GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jac Caglianone grabbed a Florida teammate to help carry the bucket of ice water and tried to sneak up on coach Kevin O’Sullivan moments after the Gators advanced to the College World Series for the second consecutive year.

“I saw him coming the whole way,” O’Sullivan said later, still soaked from the postgame victory bath.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Caglianone is impossible to miss. And the two-way star will be the main attraction when Florida (34-28) opens CWS play against Texas A&M (49-13) on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Tampa native, a projected top-five pick in next month’s Major League Baseball draft, steps onto college baseball’s biggest stage hitting .411 with 33 home runs and 68 RBIs. The left-hander also is 5-2 with a 4.71 ERA in 15 starts.

Caglianone carried the Gators most of the season.

Now, he's finally getting some help.

The Gators are back in Omaha thanks mostly to Caglianone’s supporting cast, a group that includes four freshman pitchers, a gritty closer, a sophomore outfielder who was thrust into the starting lineup because of two season-ending injuries and several others who have come up big down the stretch.

“You need special stories,” O’Sullivan said. “And we have those right now.”

Here’s a look at Caglianone’s crew, teammates who have raised their games to another level and allowed one of the best hitters in NCAA history to potentially cap his stellar collegiate career with a national championship:


Right-hander Liam Peterson had to wait until mid-May to notch his second victory. But he has since emerged as Florida’s ace despite a rough outing to open super regional play at Clemson. He will get the ball against Texas A&M, with Jake Clemente, Luke McNeillie and Frank Menendez waiting in the pen.

The three fellow freshmen are among O’Sullivan’s most trusted relievers even though their ERAs range between 4.96 and 7.20.

“You have to lean on your talent,” O’Sullivan said. “At some point, if the kid is talented enough, he’s going to figure it out. It’s just in this day and age, no one has patience. And the (transfer) portal has changed everything. Everybody’s older, which affects the freshmen.

“No one gave me a handbook three years ago and said, ‘This is how you handle all of this.’ We’ve all made mistakes. We’re slowly but surely figuring this thing out.”


No one has figured things out more than Brandon Neely.

The right-hander was penciled in as a starter last fall, shuffled back to the pen in February and then briefly moved into the rotation in March. Now, he’s reclaimed the closer role and looks every bit as dominant as he was in 2023.

“He’s just starting to find his niche again,” O’Sullivan said.

Neely struck out 23 and allowed 10 hits, five walks and three earned runs in 16 postseason innings. He threw 272 pitches in four appearances, including 131 during back-to-back days against the Tigers.

“He’s back in a role that he feels comfortable in,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s not a one-inning pitcher. He’s a bulldog and can you give three innings if you need it.”


After playing sparingly during the first three months of the season, sophomore outfielder Ashton Wilson stepped into the lineup following injuries to Ty Evans (wrist) and Hayden Yost (knee) in May.

Wilson, a transfer from Charleston Southern, was so impressive in his postseason debut — he had three doubles and a home run against Nebraska — that O’Sullivan reached out about potentially moving him into the No. 3 spot in the batting order to better protect Caglianone.

“He called me back two minutes later and goes, ‘I can handle it,’” O’Sullivan said. “It was just a shot in the dark.”

Wilson has 12 hits and nine RBIs in the NCAA Tournament and was named the MVP of the Stillwater Regional.


Center fielder Michael Robertson, a .250 hitter most of the season, delivered a two-run double in the 13th inning against Clemson that got the Gators to the CWS. Left fielder Tyler Shelnut has at least one hit in every NCAA game. And third baseman Dale Thomas has eight hits in the tournament, more than he had in May.

Throw in catcher Luke Heyman’s late-season heroics against Georgia, backup catcher Brody Donay’s arm and bat in the decisive game against Clemson, and leadoff hitter Cade Kurland’s ability to get on base in front of Caglianone, and maybe this is what Florida could and should have been all season.

“Our backs have been up against the wall for what feels like the majority of the year,” Robertson said. “We’re battle-tested and ready to go.”