The success of underdogs has been the story of the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship so far, both at the Regional and Super Regional level. Only 10-16 Regional hosts defended their home turf, and it got even tougher for the favored survivors in the Supers. No. 2 national seed Louisville dropped its opener to UC-Santa Barbara, as did No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 5 Texas Tech, No. 6 Mississippi State has already been eliminated, No. 7 Clemson didn’t even make the Super Regionals, and No. 8 LSU was stomped in its initial bout with Coastal Carolina.
And, oh yeah, the No. 1 team in the country, the Florida Gators, were shut out at home by their rival Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night, 3-0. Frankly, this one could have been a lot uglier for UF, had FSU not hit a paltry 0-9 with runners in scoring position. However, the Gators also failed to register a hit in those situations, of which, they had none, as Florida never got a runner past first base.
Why? A masterful two-hit, complete-game shutout dealt by Seminole hurler Drew Carlton, who pitched the best game of his career. Every fan’s attention is now squarely focused on Sunday night’s contest, in which the ‘Noles will throw Tyler Holton (3-3, 2.92 ERA), their hottest arm of late, against UF’s Logan Shore (11-0, 2.44 ERA). Shore’s performance has spoken for itself all season— but that didn’t stop Gator Manager Kevin O’Sullivan from speaking about it anyway after Florida’s Saturday night loss:
UF's O'Sullivan: "We've got the SEC Pitcher of the Year going tomorrow night. They’ve got a freshman named Holton. I like our chances.”— Corey Clark/TDO.com (@Corey_Clark) June 12, 2016
Of course, a coach showing confidence in his starter is nothing new, but O’Sullivan rather flippantly juxtaposes his belief by throwing some direct shade at FSU’s Holton.
It’s the type of statement that can easily be translated as “bulletin-board material”; and I think that’s exactly what O’Sullivan intended, for both clubhouses. For UF, he seems to be attempting an injection of confidence into a squad that looked just plain shaken down the stretch against Florida State as game one wore on and the garnet and gold faithful became the vocal majority at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville.
As far as the Seminole clubhouse goes, O’Sullivan appears to be employing a bit of gamesmanship with regard to getting in FSU hitters’ heads. In their series-opening win, the ‘Noles were stoically patient, laying of a number of close pitches while chasing starter Alex Faedo after a season-low 4.0 innings pitched. Florida State’s discerning approach at the plate saw it run through five different Gator pitchers on the night. This wasn’t an example of O’Sullivan misspeaking— he’s using the media, as coaches of all sports are known to do, for his own purposes: specifically, in the Seminoles’ case, to make sure FSU batters see his remarks. And get mad. And swing angry— and often.
Yes, O’Sullivan’s remark was most certainly intentional. Now, the question remains, was it a mistake? That answer will be determined by whether or not it works for Florida.
And the long and the short of it for the Gators, at this point, is pretty straightforward: it had better. Otherwise, they’ll remain in Gainesville while the ‘Noles celebrate on UF’s home field en route to Omaha and the College World Series. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start just after 6 pm.