The Gator baseball team enters the 2023 season with confidence, hype and much to prove. After falling out of the NCAA tournament in the Gainesville Regional last year, the Gators, ranked No. 7 in the NCAA’s preseason poll, seek vengeance. Specifically, a trip to Omaha. Florida shortstop Josh Rivera, who is returning for his junior year, talked on Sport Scene about the team’s upcoming season, including his goals to win a national championship and his own development as a veteran on the diamond.
Rivera, who is a redshirt junior, has been a key part of Florida’s squad since he joined the team in 2020. Last season, Rivera posted his best numbers as a Gator. He set career highs in home runs, triples, runs, RBI and stolen bases. Despite his stellar performance, Rivera, who was drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins, decided to stay in Gainesville for an Omaha run. Rivera believes that this team is filled with potential and discussed his emergence as a leader in his veteran role, as well as his growth as a player.
Florida needs a standout player like Rivera to control the team’s energy. In the past, the squad has blown leads and let errors get the best of them. So, Rivera’s infield, alongside Coastal Carolina transfer Dale Thomas and senior catcher BT Riopelle, will need to stay poised and play clean baseball.
Last Season’s Ups and Downs
The Gators 2022 season disappointed both players and fans. The squad began the season ranked No. 9 but had a sluggish start against SEC teams. After posting a final record of 42-24 (15-15 SEC), the Gators fell to No. 21. However, the team made a run in the SEC Tournament, making it to the championship and earning the right to host a regional.
But the team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the Gainesville Regional championship. The squad fell late to Oklahoma, crushing their hopes of a tournament run. The year before, they were also eliminated in the Gainesville Regional when they fell to USF and were humiliated by South Alabama in a 19-1 loss. But Rivera feels this season is different. He sees last season’s problems as a spark for this season that the Gators will use to their advantage.
The Gators begin the regular season Feb. 17 in a three-game series against Charleston Southern at home. In the beginning of March, the squad hosts No. 20 Miami in a three-game series, and they begin conference play March 16, hosting Alabama. The tribulations the Gators have faced in previous years will hopefully change in 2023. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, entering his 16th season at the helm of the squad, has a strong roster of both veterans and young players, which Rivera feels will elevate them to success.
Clearly, the squad has high expectations and a lot to prove. Rivera spoke about his confidence in the Gators pitching rotation. Sophomore RHP Brandon Neely, redshirt junior RHP Brandon Sproat and Southern Miss transfer Hurston Waldrep will be the Gators’ main pitchers this season. Limiting runs is going to be a critical point in Florida’s success. In last year’s regional tournament, the team did a decent job at keeping opponents off the board, but the bats failed to contribute. The return of solid pitchers and hitters gives the Gators a chance to right their wrongs.
As the 2023 season begins, Rivera and the Gators are hungry. The shortstop said he returned with expectations of a national championship, and this season appears to be his team’s best chance. The Gators strong infield, along with the bats of Wyatt Langford and Jac Caglianone, truly gives the Gators confidence on the diamond. O’Sullivan, who led the team to a championship in 2017 and has been to the CWS seven times, has the experience to lead his team for a deep tournament run.
The regular season begins Feb. 17 when the Gators host Charleston Southern at 7 p.m.