The No. 7 Florida Gators Baseball team opens their much-anticipated season Friday against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. The series continues throughout the weekend, with games Saturday and Sunday. Florida has won their season opener the past nine seasons and hold a 38-7 all-time record in the first series of the year. This is the first time the teams have met since 2010, when Florida won the series 2-1. The Gators hold a 11-2 all-time record over CSU.
Gators head coach Kevin “Sully” O’Sullivan embarks on his 16th season leading the squad, who many argue is one of the best teams he’s coached. The squad features 23 returning players and six positional starters from the 2022 season, where they went 42-24 (15-15). Among the returns, RHP Brandon Sproat, OF Wyatt Langford, C BT Riopelle and SS Josh Rivera are veteran Gators who will be heavily relied on this season. Also, the Gators added standout transfers in IF Dale Thomas (Coastal Carolina) and RHP Hurston Waldrep (Southern Miss.) in hopes of a deep postseason run.
Both Florida and Charleston Southern’s head coaches spoke on SportScene with Steve Russell to discuss their squads and each other’s opening matchups.
The veteran coach, who has seven College World Series berths as a Gator, is excited about his roster. The return and addition of solid players from varying positions gives O’Sullivan a lot of firepower. Also, the team has a lot of players still competing for spots. On the mound, Blake Purnell and Brandon Neely are still growing and improving, and the infield has a lot of competition at varying positions. Colby Halter floated from second to third last season, Deric Fabian can play all around the diamond, and the addition of transfer Dale Thomas and freshman Cade Kurland gives Florida plenty of skilled options.
O’Sullivan also feels that his team’s defense is solid. Rivera and Riopelle are some of the premier players in the nation at their positions. They will undoubtedly be the anchors of the infield, especially as the status of other positions will likely rotate throughout the season. In the outfield, Langford is shining both offensively and defensively, redshirt freshman Michael Robertson shows a lot of potential in center, and Ty Evans is expected to see a lot of time in right. The Gators stepped up their defense a lot in 2022 compared to 2021. Still, a strong defense behind Sproat and Waldrep will be the difference maker for Florida.
Against Charleston Southern, Sproat will get the start on the mound Friday, Waldrep starts Saturday, and LHP Jac Caglianone returns to the mound Sunday.
Friday Night Man™#GoGators // @BrandonSproat pic.twitter.com/y1rD96BIx9
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) February 17, 2023
Big expectations for the Gators
Since making the College World Series in 2018, the Gators have had poor showings in postseason play. In the past two seasons, the Gators were eliminated in their own regional tournament. O’Sullivan and the staff are trying to get things rolling in the right direction, and this roster has the potential to do so. However, the Gators have a tough schedule and are in the toughest conference. Florida is one of seven SEC teams ranked in the top 10, and they play some in-conference foes down the road. In March, they travel to No. 4 Ole Miss and then to No. 2 Tennessee in April, followed by No. 10 Vanderbilt in May. Hopefully, the regular season competition can gear the Gators for a stronger postseason push.
Despite the tough schedule and the former postseason dissatisfactions, the Gators goal still remain the same: Omaha. O’Sullivan’s time at Florida has been filled with success. Yes, recent seasons haven’t met the expectations of players, coaches or fans; still, Sully and his staff are some of the best baseball minds in the game. But, with big goals comes big pressure. The Gator fanbase always expects success, and when those high anticipations aren’t met, fans are quite critical. The 2023 season has the chance to meet every expectation set, though. This squad is experienced, confident and hungry.
Charleston Southern Buccaneers
The Buccaneers, led by head coach Marc MacMillan, understands that his team is thrown into the deep end this season. Still, he believes in the ability of his team and their chemistry. The squad, playing in the Big South conference, is filled with young, inexperienced players. After posting a 24-30 record last season, 16 players from that roster returned. This gives MacMillan a lot of new faces and talent to work with, which he is excited to embark upon.
The squad’s schedule faces steady competition throughout the season. After opening their season with a top-10 team, the Buccaneers play Tennessee Feb. 28 and March 1, Georgia March 10 and 11, and No. 23 South Carolina April 18. MacMillan, who’s been the coach of CSU since 2020, enjoys the competition, believing it makes his team better. Undoubtedly, facing SEC powerhouses will be matchups most players have never experienced.
Against the Gators, the Buccaneers will start senior RHP Zach Robinson on Friday, senior LHP Ryan Gleason on Saturday and sophomore RHP Evan Truitt on Sunday.
This season, the SEC is implementing various rules intended to reduce game time and maximize fan experience. These rules apply to conference vs conference matchups and the SEC tournament.
- Between batters clock: a 30 second timer between hitters starts at the conclusion of a play.
- Mound visit clock: a 30 second timer begins when a coach exits the dugout or when a defensive player visits the mound.
- Pitching change clock: a 2:30 second timer is placed during the changing of pitchers.
- Pitch clock: the NCAA has a 20 second clock between pitches.
These changes will definitely have effects on the game and coaches’ decisions throughout games. Both O’Sullivan and MacMillan stated their thoughts on the new rules.
Expect teams to struggle with the new rules early on and expect rules to be tweaked as the season goes on. “We’re gonna have some hiccups getting used to it, that’s for sure,” MacMillan said.
The Gators and the Buccaneers series starts Friday 7 p.m. at Condron Ballpark. A hot start to the season for either team may be the kickstart for a successful 2023 season.