Florida entered the bottom of the sixth inning of its series finale against South Carolina tied at 4-4 with the Gamecocks, having just given up the game-tying run in the top of the inning.
The score was 12-4 before the 'Cocks got an out in the inning, and 14-4 when it was over, and 14-5 nine South Carolina outs later, giving Florida a sweep of the only other team to make the last three College World Series and thrusting the Gators back into postseason contention and national college baseball discussions.
That's a heady position for a 19-18 team that has two seniors of any note (Vickash Ramjit, who joined Billy Minnis and Allan Trammell with two doubles in an inning, went 3-for-3, and had one RBI today, and Cody Dent, who went 0-for-1 with an RBI) contributing anything and an 8-7 record in the SEC.
Yet Florida has earned it, by done yeoman's work all year against the nation's roughest schedule, avoiding sweeps at the hands of the five ranked teams it has seen in weekend series so far and avoiding a sweep in the three-game series of midweek games it played against Florida State. Saturday's win was little different: Six pitchers took the bump for the Gators, none throwing more than Justin Shafer's three, no Florida player knocked in more than two runs, Florida avoided errors while Carolina committed two, and a three-game series that began with two one-run games ended in a rout.
Now, for the first time since February, Florida is a winning team. And I think that Florida might not be just over .500 despite that difficulty and the added wrinkles of injuries to Karsten Whitson, Keenan Kish, and Richie Martin, but because of it.
The absence of Whitson and Kish has forced players like Jay Carmichael, Saturday's starter, into big roles for the Gators, and even though Carmichael (1.2 innings, one earned run on the day) isn't alone in not always coming through (he walked in a run and left with the bases loaded in the second inning; Bobby Poyner bailed him out by getting a flyout), the rapid maturation of young players has given Florida a much better team than it had a month ago.
Martin's return has helped significantly: The speedy freshmen went 2-for-5 today, but gives Kevin O'Sullivan flexibility in the outfield for now and will give him more in the infield when he's able to make throws from shortstop. In the meantime, Casey Turgeon and Dent have been very good at short, neither player's natural position.
Harrison Bader's emergence has helped even more, as the even faster freshman has been a terror on the basepaths and a defensive whiz in the outfield, keeping Florida in the game in Tallahassee with the theft of one homer and covering tons of turf wherever he plays.
And the pitching shuffle — Whitson's injury shifted Jonathon Crawford to the front of the order, which created room for Kish, Carmichael, Johnny Magliozzi and Danny Young to start — has produced more depth in both the bullpen and rotation than I imagined was possible a year after the losses of Steven Rodriguez, Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, and Austin Maddox to the MLB Draft.
And then there's football/baseball player Raphael Andrades, who is doing this:
It's #Pottering, I guess, this jumping around on a broom as if you were Harry Potter after sweeping a team, and silly it's social media fun that O'Sullivan will probably put an end to shortly. But it's proof that this team is having fun, something that wasn't always evident with the teams that O'Sullivan took to Omaha from 2010 to 2012, burdened as they were with the pressure of chasing Florida's first national title in baseball.
This team, one that still has to do work to get into the NCAA Tournament, has no such pressures. And, finally, they're playing well and freely, seemingly unencumbered by the lack of expectations, instead of playing down to them. Even if these Gators aren't nearly as good as their predecessors, rooting for them might be more satisfying.