Florida enters 2015 season focused on returning to College World Series

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Florida was satisfied with how the story of its 2014 season played out.

But the Gators probably wish the ending was written differently.

After winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season title after going 21-9 in conference play and it looking like the season would have a fairy-tale ending, the story turned dark when it mattered the most.

Florida lost 2-0 to LSU in the SEC Tournament championship, recording just two hits in the finale in Hoover, Alabama.

The Gators then earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament only to go two-and-out for the second-consecutive year, losing 3-2 to College of Charleston and 5-2 to North Carolina at McKethan Stadium in two rain-heavy contests.

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“It was a rough two games,” junior Harrison Bader said. “But at the end of the day if you want to make it that far, if you want to compete with the best, you have to be not necessarily perfect, but pretty close to it.”

This year, the No. 6 Gators hope their season will have the happily-ever-after ending that has eluded them for the past two years.

“My biggest focus, really my only focus, this year is just making it to the World Series,” Bader said. “It’s my third year. I’ve heard incredible things about it from the coaches and players around the league and friends. So that’s what I’m focused on, that’s my goal.”

Florida has not reached the College World Series since 2012.

But the Gators have not won a game there since 2011, when Florida swept through its first three games before being swept itself against South Carolina in the championship series.

The Gators want to get back to that level.

“I think we have expectations every year,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Every year, we kind of get together and expect to be pretty good. I think this group’s mature enough to handle it.”

O’Sullivan returns what can be considered one of his deepest rosters in his eight-year tenure.

The Gators have a pitching staff that is 17-players deep, including seven left-handed pitchers.

Headlining the staff is sophomore Logan Shore. He finished last season with a team-low 2.16 ERA and landed on the All-SEC first team, All-America third team and All-America freshman team while also being named the SEC Freshman of the Year and Perfect Game National Freshman of the Year.

The Gators also return three of their five players who had an on-base percentage of at least .350.

Bader, who led UF with a .337 batting average and had a career-high 24 RBIs in 2014, knows the expectations are high.

And he’s ready to make sure Florida’s season has a happy ending.

“Obviously, coming off a really good year last year, so for ourselves, our coaching staff and even our fans, we’re expected to do the same exact thing,” Bader said. “We certainly have the talent to do so.”

This article was written by Jordan McPherson and Alligator Staff Writer from University of Florida / Independent Florida Alligator and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.