Dent brings defense, surprising offense to third base spot
Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 11:38 p.m.
OMAHA, Neb. — When you're a baseball coach, sometimes you have to make tough decisions.
Up next for Florida
What: College World Series, best-of-three final series
Who: Florida (53-17) vs. South Carolina (53-14)
Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha
Game 1: Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
Game 2: Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
*Game 3: Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
Sometimes they work. Sometimes they blow up in your face.
Kevin O'Sullivan was facing one of those decisions as the Florida regular season was winding down.
Third base was a mess. The Gators couldn't find the right answer there. After Zack Powers made three errors in the opening game of the final regular-season series against Kentucky, O'Sullivan made the decision.
He gave up an at-bat to get some defense at the hot corner.
On May 20, O'Sullivan inserted light-hitting Cody Dent into the lineup. Dent had been a back-up at both short and third. He had started only 11 games and had collected only eight hits. He was batting .163, but O'Sullivan didn't care.
O'Sullivan is all about pitching and defense and he had to find some stability in the infield.
Dent provided that. And he has provided much more.
“Everything goes full circle,” O'Sullivan said. “Sometimes there is that one move you make that you didn't realize at the time would be a difference-maker.
“But looking back, maybe it was a difference-maker.”
Dent has solidified Florida's infield defense, but he has also provided surprising offense. That was evident in Friday's win over Vanderbilt when Florida advanced to the finals of the College World Series.
Dent tripled in the third inning and scored Florida's first run to tie the game. He also beat out a bunt to help ignite the Gators' two-run eighth that won the game.
“I've been trying not to be an easy out,” Dent said. “The more at-bats you get, the more confidence you have. It helps a lot as you get more experience. I feel a lot more confident.”
Dent has had a strong NCAA Tournament at the plate, hitting .296 with seven runs scored and three RBIs. He has as many hits in the NCAA Tournament as he did prior to it.
And despite an average that just went over .200 for the season, he has walked nine times in the NCAAs.
“No explanation,” he said with a smile. “I'm just trying to get on base.”
O'Sullivan said Dent has shown a keen eye at the plate and has shown an ability to lay off pitches that are just outside the strike zone.
“I know this is a team sport and you're going to have to get production from everybody,” O'Sullivan said. “The offense can't just fall on Preston (Tucker) or Mike Zunino. We need to get production from everybody. Everybody's role may be different. Everybody has to contribute this time of year.”
Dent's offensive production has been a surprise in the postseason, but it has been necessary, especially with Zunino struggling in Omaha.
“I struggled at the beginning of the year, but I just kept working hard,” Dent said. “I just kept trying to work through it.”
And it hasn't hurt that he got some advice from someone who knows about playing in the World Series — his father Bucky.
The former New York Yankee has been on hand for the whole CWS and is enjoying every minute of it.
“I just told him that this is the fun part,” Bucky said. “The playoffs are the hard part. This is the World Series.”
And now it's the final series with the winner taking home the hardware.
Who would have thought that one of the main offensive catalysts for Florida's run would be the guy who was inserted for his glove rather than his bat?
You make tough decisions and sometimes they don't work out.
Sometimes, they turn out to be brilliant.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.