When Kevin O’Sullivan first arrived at Florida, the players weren’t too pleased with him.
As soon as he took the head coaching job in 2007, O’Sullivan wasted no time and put in a 7 a.m. conditioning workout, something the Gators weren’t used to.
“He made sure to tell our strength coach to push us to our limits,” UF closer Kevin Chapman said. “It wasn’t very pretty. Anytime somebody does that to you it’s a love-hate relationship.”
Whether it was with agility drills, long-distance sprints or a shuttle run players refer to as “ladders,” O’Sullivan made his presence known.
“It was death,” sophomore Alex Panteliodis said of his introduction to the workout plan. “I thought I had joined the track team — I wasn’t playing baseball.”
But as third-seeded Florida (47-15) prepares for its first game in the College World Series against six seed UCLA (48-14) on Saturday at 7 p.m., players are starting to see there is a method to their coach’s madness.
“It was just a matter of trying to get guys in shape and trying to get their attention,” O’Sullivan said.
He used a top recruiting class, an emphasis on conditioning and his expertise of pitching to put his imprint on the team.
Panteliodis is a prime example of his coach’s effect on the program. He has lost 20 pounds since enrolling at UF in 2008 and it has translated on the field.
The sophomore, who is expected to be named the starting pitcher for Saturday’s game, has seen his ERA fall from 4.38 in his freshman year to 3.26 this season.
“Losing the 20 pounds has allowed me to finish through on my pitches, and I have gained a lot of velocity through it,” Panteliodis said. “It’s really exciting to learn what (O’Sullivan) knows.”
The entire Gators pitching staff has benefited from having O’Sullivan around. He was a pitching coach at Clemson for nine years, and his knowledge in the area is evident.
When he took the position, the team was coming off a season in which it posted an ERA of 5.27. But in each of the three years O’Sullivan has been the coach that number has improved. This season, the team achieved a 3.96 ERA.
“I think it’s better this year than last year because we have main starters,” Panteliodis said. “Last year, we rotated a lot with everybody, but this season I think everybody found a role and found a position.”
Panteliodis and freshmen Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson have been the team’s weekend rotation for most of the season. The three have played their best in the NCAAs, allowing just nine earned runs in 35 innings while striking out 10 batters per every nine frames.
But this three-year fast track to the CWS wasn’t planned.
“We did not put a timetable on this thing when we got here,” O’Sullivan said. “We just took it one day at a time.”