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Friday May 30, 2014 Gators' turnaround might be best job of O'Sullivan's career

Kevin O'Sullivan

Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan has led UF to a school-record seven straight NCAA Tournaments.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Following three consecutive trips to the College World Series, 2013 was a bummer for the Gators.

They advanced to the NCAA Tournament but had barely unpacked their bags at the Bloomington (Ind.) Regional before it was time to come home.

Florida was knocked from the tournament with back-to-back losses to Austin Peay and Valparaiso, two quality programs but not exactly considered royalty in college baseball.

That’s why this year’s turnaround has been even more pronounced.

Most expected the Gators to be improved after their 29-30 finish a year ago, but who had them as a No. 2 national seed? Go ahead, raise your hand.

Didn’t think so.

You can easily make a strong case for 2014 being the best coaching job of Kevin O’Sullivan’s seven seasons at Florida.

O’Sullivan has always been at his best when managing pitching staffs, and this season he mastered that part of the game. O’Sullivan used 12 different starting pitchers, constantly searched for – and found – the right combinations in the bullpen, and in the end led Florida to a 40-21 record entering tonight’s NCAA Tournament opener against College of Charleston (7 p.m., McKethan Stadium).

Florida’s turnaround didn’t go unnoticed. O’Sullivan was named SEC Coach of the Year earlier this week.

“I feel really good about this team,’’ O’Sullivan said Thursday. “This has been an extremely gratifying season for me personally. To bounce back from last year and have so many guys contribute, so many guys lend a hand in accomplishing the goal of winning the SEC. I feel as good about this team as any others we’ve had here.”

While last season was disappointing, advancing to the tournament was important to this year’s success in O’Sullivan’s view.

The Gators kept their streak of NCAA Tournament berths alive and gained valuable experience.

“We’re trying to build a program here,” O’Sullivan said. “We want to be one of those elite teams, and we want to be in the postseason every year. This is our seventh straight year in the postseason, which is a new standard at Florida. I want this program to be recognized as one of the better programs in the country. In order to do that, you have to have consistency.”

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