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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Let's be honest. The UF baseball team isn't a national contender, and Kevin O'Sullivan hasn't turned it into a powerhouse overnight. He's not a miracle worker.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That's because O'Sullivan has done exactly what has been expected of him. When he was hired a little more than two years ago, he was one of the brightest pitching minds in college baseball. Now Gainesville is seeing why.

The Gators' second-year coach has taken a group of seven freshman pitchers and showed how quickly he can develop talent.

On Tuesday night, O'Sullivan put the ball in the hands of freshman righty Greg Larson, and he responded with 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. UF has three freshmen - Nick Maronde, Alex Panteliodis and Anthony DeSclafani - who are regular starters, and the highest ERA of any of them is 4.19 (Maronde). Panteliodis and DeSclafani are sub-4.00 and have eaten up significant innings. Larson has a ridiculous 0.89 ERA in 16 appearances as one of the Gators' most reliable relievers. Freshman pitchers can't do this unless they have a coach who shows them how.

Yes, Maronde was one of the highest-rated prep pitchers out there. That's why he and DeSclafani were taken in the MLB Draft and could be playing minor-league ball right now. Still, they're finding ways to get quality hitters out in college baseball. They've improved, and that doesn't happen without coaches knowing how to play the right mental cards with their players, especially in baseball,

"I tend to be a little bit harder on (freshmen)," O'Sullivan said. "I want them to understand the value of an out. The value of hitting spots. Making good pitches early in the count. Making good pitches late in the count. Getting the leadoff hitter. You tend to coach those guys a lot more. I've always been that way. Once they figure it out, you leave them alone."

The highest ERA (9.00)on the team belongs to Chas Spottswood with, and he has only thrown five innings all year. Other than that, there's a sprinkling of sub-3.00 and sub-4.00 ERAs across the roster.

The Gators' 25-12 record shows this team has potential to win a regional for the first time in four years.

Even if UF does make it that far, it doesn't matter as much as what's going on in the living rooms' of high school players across America when O'Sullivan walks in. If he continues to sign and develop pitchers the way he is now, a consistent baseball program has arrived in Gainesville.

And inconsistency was exactly why Pat McMahon was fired. That's why you 86 a coach just two years after making the College World Series: You know he can't do it year in and year out, and McMahon showed he struggled to do that. If O'Sullivan can keep getting this caliber of pitching, he won't struggle to do that.

That's why O'Sullivan has proven he's the right man for the job. And that's why the rest of the Southeastern Conference's hitters should not look forward to playing at McKethan Stadium for a long, long time.

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