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You could read Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s lips saying, “WHA-HAPPUNED?” in the eighth inning Sunday night in the College World Series against Oral Roberts.
O’Sullivan, 54, has made thousands of visits to the mound in his coaching career at Florida (16 years), as pitching coach at Clemson (nine years) and seven years at four other previous stops. But never like this.
And had his 2 seed Gators not eked out a 5-4 win despite his math mind freeze, he may never have lived this down. And he knew it as he could barely watch the final outs of the game.
O’Sullivan is counting his blessings today, and you can bet he’ll be counting mound visits better when Florida plays again on Wednesday.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth and Florida up 5-3, Gators closer Brandon Neely allowed a single and a walk after an infield error to load the bases. No. 2 hitter Justin Quinn was next, and O’Sullivan decided to visit the mound to talk to Neely. He did not want to take his sophomore ace closer out. Neely had just entered in the previous inning, retired the only batter he faced and had thrown just 22 pitches. Neely (1-2, 3.60 ERA) also is tied for third in the nation with 13 saves.
O’Sullivan spoke to Neely on the mound, then returned to the dugout. But suddenly umpires told O’Sullivan that was the seventh visit to the mound by the Gators’ coaching staff. The limit for visits without taking the pitcher out is six a game by NCAA rule, so Neely had to leave.
“You told me this was six,” O’Sullivan appeared to bark at umpires.
In addition, Florida’s next pitcher could only warm up on the mound – not in the bullpen.
A confused O’Sullivan huddled with umpires to no avail.
Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan Counted Wrong
“It was kind of strange. I’ve never really seen that happen,” said shortstop Josh Rivera, whose home run in the fourth put Florida up 3-1. “It was a mistake that was made, and probably the first time in Sully’s career that that’s ever happened. It was strange, but we were very confident in Cade’s ability to come in and pound the strike zone and let our defense work, no matter what happened.”
But freshman reliever Cade Fisher (6-0, 3.32 ERA, 1 Saves) is not quite Neely. He rushed in for the Gators and immediately allowed a line drive to Quinn that could have tied the game at 5-5. But left fielder Wyatt Langford caught it to end the inning.
O’Sullivan shook his fist with glee, or relief, but it was not over.
Fisher got the first man in the bottom of the ninth out as No. 3 hitter Jonah Cox grounded out to third. But cleanup hitter Matt Hogan doubled, and O’Sullivan put his face in his hands. He grimaced more when Mac McCroskey singled and Holden Breeze walked to load the bases with out.
O’Sullivan just shook his head. And he couldn’t go talk to Fisher on the mound, or he would have to make another change. He had to frown and bear it.
Drew Stahl’s fielder’s choice grounder produced the second out in a force at second, but Hogan scored to cut Florida’s lead to 5-4. Then Jacob Godman took Fisher deep to center as O’Sullivan’s heart likely skipped a beat, but Michael Robertson made the catch to end the game.
Fisher earned his second save of the season, and O’Sullivan and the Gators improved to 2-0 at the College World Series. Florida (52-15) will play at 2 p.m. Wednesday against the loser of Oral Roberts (52-13) and TCU (43-23), which play at 2 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game.
Florida’s win was the fifth one-run game in Omaha out of six games so far:
Oral Roberts 6, TCU 5
Florida 6, Virginia 5
Wake Forest 3, Stanford 2
LSU 6, Tennessee 3
TCU 4, Virginia 3 (Virginia eliminated)
Florida 5, Oral Roberts 4
The CWS continues Monday on ESPN with Tennessee (43-21) playing No. 8 seed Stanford (44-19) at 2 p.m. in an elimination game. No. 1 seed Wake Forest (53-10) plays No. 5 LSU (49-15) at 7 p.m.
A reporter asked O’Sullivan if he has someone “charting” the mound visits, and how he “lost track” in the eighth inning. In other words, can you not count to six?
“We keep it in the dugout,” O’Sullivan said. “And I had a brief conversation with the umpire before the inning.”
O’Sullivan switched course here, though, and took the blame.
“It was totally my mistake,” he said. “And no one feels more terrible about it than I do. But at the same time, it’s like a player that has a bad game or gives up a run there in the ninth or something, extra innings. You’ve got to move from it.”
Gators’ Coach Apologized For Math Mishap
O’Sullivan said he apologized to the team. “They just said they had my back,” he said.
“And here’s a calculator,” rumor has it one player said.
Seriously, O’Sullivan was visibly shaken.
“I’m fairly hard on myself a lot,” he said. “But when I wake up tomorrow morning, I’m going to get these guys ready to play on Wednesday. That’s the bottom line.”
And he’ll be tracking more than the count on the batter.