One month might have passed since the Florida baseball team won its first national championship, but the Gators are still finding reasons to celebrate.
On top of being named coach of the year by Collegiate Baseball and D1baseball.com on June 30, coach Kevin O’Sullivan was named the Skip Bertman National Coach of the Year on Wednesday, his first time earning the honor.
“O’Sullivan’s club showed both heart and perseverance in bringing the school its first national championship,” said Mike Gustafson, president and CEO of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and chair of the Bertman Award committee, in a release.
The award is given to the top coach across all levels of college baseball. Mike Dickson, for example, won the honor in 2013 as the coach of Gloucester County College.
The case O'Sullivan built for himself to receive the honor, however, goes far beyond clinching an NCAA title.
He led UF to its third straight 50-win season after finishing with a 52-19 record. In the College World Series, O'Sullivan’s pitching staff dominated, striking out 68 batters over six games.
What's even more impressive is how he managed to turn the team around following a slow start to begin the year.
The Gators were 13-8 in mid-March after getting swept by Auburn to start conference play. But the team bounced back the following week, defeating Stetson 9-8 in extra innings before winning two of three contests against LSU.
As the conference schedule progressed, the Gators kept winning, eventually entering a three-way tie with Kentucky and LSU for the SEC regular season championship one game into their final weekend series against the Wildcats.
After losing to Kentucky in the series opener, Florida won the next two contests by scores of 14-3 and 6-4, respectively, to clinch its fourth conference title under O’Sullivan.
But what helped set O’Sullivan apart from the rest was how he handled various injuries suffered by catcher Mike Rivera, third baseman Jonathan India, shortstop Dalton Guthrie and outfielders Ryan Larson and Austin Langworthy.
The 10-year head coach got creative with his lineup, switching between JJ Schwarz and Mark Kolozsvary at catcher and putting Christian Hicks all over the infield. If Schwarz was catching, Kolozsvary would DH and Hicks would play first. If Kolozsvary was catching, Schwarz would play first and Hicks would play shortstop or third base.
The strategy proved useful as it helped Florida to a 40-15 regular season record and a No. 1-seed in the SEC Tournament.
“It’s a long grind,” O’Sullivan said after clinching the SEC title. “I’m just happy for the players, the staff. There are so many things behind the scenes that have to go right to win any type of championship, let alone an SEC Championship.”
With wins against Auburn and Mississippi State in the the SEC Tournament, UF earned the No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament and would host a regional and a super regional.
And in Omaha, the Gators lost just one game en route to taking home the national championship trophy for the first time ever in 103 years, a testament to how much work O’Sullivan put into his team.
In the end, UF's leader, a man who had previously won coach of the year only once in his career, was awarded the honor three times over the past month, a privilege well deserved by someone who's affectionately referred to by his fans as "Sully."