The beauty of college sports is that the players on the teams are only there for a short while. At most they get four years and then they are gone. So new players are coming in all the time and rarely does a team look the same for two years in a row.
Sometimes, you get a team with a core group that comes in together and stays for three to four years, builds something great and then when they all leave at once, it creates a huge hole. In college sports, this is referred to as a rebuilding year (or two).
Rebuilding years can be painful to watch, especially when they are following championship contending years that never quite panned out. Such had been the case of the Florida Gators baseball team of this year.
These guys followed a three-year stretch led by players such as Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino, Daniel Piggott, Nolan Fontana, Hudson Randall, and Austin Maddox that saw them reach the College World Series three times in a row.
In 2011, Florida went all the way to the final series before losing a heart-breaker to the South Carolina Gamecocks in Game 1. Florida had the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth but could not score before losing in extra innings.
When those players all left the team after last year's College World Series, it left some mighty huge holes in the lineup.The Gators went from a team with a ton of experience to a team with almost none.
They also went from the nation's best power hitting team to one with little pop. Then, top it all off with the nation's toughest schedule, and you can imagine where this was headed.
Florida lost a lot of low-scoring, close ball games through their first 32 games. They also lost to a lot of schools one would not expect them to lose to. They lost to a lot of schools with directions in their names such as Georgia Southern, North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast (three times at home), as well as schools better known for basketball than baseball such as Duke, Indiana (twice) and Kentucky (twice).
At one time, after dropping two straight to Mississippi State, Florida was 14-18 overall and 4-7 in the SEC. Never mind making the NCAA tournament, this team was likely going to miss the SEC tournament. After watching this team win for so many years, it was tough to watch.
But, sometimes a light comes on in the middle of a dark season, and things start to click. Sometimes balls that were going foul before start to drop fair.
Sometimes the other guys make the big error and give one away to you. The next thing you know, your guys win a couple and then three. Pretty soon they get some confidence. Some of the guys come through with a big two-out hit and the next thing you know, they expect to win.
This has been happening for the Gators. They took the finale against Mississippi State, then went to Tallahassee and beat the highly ranked Florida State Seminoles with a late run to win 4-3.
The No. 8-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks then came to Gainesville two nights later and kicked one to the home team. They messed up a sac bunt by throwing the ball away and gave Florida a big inning.
Then with two out in the ninth, they had a base hit with a runner on second who fell down on his way to scoring the tying run. He was tagged out and Florida won its third game in a row.
The Gators then rallied late to win a come-from-behind game on Friday and on Saturday they broke open a tie game with a 10-run explosion in the sixth inning to sweep the series.
Suddenly, Florida was over .500 at 19-18 and 8-7. They have now added three more with a win on Tuesday over Florida Gulf Coast and two more at Missouri on Friday and Saturday. Eight wins in a row now has Florida 22-18 and 10-7.
The only two teams with more wins in the SEC than Florida are the Vanderbilt Commodores and LSU Tigers. Florida has an excellent shot at a No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament now.
Seasons when your team is battling for a No. 1 national seed and the right to host both a Regional and Super Regional are fun, but can also be very nerve-wracking. All those expectations can weigh a team and a fanbase down, as wins are more a relief than something to enjoy.
That makes years like this one enjoyable. When you watch a team go from a below-average team to a team that can actually contend for something, it is like watching your child win at something when you remember when he/she first tried and failed repeatedly.
This team, led by guys such as Jonathan Crawford, Richie Martin, Casey Turgeon, Vikash Ramjit and Josh Tobias deserve a ton of credit for sticking with a season that could easily have gotten away from them. Hopefully, they can keep it going all the way to the NCAA tournament.
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