Florida Gators baseball has turned a season to forget into a memorable one | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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When the Gators unveiled the name of their baseball park a month ago, it seemed they’d gotten it wrong. Instead of being named after uber-booster Gary Condron, the honoree should have been Edward A. Murphy.

He’d never given a dime to UF, but he did give birth to an appropriate adage for UF’s season.

Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.

On that lost weekend in April, the Gators were swept for the first time in 16 years. What’s worse, it was to Tennessee, ranked No. 1 in both the NCAA RPI and cockiness indexes.

After the last game, the Volunteers showered at The Swamp, found a couple of UF football helmets and wore them like stolen crowns from a deposed king.

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The Gators were down — but not out

Back at the ballpark, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan looked and sounded like a beaten man.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he said. “What do you want me to do? Tell (the players) they’ve got to win, and all of the sudden they put more pressure on themselves? We’ve just got to play better.”

He’d pushed every button, and all O’Sullivan had to show for it was a 6-12 SEC record and fans grumbling that he was turning into Dan Mullen.

Fast-forward to this weekend. The Gators won their fourth straight series. They won 12 of 14 games heading into Saturday’s finale against South Carolina, a 4-1 rain-delayed loss. 

We’re not in Murphy’s Law Stadium anymore.

“You always want to get hot at the right time,” Jud Fabian said. “And I think right now we're getting to a point where we're really hot.”

As an aside, Murphy was an engineer at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949. He worked on Project MX981, which attempted to find out how much sudden deceleration a person could stand in a crash.

Back to the Gators, and how they stopped decelerating. There’s no simple explanation. Though like all such turnarounds, it involved a soul-searching team meeting.

“It's one thing to have a team meeting or get-together,” O’Sullivan said. “It's another to go out there and perform on the field. I mean, you can have all the pom-poms you want and have all the cliches.”

Injuries affected starting rotation

Florida pitcher Brandon Neely (22) starts things off for the Gators against South Carolina in Game 2 of the series, Friday, May 20, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark in Gainesville. Neely had a career-high 10 strikeouts against the Gamecocks.

He’d have gladly traded all that for a dependable bullpen. O’Sullivan knew there’d be growing pains this season. The roster was dotted with new players and the schedule was front-loaded with SEC powers.

Heading into late April, there’d been a lot of pain but little growth. When the hitting was good, the pitching wasn’t. The pitching was good, the bats took the day off.

Exasperation was setting in, along with a sense that somebody up there just didn’t like the Gators. Injuries had sidelined their entire starting rotation.

Hunter Barco’s elbow started to ache before Tennessee hit town. The only pitcher UF could count on needed Tommy John surgery.

O’Sullivan said all along that a couple of freshman pitchers would eventually figure things out. Brandon Neely gave up only one hit in seven innings in that final game against Tennessee.

The bullpen collapsed, turning a 4-1 ninth-inning lead into a 6-4 ultra-galling loss. But Neely came away realizing he could pitch in this league.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” he said.

Neely pitched seven shutout innings Friday night and struck out 10 in an 8-0 win. The night before, fellow freshman Brandon Sproat won his fourth straight game in the Gators' 14-5 rout.

And remember the exasperated O’Sullivan of late April? He actually did find a couple of things he could do. The big one was moving the most dependable bats to the top of the lineup.

Florida's averaged almost eight runs a game since Wyatt Langford became the leadoff hitter and Sterlin Thompson started following him to the plate. The scoring binge has come despite a 3-for-37 slump from Fabian.

But he broke out of it Friday night, with a double and a home run. Saturday might have been the last home game of Fabian’s fabulous career, though he’s hoping the Gators will get a NCAA regional tournament.

A month ago, that notion was laughable. It would still take at least two or three wins in this week’s SEC Tournament.

“You never know what could happen,” Fabian said.

If nothing else, Murphy’s Law rules the season. If something can go right for the Gators, it just might.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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