Even though the Gators did not make it very far in the postseason, it doesn't mean that the 100th baseball season was all for nothing. Among many other things, the 2014 Gator baseball squad:
- Swept all three games they played against #1 Florida State.
- Took two out of three games from the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, and then eliminated them from of the SEC Tournament.
- Swept UConn, FSU (who they played three total games against in three different locations), LSU, Georgia, and Missouri at McKethan Stadium, while sweeping Alabama on the road to tally six sweeps on the year.
- Won 10 out of the 14 three game series they played
- Defeated six teams in the NCBWA Top 30 rankings
- Finished the regular season ranked #10 in the NCBWA rankings, #8 in the USA Today Coaches' rankings, and #3 in the Baseball America rankings. They finished #3 overall in RPI and put the 2013 team's 29-30 mark behind them as they went 40-21 to finish 19 games over .500.
- Most importantly, the Gators won their 13th SEC regular season title and finished as the runner-up to LSU in the SEC Tournament.
When the SEC Tournament rolled around, the Gators dug themselves a deep hole by losing to Kentucky in the first round. Entering the loser's bracket, the Gators climbed their way back up as they defeated (and eliminated) South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky in the rematch. In the SEC Championship vs LSU, the Gators lost 2-0 after giving up a two out home run in the eighth to break a scoreless tie.
After the SEC Tournament, the Gators received the #2 national seed overall going into the NCAA Tournament. What happened next is still unexplainable to me as the Gators were upset by College of Charleston 3-2 and lost to North Carolina 5-2 in their own Gainesville regional. Just like that, the Gator baseball season was over.
Both these games did have significant weather delays, but it still doesn't fully excuse why Gator pitchers couldn't avoid the big inning and why the lineup couldn't produce with runners in scoring position. The Gators are the highest national seed to ever get eliminated this early in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, let's take a look at some of the stat leaders of the 2014 baseball campaign:
Hits: Taylor Gushue (71) (Junior)
RBI's: Taylor Gushue (49) (Junior)
Home Runs: Taylor Gushue (6) (Junior)
Batting Average: Harrison Bader (.337) (Sophomore)
Slugging %: Taylor Gushue (.467) (Junior)
On Base %: Harrison Bader (.421) (Sophomore)
Stolen Bases: Richie Martin (18) (Sophomore)
Runs Scored: Richie Martin (49) (Sophomore)
Strikeouts: Taylor Gushue (30) (Junior)
Walks: Casey Turgeon (35) (Junior)
Assists: Casey Turgeon (195) (Junior)
Putouts: Taylor Gushue (337) (Junior)
Errors: Richie Martin (21) (Sophomore)
Wins: Logan Shore (7) (Freshman)
Losses: Bobby Poyner and Logan Shore (4) (Junior/Freshman)
Strikeouts: Logan Shore (68) (Freshman)
ERA (Min. 16 Appearances): Logan Shore (2.16) (Freshman)
Saves: Ryan Harris (5) (Junior)
Appearances: Kirby Snead (32) (Freshman)
The Gator baseball team welcomed in 15 new freshmen for the 2014 season and 12 of them saw a good amount of playing time. The other three were redshirted for the season. Having 15 freshmen is vital to the Gator baseball program as every single one of them will be big contributors when they are seniors.
Speaking of seniors, the Gators might possibly have five seniors for the 2015 campaign. I say five because C Taylor Gushue, 2B Casey Turgeon, OF/RHP Justin Shafer, RHP Ryan Harris, RHP Keenan Kish, and RHP Karsten Whitson were just selected in the MLB Draft this weekend. Here are the what rounds they went in and the teams who selected them:
- Gushue went in the 4th round (131st overall) to the Pittsburgh Pirates
- Shafer went in the 8th round (234th overall) to the Toronto Blue Jays
- Whitson went in the 11th round (344th overall) to the Boston Red Sox
- Turgeon went in the 24th round (735th overall) to the St. Louis Cardinals
- Harris went in the 26th round (794th overall) to the Boson Red Sox
- Kish went in the 34th round (1025th overall) to the Cincinnati Reds
This is huge for the University of Florida and is a great opportunity for these five young men who have given their heart and soul to the Gator baseball program for three years. The fact that I played against Gushue in high school makes this even more surreal.
Similar to Gushue, Turgeon's presence on this team will be missed if he chooses to leave. He was a solid second baseman and was one of the few Gator bats who was still hitting at the end of the year. Shafer was utilized for both his bat and his pitching during his career at Florida. Both of those intangibles will be hard to replace but also provide an opportunity for someone to win a spot. Harris and Kish were also solid pitchers in the Gators bullpen. If they leave, their absences will create two new spots that will be up for grabs in the Gator bullpen.
Whitson's selection is an intriguing one because this is the second time he has been drafted. When the San Diego Padres drafted him 9th overall in the first round out of high school, Whitson turned down their $2.1 million signing bonus and decided to attend the University of Florida. His decision looked like it was panning out as he pitched well his freshman and sophomore Gator campaigns.
Unfortunately, calamity struck his junior year when Whitson missed the entire year with a shoulder injury. He returned as a redshirt junior for the 2014 season and posted a 1-1 record with a 3.84 ERA in 14 appearances. Seeing Whitson get drafted again is great because it shows that MLB teams still believe he has the talent to play at the next level despite being hindered by an injury.
The Gators will be well experienced going into 2015 as both now the rising senior and junior classes have experienced two straight years of losing in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was smart by playing many of his freshmen this season as many of them will be ready to assume bigger roles as sophomores. Look for him to utilize this same strategy with the incoming freshmen in the 2015 season.
With the 100th season done, all that comes to mind now is the 101st season. Head Coach Kevin O'Sullivan understands what it takes to get to Omaha, and always knows how to get the best out of his players. This group of seniors, now possibly six players removed because of the MLB draft, has one final chance to leave their mark on Florida baseball and bring the team its first ever National Championship. With juniors who have felt the same pain as the seniors for two years, a more than experienced sophomore class, and freshmen who are always eager to contribute, the 2015 Gator baseball team should have more than enough firepower to compete for a National Championship.
*Stats accredited to Gatorzone.com and NCAA.com