Florida back to where it was supposed to be


Published: Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 12:04 a.m.

Kevin O'Sullivan's face was tanned and drained at the same time. He had just been through the most emotional game of his most emotional season and it showed.

“Now that it's over,” he said, “I'm glad it's over.”




It isn't all the way over, of course, with Florida heading to Omaha to try to win its first baseball national title. But the journey knows where it will end.

Finally.

This was a team that managed to stand tall in spite of the weight that was draped around its collective shoulders. Everyone's No. 1 will go to the College World Series as the favorite because it has been the favorite all year.

These players took everything that was thrown at them and dealt with adversity like men. Injuries? Someone else step up. Rain delays? Stay loose and stay focused at the same time.

It isn't supposed to be easy to get to Omaha, but is it supposed to be so hard? Not only was Florida dealing with the expectations, but it had to battle through a super regional opponent that, to be honest, shouldn't have been here.

Anyone who watched North Carolina State during the season knew it and anyone who watched this Gainesville Super Regional knows it. If Florida is the No. 1 seed, why did they draw a team that certainly was not the No. 16 seed? Not even close.

That's a very good N.C. State baseball team Florida swept. When their coach Elliott Avent said before the series that he thought the winner should be the favorite in Omaha, we might have raised an eyebrow. But not today, not after the epic 9-8 Florida win in 10 innings where N.C. State fought like a champion.

But Florida dealt with it.

“They wanted to get back to Omaha so badly,” O'Sullivan said. “It's hard to get to Omaha, but when you add in that you are supposed to get there, it makes it that much harder. It has been hard for our team to deal with.”

It's not that the ultimate goal was to get to Omaha. The ultimate goal is obviously to win it all. But to not get there would have branded this team harshly.

People would have been questioning what went wrong, why they couldn't get it done?

Winning makes those questions go away.

“It's challenging,” said O'Sullivan. “It's not just external people. You put pressure on yourself. There's been a lot.”

He said there were times he felt it and leaned on his administration and his growing family. But it was draining on everybody.

“I have enjoyed the ride,” he said. “I've learned an awful lot of things this year that I didn't know.”

There is nothing that can prepare you for a year like this. Coming from nowhere is a lot easier than coming from somewhere.

But the collection of talent O'Sullivan has put together never flinched.

The seniors like Preston Tucker and Daniel Pigott. The freshmen who have stepped in to fill key roles and had nine hits in the two super regional games. The sophomores who made their presence felt on the mound.

But it's really about these juniors.

Guys like Nolan Fontana, who may be the best shortstop to ever play here, and Brian Johnson and, of course, Mike Zunino, the rock of this team.

I've always felt that the best class that has ever come through Florida was the 1995 signing class that included Brad Wilkerson and Mark Ellis. That class went to two College World Series. This one is going to its third straight.

Look at it this way — before they signed, Florida had been to a total of five CWS appearances.

These guys don't know anything else but Omaha.

“I'm looking forward to getting out there,” said O'Sullivan.

Who can blame him?

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