe Alleva?)

No, this was a game where you had to put your heart back in your chest and you're still searching for saliva this morning. Fingernails? You mean those bloody nubs?

You've seen so many national title celebrations as a Gator fan they have become part of the landscape. But this one, I don't know, this one felt different.

Maybe because it was LSU.

Maybe because it meant no more shots of Kim Mulkey.

Maybe because you know how hard it is to win one of these things.

Likely, because it was the first and you know that a team out west is still looking for one.

In the thrill of victory also comes the sadness of saying goodbye to so many of the heroes of this magical season. Anyone who paid attention through this season knows they will miss seeing so many things in a Gator uniform.

Like Dalton Guthrie, the shortstop who has never met a patch of infield dirt he didn't love, making plays that defy gravity until you don't think he can make one better and then he does.

Or Alex Faedo, who made his argument for being the best Gator pitcher ever to suit up in the postseason winning the Most Outstanding Player award, always bringing the intensity of a white hot star.

Or senior Ryan Larson, who may have struggled in Omaha but had so many big hits you could live with it.

Or the glue of this team, catcher Mike Rivera.

Or Deacon Liput, who struggled all season and ended up having two of the biggest hits of the CWS, including the two-run single in the eighth.

Or JJ Schwarz, who joined his sister in recording the last out of a national championship. Sorry, Taylor, no more bragging rights.

Or any of the other players who will always be remembered for doing what we didn't know for sure could be done. Because this was truly a team and to say the Gators could not have won their first national baseball title without player X or player Y, it is not a cliche.

It's reality.

This was a team that overcame just about everything that could have been thrown at it including a hostile crowd in the finals in Omaha. Have a nice drive home.

I'll never forget in 2005 when then Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley took the Gator baseball team down the right field line after UF had lost in the championship series to Texas. He told them, “You've set the standard for Gator baseball.”

That certainly has changed.

There's a new standard and it comes with a new expectation. Nobody will ever look at a team that is struggling in early April and throw dirt on it. Or be as frustrated by a low team batting average or a rash of injuries.

Instead, we will remember a team that made more big pitches in one season than you could count on a calculator. And more big defensive plays than we thought humanly possible in a season.

Yeah, the Gators got a break with the interference call in the seventh. For the first time all season, nobody in orange and blue was complaining about the umpires.

But they made the plays they had to and even when they stranded all of those runners early, it didn't matter.

All that mattered was that in a College World Series dominated by offense, the team with the best pitching and defense won the whole enchilada.

You may be familiar with the Florida pitching coach.

He was the guy who put all of his chips in the middle of the table last night and added his name to a pretty impressive roll call in Gainesville.

Kevin O'Sullivan — national championship coach.

— Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.




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