Gators baseball team wins first national championship
It took Florida’s baseball team 103 years to finally win its first-ever national championship.
But for coach Kevin O’Sullivan and company, it was better late than never.
The Gators notched their first NCAA title in program history this summer after sweeping LSU in the College World Series finals. UF capped off the best-of-three series on June 27 with a 6-1 victory over the Tigers at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
Right-hander Tyler Dyson made his second career start for Florida in the championship-clinching contest, allowing one run and three hits over six innings pitched, while second baseman Deacon Liput led the offense with two hits and three RBIs.
UF’s run to a national title began this spring following a successful regular season that saw the team win 40 of 55 games, as well as a share of the SEC regular season championship with LSU.
Florida then earned the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and survived elimination games in its regional against Bethune-Cookman and super regional against Wake Forest to punch its ticket to Omaha.
The team was carried the majority of the year by its pitching staff, which featured eventual first-round pick Alex Faedo, sophomore starters Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar and sophomore closer Michael Byrne. Faedo led the NCAA in strikeouts in 2017 with 157 while Byrne broke the Gators single-season saves record with 19.
Looking ahead to 2018, UF returns Singer, Kowar, Byrne, Dyson, Liput, right-hander Garrett Milchin, catcher JJ Schwarz, outfielder Nelson Maldonado and third baseman Jonathan India.
“I think Florida baseball is in great shape right now,” O’Sullivan said in a release after winning the College World Series. “I do think next year we will have more depth.”
UF softball moves on from loss in WCWS finals
After a tough two-game sweep in the Women’s College World Series championship by the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners, the Florida softball roster remains mostly unchanged.
However, the three players the Gators do lose to graduation played large roles both on and off the field throughout the 2016 season.
Pitcher Delanie Gourley and outfielders Justine McLean and Chelsea Herndon all added a veteran presence and three years of championship-level experience along with their talents.
Now Florida must rely on younger players to grow and replace those voids.
Based on the team’s offseason noise, head coach Tim Walton should easily find new leaders and largely replace last season’s trio of seniors.
Rising junior pitcher Kelly Barnhill won an ESPY for Best Female Collegiate Athlete after dominating in her sophomore campaign. Gourley and Barnhill shared duties as the team’s ace, while Barnhill boasted an ERA of 0.51 while opponents hit just .121 against her.
Florida’s 2016 class also received some recognition. Freshmen Jaime Hoover and Katie Chronister received SEC First-Year Academic Honor-Roll awards.
Both players performed well in their first seasons. Chronister pitched extremely well in limited action with just over 19.0 innings. Hoover, on the other hand, started 56 games at third base and hit three home runs with 38 RBI.
Those two -- along with fellow freshmen Jordan Roberts, Sophia Reynoso and Jacqui Switzer – can absorb some of the playing time after seeing early reps. Switzer and sophomores Alex Voss and Lily Mann can compete for time in the outfield.
For a team that went 50-8 throughout 2016 and fell just a couple runs shy of a championship, Walton can rest easy knowing he has successors already in place.
Dylan Dixon covers the Gators baseball team. Contact him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
Skyler Lebron covers the Gators softball team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @SkylerLebron.
Florida's baseball team celebrates following its 6-1 victory over LSU on June 27, 2017, in Game 2 of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.