Baseball will have holes to fill

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 6:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 6:19 p.m.

There were no strike-out pitchers. There was no one who is going to light up the radar gun. There were no definitive 1-2-3 starters, nor a definitive closer.

In his first season as a head coach, Kevin O'Sullivan had to make do with a team thin on pitching. How thin? Enough so that designated hitter Dustin Bamberg was on the mound in the late innings Saturday when Florida State pounded out 25 hits in eliminating Florida from the Tallahassee Regional with a 17-11 win.

Nevertheless, O'Sullivan's first season as a head coach will go down as a success given what he had to work with. O'Sullivan helped the Gators record the SEC's fourth-best ERA (4.11) after the Gators finished with a league-worst 5.27 ERA in 2007. He transformed junior Patrick Keating into a first-team All-SEC selection and a prospect in this week's Major League Draft.

But most importantly, O'Sullivan got Florida back to a place where it believes it should be every season: the NCAA tournament.

When it all ended Saturday, O'Sullivan looked like he was ready for some downtime after a strenuous first campaign at Florida.

"Going through this thing for the first time with new players, new system, new administrator, new expectations, new everything ... I'm going to need a couple days to take a deep breath," O'Sullivan said.

The SEC's coaches obviously weren't impressed with the talent at Florida at the season's start, picking the Gators to finish 11th in the 12-team league. The Gators, by way of a regular-season ending sweep of Vanderbilt at home, managed to finish third in the league.

"I'm awfully proud of the way we competed all year," O'Sullivan said. "No one expected us to be in a regional. We did a lot of things people didn't think we'd do. Those are the things we'll look back on and reflect on."

Florida senior Brandon McArthur said the Gators are once again respected after two seasons of .500 ball.

"I think we got some (respect) this year being picked so low and then battling," McArthur said. "We had a chance in the final SEC series to not even make the SEC Tournament. You've got to look at the highlights of the year and the good games and that's what put us where no one expected us to be."

The Gators will lose two senior infielders in McArthur and Jon Townsend as well as designated hitters Bamberg and Bryson Barber to graduation. Senior reliever Josh Edmondson, who was unavailable for the regional due to an ankle injury, will also be gone. Keating could also move on if he is a high draft pick while redshirt junior Stephen Locke hasn't committed to coming back next season, either.

The Gators' thin staff could get some relief with eight incoming pitchers who comprise the 14-member freshman class. Also, Chas Spottswood and Kevin Chapman could also return from injuries that forced them to miss the 2008 season.

It's clear the Gators are anxious to carry the momentum from this season into next.

"As a team we need to build off this season," infielder Clayton Pisani said. "I think this program is going in the right direction. I'm proud to be a Gator. I'm proud to play with those guys on the team. I'm excited to look ahead and what the future could possibly be for this program."

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