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Gators slip into NCAA baseball tournament, extend streak to 16 seasons

GAINESVILLE — The Florida baseball team slipped into the NCAA tournament on Monday to avoid missing it for the first time under longtime coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

The Gators (28-27) will face Nebraska (39-20) Friday in the Stillwater Regional hosted by 11th-seed Oklahoma State. The Cowboys (40-17) will face Niagara (38-15) during the double-elimination format to determine one of 16 teams for the Super Regionals that decide the eight-team CWS field.

A season after finishing runner-up in the College World Series to LSU, UF sits just a game above .500. It proved enough for the Gators to reach the NCAAs for the 16th consecutive year.

The Gators lost 6-3 to Vanderbilt during the single-elimination round to open the SEC tournament after going just 13-17 during league play. But O’Sullivan’s squad ranks No. 30 in the RPI and earned 13 Quad 1 wins, tied for sixth nationally, in 31 chances during Florida’s rigorous schedule.

“There’s been some inconsistencies, but at the same time, we’ve proven that we can play with anybody in the country,” O’Sullivan said after the SEC tournament loss, per 247Sports.

The 55-year-old has not missed the NCAA’s postseason since 1998, the year before he joined Clemson as an assistant coach. His Gators have advanced nine of the past 14 years to the CWS, but even making the tournament was dicey much the season.

Florida effectively secured a spot by winning two of three games at No. 9 Georgia to close the regular season.

“Our schedule was really difficult down the stretch,” O’Sullivan said. “We did what we needed to do … at Georgia.”

The NCAA bid will extend the record-setting, singular career of junior Jac Caglianone.

The Gators’ two-year phenom, a projected top-five draft pick, is batting .413, which currently ranks third in school history, with a .525 on-base percentage (fourth) and .851 slugging percentage, well head of Matt LaPorta’s single-season record .817 in 2007.

Caglianone’s 29 home runs trail his school-record 33 set in 2023. He has 66 runs scored and 58 RBI.

Injured outfielder Ty Evans batted .316 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI prior to breaking his wrist May 11 against Kentucky. He was the only other UF player to bat better than .265. Alabama transfer third baseman Cody Shelton had 18 homers and 45 RBI but hit just .256.

Caglianone, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound left hander, also is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 62 innings as the team’s No. 3 starter.

UF’s pitching generally has been disappointing.

Sophomore left hander Cade Fisher (3-3, 7.51 ERA) did not develop into a No. 1 starter while towering 6-foot-5, 205-pound freshman Liam Patterson (2-4, 5.83) struggled in the No. 2 spot. Talented junior Brandon Neely (2-4, 6.55) failed to adjust to a starter role when given the change. He also managed just 2 saves after recording 13 as a sophomore.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com