GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida athletic program has set a standard for winning national championships and competing at the highest level on the highest stages.
One would have to go back 10 years — to the 2007-08 athletic season — to find the last time the Gators did not bring back at least one national title to Gainesville.
The Florida baseball team added to that illustrious history on Tuesday night. With a two-game sweep of LSU in the College World Series final, the No. 3 national seed Gators baseball team won its first national title in the program’s 103-year history. It was Florida’s third team national championship this season, following up women’s tennis and men’s track and field titles, and the 39th overall for the athletic department spanning 14 sports.
With the College World Series title, the Gators now find themselves in an elite class. Florida is one of just six schools to win a national championship in football, men’s basketball and baseball. It’s the only school to accomplish all three within the last 50 years.
The baseball team had come close before, reaching the College World Series five times over a seven-year span, but came up empty each time. This year was different.
“To win a championship, things have to go your way,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “… Looking back at the highlights, a couple things needed to happen.”
There was the dominant pitching staff, a group that gave up just 4 runs in five College World Series wins. The lone blemish was a 9-2 loss to TCU in the semifinal round of the double-elimination CWS. The Gators, led by ace Alex Faedo and sophomore Brady Singer, struck out 68 batters in six games.
There was Nick Horvath’s laser of a throw from center field in the first game against LSU on Monday that kept the Tigers at bay late. Florida ended up winning that game, 4-3.
There was JJ Schwarz’s throw to home plate that barely denied Kramer Robertson from tying the game in the eighth inning on Tuesday. Florida’s offense scored four runs in the home half of the inning to extend its lead, and the Gators clinched the championship an inning later.
“We always had talented teams, but this one was just a little bit different,” O’Sullivan said. “They stayed together. They stayed the course.”
Above all else, though, there was the drive and poise the team displayed all season despite the early struggles. The starting pitching remained stout. The defense held its own. The offense provided the timely hits in big situations.
“You might not believe it, but I told these guys behind us that we had the ingredients to win a national championship,” O’Sullivan said. “I really believed that.”
On Wednesday, as the team returned to McKethan Stadium for one last time this season, Florida players took turns reminiscing on the season — the 19 one-run wins, the slow start before finishing the regular season as co-SEC champions and, finally, breaking down the door in Omaha, Neb., to win their first national championship.
“It all just came together and worked out for the best,” Singer said.
“Just camaraderie,” Faedo said. “We have a ton of talent here, but it takes more than that to win the last game of the year.”
“This team is just incredible,” second baseman Deacon Liput said. “We’re a brotherhood.”
“It was just an unbelievable feeling,” catcher Mike Rivera said. “I’m glad we got it done for ourselves, everyone in Gainesville and the University of Florida.”
As for O’Sullivan, the coach at the head of the program for 10 years now, he had his players to thank. He might be the head coach, the one who crafted the program to be what it is today, but at the end of the day, the players are the ones putting in the work to make the team successful.
“I don’t think they quite understand it yet,” O’Sullivan said, “but 10 years, 20 years from now, there will never be another team that did this the first time.”