Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida Gators

Florida Gators

The sixth time proved to the charm for Kevin O’Sullivan and the Florida Gators in 2017. The Gators defeated the LSU Tigers in the College World Series to win the national championship for the first time in program history.

Currently in his 11th season as the Gators’ head coach, O’Sullivan and his staff have transformed Florida into one of the marquee programs in college baseball. The Gators have earned national seeds for the NCAA tournament eight times in 10 seasons – the most in the country since O’Sullivan was hired.

During a tenure which has been marked by tireless recruiting and fundamental coaching, O’Sullivan has overseen a progression up the national ladder by the Orange and Blue that has been punctuated by six trips to the NCAA College World Series in the past eight years. The Gators have won four Southeastern Conference titles in the past seven years (2010-11, 2014-17) and currently have a program-best streak of 10 straight NCAA Tournament berths.

The past three seasons (2015-17) have perhaps been the best in program history. The Florida Gators have a 156-53 (.761) record and have advanced to the CWS three years in a row for the second time in school history. For the first time ever, Florida won more than 50 games for three consecutive years, notching 52 wins in each of the past three seasons.

From 2010-12, the Gators were 147-56 (.724) with three-straight CWS appearances for the first time in school history, three-straight NCAA Regional and Super Regional crowns, consecutive SEC Championships and a pair of SEC Eastern Division titles in ’10 and ’11 and the league’s tournament championship in 2011.

O’Sullivan has had 77 players taken in the Major League Baseball Draft since his arrival at UF and the Gators’ total of 64 selections in the last eight drafts leads the nation. In addition, 11 players have reached the big leagues since being drafted under O’Sullivan.

The Florida Gators boast seven first-round selections in the last six years: Mike Zunino at No. 3 to the Seattle Mariners and Brian Johnson at No. 31 to the Boston Red Sox in 2012, right-hander Jonathon Crawford at No. 20 to the Detroit Tigers in 2013, shortstop Richie Martin at No. 20 to the Oakland A’s in 2015, pitchers A.J. Puk at No. 6 to the A’s and Dane Dunning at No. 29 to the Washington Nationals in 2016 and right-hander Alex Faedo at No. 18 overall to the Detroit Tigers in 2017.

An incredible 10 members of the 2010 club have already reached the Major Leagues: left-hander Kevin Chapman (Astros), outfielder Matt den Dekker (Mets), right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (Marlins), shortstop Nolan Fontana (Angels) left-hander Brian Johnson (Red Sox), right-hander Austin Maddox (Red Sox), left-hander Nick Maronde (Angels), left-hander Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers), outfielder Preston Tucker (Astros) and catcher Mike Zunino (Mariners).

Rodriguez was the first player from the 2012 MLB Draft to reach the Majors, while Zunino became the first position player from the 2012 Draft to reach baseball’s highest level.

In addition, outfielder Harrison Bader was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in July of 2017, just two years after being taken in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft.

History was made in 2017 as Florida won its first national championship in school history, sweeping LSU in the CWS Finals by 4-3 and 6-1 scores to bring home the trophy. With the title, the Florida Gators became one of six schools to win a national championship in baseball, basketball and football, joining Cal, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford and UCLA. The Gators are the only program to win a title in each sport in the last 50 years. UF won football titles in 1996, 2006 and 2008 and back-to-back basketball titles in 2006 and 2007.

The Florida Gators finished 52-19 in 2017 against the nation’s toughest schedule and claimed a SEC Championship trophy in addition to the national title. Florida won 50+ games for the sixth time in school history—four of which have come under Kevin O’Sullivan (2011, 2015, 2016, 2017). The Gators finished in the top 10 in the final polls for the sixth time under O’Sullivan.

The titles did not come easy, as UF led the nation with 19 one-run wins. The Gators set a school record with 27 saves in 2017, led by Michael Byrne who set a UF record with 19 saves on the year. UF’s pitching staff totaled 10 shutouts on the season, most in the SEC and fourth-most in the country. The 10 shutouts are the second-most by Florida in a single season, one shy of the 2011 staff’s 11 shutouts.

The Florida Gators’ pitching staff was led junior All-American Alex Faedo, who anchored the weekend rotation and led the nation with 157 strikeouts on the year – a new school record. A setting the school record for strikeouts in a season in 2016, the Gators notched the second-most strikeouts ever with 649 in 2017.

In addition to Faedo, Byrne earned All-America honors and joined catcher JJ Schwarz and right-hander Brady Singer as All-SEC selections. At the conclusion of the season, eight Gators were taken in the 2017 MLB Draft: Faedo (1st round), shortstop Dalton Guthrie (6th round), catcher Mike Rivera (6th round), catcher Mark Kolozsvary (7th round), right-hander David Lee (27th round), right-hander Frank Rubio (29th round), second baseman Deacon Liput (29th round) and Schwarz (38th round).

Off the field, the Gators had 12 student-athletes named to the 2017 Spring Academic Honor Roll, giving Florida 106 Academic All-SEC recipients under O’Sullivan. Six newcomers were named to the 2016-17 First Year Academic Honor Roll, bringing O’Sullivan’s total of honorees to 47.

From 1992-93, O’Sullivan was an assistant at Florida Community College as the hitting and catching instructor.

In two years at Virginia, nine at Clemson and eight at Florida, he has coached 74 pitchers who have been drafted or signed pro contracts. This list includes six first-rounders, 20 top-five-rounders, 35 top-10-rounders and 10 All-Americans.

O’Sullivan graduated with honors from Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in education/sports medicine in 1991. In Charlottesville, he was a member of UVa’s Captain Council and Student-Athlete Mentor Program. He later earned a master’s degree in exercise science & wellness from Florida Atlantic.

O’Sullivan starred at Virginia as a catcher in 1990 and 1991, where he hit a combined .351. He was a first-team All-ACC and All-ACC Tourney recipient both years and earned a berth on the ACC Academic Honor Roll in 1990. He also played for Florida Community College in 1988 and 1989.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).