The Florida Gators won their first national championship in baseball Tuesday night and the program’s long ties to Palm Beach County athletes and coaches had a lot to do with it.
Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan played at Jupiter High School and was an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic University.
One Florida assistant, Craig Bell, was the Palm Beach Post’s Coach of the Year during a nine-year-stretch at Palm Beach Lakes High School and was an assistant coach on Wellington’s 1999 state title team.
Another Gator assistant, Brad Weitzel, played at Palm Beach State College for former Palm Beach High School star Dusty Rhodes, who is generally acknowledged as the originator of the pipeline of top players from Palm Beach County to Gainesville.
Two of the mainstays in Florida’s championship effort at the College World Series in Omaha and all season long were former Palm Beach Gardens High teammates JJ Schwarz and Nick Horvath.
Schwarz made a great defensive play to preserve the Gators’ one-run lead late in Tuesday’s championship clincher against at LSU. He backhanded a sharply hit ball at first base and was right on target with a throw to catch a Tiger baserunner at home plate. That play helped to stop an LSU rally and Florida added four runs in the bottom eighth inning to win 6-1.
Horvath scored twice and drove in a run Tuesday and for a moment was warming up in the bullpen in case O’Sullivan needed him to pitch in relief. Horvath also came racing in to make a sliding catch in center field to end an LSU rally.
Combined, Schwarz and Horvath drove in half of Florida’s runs in the title-clinching game.
Gators third baseman Jonathan India is another product of Palm Beach County high schools. He was the Palm Beach Post’s 2015 Small Schools Player of the Year at Delray Beach American Heritage.
The championship gives Florida national titles in football, basketball and baseball. The Gators are the first program in 50 years to join that elite list.
It wasn’t easy. Florida won 19 games by a single run, the most in the nation. Other Gator teams have gone to Omaha with bigger reputations and achieved less.
An on-campus championship celebration is scheduled Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at Florida’s baseball field, McKethan Stadium. Wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see a bunch of Palm Beach County license plates in the parking lot. Seems like it’s a natural.