It was a celebration as low-key and understated as Kevin O’Sullivan’s personality. Around 2,000 of the Gator faithful showed up at McKethan Stadium to welcome Florida’s 2017 NCAA baseball champions.
“We haven’t gotten any sleep at all,” Deacon Liput said as he walked on the field. Liput went 2-5 with 3 RBI in the title game, which happened to fall on his 21st birthday. “It’s a night I’ll never forget,” he added as he was serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ by the fans.
“I’m happy for the players and the staff,” the Gator head coach said after receiving a standing ovation. “The players work hard and it paid off. No coach throws a pitch or swings a bat. You just hope you can prepare the players the best you can and send them out there.”
Hosted by former Gator baseball player and current color commentator on the radio broadcasts Jeff Cardozo, the stars of the team were interviewed near home plate while their teammates sat behind them.
“You were asked to be a starter, a reliever, come out of the bullpen, just about everything for this club,” Cardozo asked Pitcher Brady Singer who set a CWS record with 12 strikeouts in the first game against LSU.
“I didn’t mind,” Singer deadpanned. “It seemed to work out,” he added to laughter from the crowd.
Playing in big games was nothing new for the 2017 Gator squad. From their SEC schedule to the conference tournament, through the NCAA Regional and the Super Regional, Florida played in numerous elimination games and got clutch hitting all along the way. In the College World Series for the sixth time in the last eight years, they were familiar with the trip to Omaha but admitted nothing prepares you for the championship round.
“Nothing prepares you for 25,000 screaming LSU fans,” shortstop Dalton Guthrie said with a smile. “But we played in big games all year. Elimination games, all of it. We just tried to stay with it and not get too ahead of ourselves.”
With an intentional walk, Jacksonville’s Christian Hicks from The Bolles School made an appearance in the deciding game. He had a feeling they’d put him on as he walked to the plate but was happy to get a chance to be in the game.
“I figured they’d pinch-run for me but I was glad to be out there,” the second-year player said. Hicks echoed his teammates saying they were prepared for whatever came their way in the final matchup.
“All those one run games we played this year I felt like we were totally relaxed out there,” Hicks said. “Playing in the SEC and those stadiums that are really hard to play in kept us from getting rattled as much as other teams.”
Along with the sixth time in O’Sullivan’s tenure that the Gators have advanced to the College World Series, it was their third in a row and the first time they’ve won the title. It puts them in elite company with a handful of other schools that have won a football, basketball and baseball national championship. But Florida is the only school to accomplish that feat in the last 50 years and their titles in those three sports have all happened in the last decade.
It’s the 39th NCAA title for the University of Florida, the first coming in 1968 in Men’s golf. In the last three weeks besides the baseball title, the Gators have won NCAA Championships in women’s tennis and men’s outdoor track and field.
And with the pitching staff O’Sullivan has coming back for 2018, it’s possible we could see a repeat of this celebration a year from now.