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June 2, 2014

2014 Baseball Season Recap



Florida's 2015 baseball season might have ended in mass disappointment - a two-and-out stint in its own regional for the No. 2 national seed - but those two days don't entirely define the season. A young, anonymous group, the Gators bounced back from a tumultuous 2013 season and built an identity based on deep pitching and just enough offense. Before we turn the page, ITG takes a look back at a season that has been described as "extremely gratifying."

Best series: During the last weekend of March, Florida hosted LSU - ranked No. 8 nationally at the time - and promptly made its first major statement to the rest of the SEC. The Gators swept the Tigers with an offense gradually gaining steam. They scored 19 runs in three games and gave LSU ace Aaron Nola his first loss of the season in a 2-1 Friday victory.

Worst series: A three-team weekend series including Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois should have been an early-season walkthrough for Florida. Instead, the Gators' offensive lulls that would show up again late in the season were an issue. Florida scored six runs in four games and lost three of four.

Biggest moment: Florida picked up its final out to clinch a 4-2 victory and dogpiled on the pitcher's mound at Tennessee's Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Gators had secured an outright SEC championship for the third time since 2010. The 21 SEC wins they finished with was the second-highest total in school history. Florida went 21-9 in conference play.

Lowest moment: There was so much hope heading into this past weekend's Gainesville Regional. Kevin O'Sullivan said he felt as good about this team as he had in any of his previous postseason trips. Then the Gators stranded 24 baserunners in two games and were swept out of their own regional less than halfway into the weekend. Florida left stunned, losing to No. 4 regional seed College of Charleston and No. 3 regional seed North Carolina.

Best hitter: It takes substantial on-field production to miss the first 19 games of a season because of a suspension and still end up as an All-SEC selection. That's exactly what Harrison Bader did upon returning to the lineup. A star freshman one season ago, Bader became the most consistent plug in Florida's offense and helped spark the offensive turnaround of a team that always had pitching but had struggled at the plate. He batted .335 and finished fourth on the team in hits despite missing nearly 20 games. His .411 on-base percentage was best on the team.

Most surprising: Florida had loads of elite national talent in its 2013 recruiting class. Left-handed pitcher Kirby Snead from Alachua (Fla.) Santa Fe High was not one of them. Ranked the No. 10 left-handed prospect in the state, Snead came in initially as a lefty specialist and became one of the Gators' most reliable relief pitchers. He had four more appearances than any other Florida pitcher and finished the year with a team-best 1.79 ERA.

Most disappointing: It's difficult to watch redshirt junior pitcher Karsten Whitson's career at this point and not think of what was and what could have been. The former top-10 Major League Baseball draft pick failed to find ground in the weekend rotation after dealing with injuries in the past. He threw just 37.1 innings and started nine of his 14 appearances. Whitson had more walks (23) than strikeouts (21) and finished with a 3.86 ERA.

MVP: No one meant more to the Gators than Logan Shore, a freshman pitcher from Coon Rapids, Minn., who went from relative unknown midweek guy to Friday night ace over the course of the season. Shore was the only Gators starter with more than five wins and was the only constant of the weekend rotation for most of the SEC slate. He threw a team-high 95.2 innings - at least 40 innings more than any other Gators - and was second on the team in ERA at 2.16. O'Sullivan has found a special weekend starter for the future.

Most improved: There was never a question about Taylor Gushue's talent. But after a subpar sophomore campaign, there was concern about his execution and whether or not he would truly develop into Florida's next big-time catcher. Gushue answered by batting .320 with a team-high six home runs while noticeably improving on the defensive end as well. With the draft coming, this could very well have been Gushue's final season as a Gator. If O'Sullivan is able to get him back, he'll be one of the best players in college baseball for the 2015 season.


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