You won’t find the trophy in his office. The last thing Kevin O’Sullivan wants in his face every day is a reminder of a season that was almost.
So where is the second-place national trophy the Gators received after taking the 2023 season as far as it could possibly go in terms of games played?
“I don’t know where it is,” Sully said. “I don’t want to look at it.
“You’re only as good as your last game and that makes it painful. You never get over a game like that, but you are forced to move on.
“I’m not motivated because we lost the last game of the year. I’m motivated because we didn’t win the last game of the year.”
The Gators are loaded again after making their first appearance in Omaha since 2018. It ended with an 18-4 loss to the LSU Tigers in the title game, but that was then, and this is now.
The Dooley’s Dozen brings you 12 things O’Sullivan thinks about this year.
Replacing the irreplaceable
Wyatt Langford was drafted with the fourth pick last year for a reason. He was ridiculous and certainly in the argument for the best to ever play at Florida.
“You’re not going to replace Wyatt,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s a special talent. But you go through changes in the lineup every year.”
And they have a plan
Because they aren’t replacing him with a rookie. Tyler Shelnut started 50 games last year, a majority of them in the outfield.
“Everyone wants to talk about the young guys but it’s the older players who keep things together,” O’Sullivan said. “He adds more than just being in the lineup. He adds leadership.”
The senior hit .277 with seven homers a year ago.
This is a sophomore-rich team
And that includes players who went through the battles of 2023 and will have to be part of the nucleus of 2024.
“People on a national level don’t talk about Cade Kurland and Luke Heyman,” he said. “Cade, you just kind of take him for granted but he had a phenomenal freshman year. And Luke did great things, too.”
Kurland is the everyday second baseman while Heyman can catch, play first and take the designated hitter role. The two combined for 29 homers last season.
They are talking about another guy
And that would be Jac Caglianone, the poster boy for college baseball with his good looks and titanic homers. The expectations in his draft year will be off the charts after a 30-homer, 90-RBI season.
“We spent a lot of time behind the scenes trying to prep him for what is coming,” Sully said. “He’s in as good a spot as he can be but it’s going to be a daily, weekly constant thing. We’re going to do the best he can to navigate through the outside noise.”
Oh yeah, he pitches as well
Caglianone made his delivery tighter in the fall to hopefully bring a little more consistency to the mound.
“They’re minor changes,” O’Sullivan said. “A lot of it has to do with the mental aspects of the game. That’s why all first-rounders don’t get to the big leagues.”
Cags went 7-4 last season and won the SEC clincher in Lexington, but it’s hard to get the taste of that last game out of his mouth.
As for the rest of the pitchers
The plan is to start 6-foot-4-inch sophomore and hero of the regionals Cade Fisher, then 6-foot-5-inch freshman Liam Peterson and 6-foot-5-inch Caglianone on Sundays.
“Last year we had the same three starters for every weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “Knock on wood. That rarely happens.”
Brandon Neely will be the closer again after recording 13 saves in 2024.
“Everyone wants to start, but having him on the back end is a luxury,” he said.
If they can stay healthy
The talent is there as it always is with a Sully pitching staff. But he is counting on five freshman arms, including Peterson right there in the middle of the rotation.
“He steps into his first start, then his first road start at Miami, then his first SEC start, then his first SEC road start… there will be a lot of learning over the next six weeks.”
We haven’t talked about the portal star
He would be Colby Shelton from Alabama who hit 25 homers as a freshman. He will also take over for Josh Rivera – who had a monster senior season — at short.
“Everyone wanted to talk about his offense as a freshman but any questions about his defense have been answered since he got here,” O’Sullivan said. “I feel very confident he’ll play well for us at sort and we know he can hit.”
Also from the portal
Here is your catcher Brody Donay from Virginia Tech.
“We have three catchers and one will catch the first and third games and one the middle game,” O’Sullivan said. “Luke Heyman will be in the lineup somewhere. We feel really good about our catchers.”
Tanner Garrison is the third catcher, transferring in from Coastal Carolina. BT Riopelle is another guy that will be difficult to replace.
There is a deep bench
We have to wait and see who gets the most starts, but there are options. Ty Evans had an incredible Omaha trip. And we remember that Michael Robertson catch.
“Hopefully, he will take a step,” O’Sullivan said. “You never know when the lights will go on. And Jalen Guy is another guy who will compete for an outfield spot.”
Guy is an elite defender who transferred in from Liberty. Dale Thomas is slated to start at third but could also play in the outfield.
You think football has a difficult schedule
“We have to go to LSU in the second SEC weekend and later we have to go to Vanderbilt and Arkansas back-to-back. And then we play Tennessee at home. These guys all know it’s not going to be easy. We have to put this team in position to be able to navigate the season.”
It’s about Omaha… not
Sully knows what a grind a season can be. That’s why at the first team meeting Sunday, he didn’t mention Omaha.
“We preach the same thing which is to win today,” he said. “It gets challenging because the expectations are the elephant in the room. We are expected to go to Omaha. It’s not spoken about, but they know.”