The Florida Gators celebrate the win against the NC State Wolfpack at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. [Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports]

Florida Baseball 2024: A NCAA Tournament For The Ages

After the 6-0 loss to Texas A&M in the College World Series semifinal in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday night, Florida returned to Gainesville on Thursday with a season for the record books.

Let’s look back at the Gators’ unexpected season.

Rocky Start

A preseason No. 2 team in the nation at the time, Florida started the 2024 campaign in February by hosting St. John’s. Despite putting up 10 hits, the Gators were outscored by the Red Storm 9-5. Former Friday night starter Cade Fisher would take the loss.

After the last two games of this series were cancelled due to weather, the Gators would win its next five to prove itself worthy of its national seed.

Midweek Struggles

The Gators found themselves unable to come up with wins in the midweek. Most notably, Florida State swept Florida for the first time in 20 years.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan recognizes that many people questioned his team’s chances to make the postseason due to its 8-6 record in the midweek, as he told Steve Russell on SportScene last week:

SEC Campaign

Florida (36-30) started the SEC season by taking its first three conference series. The Gators defeated Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State by winning two out of three games in each series.

Things started to go south for Florida when it travelled to Missouri. The Tigers swept the series with three one-run victories. From there, the Gators would go on to lose two out of three games at each of their next five SEC meetings.

By winning two out of three at Georgia, the Gators put themselves above .500 on the season at 28-26, making it possible to make the postseason. This put Florida at 13-17 in conference games this year, earning it the nine-seed in the SEC Tournament. However, Florida was one-and-done in Hoover, Ala., when it lost to Vanderbilt in the single-elimination round to drop to 28-27.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the most memorable things about this squad is its ability to hit home runs. The Gators finished their year with 608 hits, 136 of them home runs. Florida relied heavily on the big flies to get wins.

However, the Gator hitters struggled to refrain from swinging and missing. Florida struck out 639 times this year. Beside the injured Ty Evans, Jac Caglianone (.419) was the only Gator to end the season above a .300 batting average.

A Postseason to Remember

After many doubted their ability to make it into the tournament, the Gators’ No. 1 strength of schedule landed them the three seed in the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional. Florida lost its second game before fighting its way out of the loser’s bracket to win the regional, including back-to-back wins over No. 11 national seed Oklahoma State.

The Gators travelled to Clemson to face the No. 6 national seed Tigers in the Super Regional round. They swept Clemson after a 13-inning thriller in Game 2 to make their way back to the College World Series for the second year in a row.

Despite losing its first game in Omaha, Florida fought through the hard task of eliminating two national seeds to advance to the semifinals. The Gators would knock out No. 10 NC State and No. 2 Kentucky for the opportunity to face the No. 3 Aggies of Texas A&M (52-13) for their fifth matchup of the year. With high hopes of forcing an If Necessary game the following day, the Aggies eliminated the Gators to end an incredible NCAA Tournament run where they finished 8-3 and tied for third.

UF played in the 14th College World Series in program history and ninth time under O’Sullivan.

“We had a terrific year,” O’Sullivan said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Our players persevered through a lot of different tough moments.I know a lot of our guys are extremely disappointed, but speaking from my heart, I’m just awfully proud of them, of what they were able to accomplish and have this experience out here in Omaha.”

Last Ride

Several Gator hitters and pitchers closed the night in tears, knowing they’d be taking of their orange and blue jerseys for the final time.

Jac Caglianone

Predicted to go top-five in the 2024 MLB draft next month, this two-way star ended his Gator career with a bang. In the morning elimination game against Kentucky, Caglianone cemented himself as the best home run hitter in Florida history by hitting the 75th of his career and the 35th of the season. This would break Gator great Matt LaPorta‘s (2004-2007) all-time record.

With two singles in the night game, Caglianone tied Mark Kiger (2002) and Pat Osborn (2002) for the single-season hit record with 104.

Leading the country in intentional walks, Caglianone ended his season with a .419 batting average, 35 home runs, 72 RBIs, an active on-base streak of 52-straight contests and hitting safely in 62 of 66 games while reaching safely in all but one contest.

Brandon Neely

Despite struggling some during the regular season, this right-handed pitcher kicked it into high gear in the postseason to lead his team to Omaha. Neely came in clutch to close out several games for the Gators in the NCAA Tournament.

Only a junior, Neely is expected to be selected in the MLB draft. He finished the tourney with seven appearances for a 1.88 ERA, 24 innings pitched, five runs allowed, 15 hits, six walks and 38 strikeouts.

Tyler Shelnut

After spending two years at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, the Florida left fielder found himself in orange and blue the last two years, achieving a lifelong dream. In the postgame news conference, Shelnut said,

“I grew up being a Gator fan my whole life, watching the Gators in Omaha. And being able to put on the orange and blue everyday and to do it in Omaha, [to] play for a World Series is something I’m going to remember and tell my kids about for the rest of my life.”

Shelnut will forever be known for his clutch at bats as a Gator. He finishes his senior season with 65 hits, 16 home runs and 52 RBIs.

Dale Thomas

The heart of the Florida squad, Thomas came into the program ahead of the 2023 season as a transfer from Coastal Carolina. Despite struggling in the middle of the year, he finished his fifth season in college baseball with 34 hits and 28 walks.

Jaylen Guy

In his final season of eligibility, Guy transferred from Liberty to play under O’Sullivan at Florida. The outfielder made the most impact by playing in 39 games. This senior was able to come in to finish the final game against the Aggies following a suspected injury to Ashton Wilson in right field.

This Florida team fought through adversity to make it back to the biggest stage in college baseball. The 2024 season will be one that Gator Nation will remember for years to come.

About Victoria Kitchens

Gainesville native Victoria Kitchens attends the University of Florida. She is a second-year Journalism major with a specialization in Sports and Media.

Check Also

Pat Dooley’s Back Nine: Former Florida Standout Does Us Proud

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend that was all about golf. Playing, …