University of Florida

UF baseball fell short of a championship, but future expectations remain the same

Florida players return to the dugout following an NCAA College World Series baseball game against Arkansas in Omaha, Neb., Friday, June 22, 2018.
Florida players return to the dugout following an NCAA College World Series baseball game against Arkansas in Omaha, Neb., Friday, June 22, 2018. AP Photo

A second national championship wasn't in the cards.

The No. 1 seed Florida Gators baseball team's season ended Friday night with a 5-2 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks in the College World Series semifinals in Omaha, Nebraska.

While the loss stings and another chapter of UF baseball comes to an end, the Gators are poised to make another deep postseason run next year, which has become the norm as of late.

"The expectation is to win a national championship, and that's not easy to do," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "That's a credit to our players, our staff. ... It's really disappointing right now, but we've got a really good core of young players on our team."

How they got here

UF won its first 13 weekend series and was ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 by D1Baseball all year. Florida went 20-10 in SEC play to earn its second-straight regular-season conference title.

And then came the rough patch.

It started with a three-game sweep at the hands of Mississippi State, during which UF had to hold out its ace and soon-to-be national player of the year Brady Singer and also saw senior JJ Schwarz fracture his right hand. A 1-2 outing in the SEC Tournament followed.

But the Gators ultimately became the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fought through elimination games in both the Regionals and Super Regionals to make it back to the College World Series for a fourth straight year.

A 6-3 loss to Texas Tech to open the CWS put UF in a bind early. And while the Gators rallied to defeat Texas 6-1 and get revenge against the Red Raiders with a 9-6 win in elimination games, they ran out of gas against Arkansas.

A captain's legacy

For 11 games late into the regular season and into the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament, all JJ Schwarz could do was watch. His broken hand kept him relegated to the dugout. He thought his Florida career was finished.

After the celebration from the Gators' Super Regional walkoff to advance to the College World Series subsided, Schwarz made his way behind home plate, squatted down and soaked in the moment at McKethan Stadium for one last time.

And then, for four final games, he made his way back to the lineup in the biggest moments of the season even if the storybook ending didn't come with it.

He was Florida's first captain under O'Sullivan. He's also the first Gator to go to the College World Series four straight years.

And he left his mark on the UF baseball program and its record book.

The final numbers:

First in career starts (266), games played (266) and sacrifice flies (24)

Second in career at-bats (988) and RBI (237)

Third in hits (293)

Fourth in doubles (59) and home runs (50)

Seventh in walks (137) and runs scored (202)

"This school means the world to me, and I don't even know how to put it into words," Schwarz said. "God's been so good to me and having an opportunity to play for a school like this, I'll be forever thankful for Sully and the staff for giving me the chance."

Moving pieces

Including Schwarz, the Gators will lose at least six players who were pivotal to the team's success this season.

Junior third baseman Jonathan India, a Coral Springs native and the SEC Player of the Year, was selected by the Cincinnati Reds fifth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. Florida's top pitchers Singer and Jackson Kowar are both heading to the Kansas City Royals.

Junior shortstop Deacon Liput went in the 10th round to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and senior Nick Horvath will be in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

Michael Byrne, UF's career leader in saves (35) and ERA (1.88), was drafted in the 14th round by the Reds but is debating returning for his senior year and an opportunity to be in the weekend rotation.

Even with all the departing stars, the Gators still have enough talent on the roster - plus another top recruiting class coming in - to make another deep postseason run.

Six position players with starting experience return: second baseman Blake Reese, catcher/infielder Brady Smith, first baseman Keenan Bell, and outfielders Austin Langworthy, Wil Dalton and Nelson Maldonado (who was used exclusively as a designated hitter this season). Shortstop Brady McConnell and catcher Cal Greenfield also have potential to crack into the lineup.

On the mound, UF's starting depth will likely revolve around Jack Leftwich, Tommy Mace, Tyler Dyson and Byrne (if he returns). Jordan Butler, a freshman All-American this season, could be an early candidate for the closer role. Garrett Milchin, Hunter Ruth, Hunter McMullen and Andrew Baker could factor into bullpen roles.