Florida and South Carolina will meet tonight in All-SEC College World Series final
As Florida prepared to leave for the College World Series nearly two weeks ago, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he felt like playing in the SEC had made the Gators "battle-tested" and ready for the challenge they would face in Omaha. Of Florida's 70 games this season, 40 have been against members of the SEC - 57 percent. The Gators went 22-8 (.733) during the regular season and compiled a 4-1 (.800) record en route to the SEC Tournament championship.
O'Sullivan said the conference season was so tough, nothing that happened in Omaha would be unusual for the Gators. Turns out, he wasn't just stumping for his own league.
Florida (53-17) and South Carolina (53-14) will open the best-of-three College World Series championship series tonight, vying for the College World Series championship. South Carolina is the defending national champion, and the SEC is assured of having three consecutive CWS national champions. The game will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m.
The SEC is the first conference to have two teams meet in the national championship under the current CWS format.
"We feel very fortunate to be one of the last two teams playing,'' O'Sullivan said. ". . We feel like we're playing our best baseball right now. And I think obviously South Carolina can probably say the same. But looking forward to it. (Tonight) should be a great series. It's not going to be easy. South Carolina is playing extremely well. They pitch; they play defense. They don't give you a whole lot. So we're going to have to be on top of our game if we want to have any success against them. It's kind of ironic that two SEC teams get a chance to go head to head here in Omaha. But we feel like the SEC is certainly the best conference in the country. There's certainly other teams that could be here right now within our conference, and I think playing the SEC schedule has certainly prepared us for this opportunity, and just looking forward to playing.''
Florida is trying to join Michigan and Ohio State as the only Division I-A teams to win national titles in baseball, basketball and football.
The Gamecocks and Gators are very familiar with each other. South Carolina defeated Florida twice in three games March 25-27 at McKethan
Stadium to take the series. USC’s series victory ended a stretch of 13-consecutive weekend series wins for Florida and marked the Gators’ first loss in a league series since March 26-28, 2010.
"Obviously having three of the last four teams playing in this thing be all from the SEC (Vanderbilt included) shows a lot about how tough this conference is and how much competition there is in it,'' UF first baseman and former Plant standout Preston Tucker said. "It's going to be fun. We're not going to be surprised with who we play. We all know each other, we've all seen each other play all year long. It's a good thing to kind of know what to expect and know how competitive it's going to be. So I'm really excited and looking forward to it.''
South Carolina's players also like the familiarity of playing a conference foe, but said that won't necessarily be the dominant factor in who wins.
"We've seen them three times this year,'' South Carolina senior Scott Wingo said. "But whoever comes to play the best out of these two out of three series is probably going to win this thing.''
"They're one of the toughest teams we've played all year,'' USC pitcher/1B Michael Roth said. "One of the best hitting teams we've faced. And really it's going to come down to pitching and defense and we're both pretty good at that.''
The Gators expect to have to fight for the title.
"They're a tough team,'' catcher Mike Zunino said. "They compete every game, game in, game out. They win games in the last half of ballgames. They always stick around, and it's teams like that that do really well.''
Sophomore pitcher Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.24) will be making his 19th start of the year for the Gators, the most by a Gator pitcher since Tommy Boss and Alan Horne in 2005. Randall has team highs in wins (11) and innings pitched (116.2) and has registered 67 strikeouts while giving up 12walks. He has held opponents to a .234 average this season and threw a complete game to defeat South Carolina, 2-1, on March 26. Florida has a15-3 (.833) record in his starts and has scored a total of 98 runs when he pitches, an average of 5.4 runs of support,
Florida and South Carolina are both 3-0 in the CWS, but the Gamecocks are coming off a 13-inning win over Virginia on Saturday night, while the Gators have been off since their win over Vanderbilt this past Friday. O'Sullivan said he's tried to allow his players to relax and spend the off-time with their families, but he's confident they will be ready to play tonight.
"Right now we're playing at a high level,'' O'Sullivan said. "We've got a tremendous amount of confidence. I think you gotta step back a little bit. There's times during the season where you gotta kind of get involved and coach more. I think we're at a point right now where they don't need motivational speeches. They don't need me to get too involved. I think we're at a critical point where I need to kind of stay out of the way. And I'm kind of taking that approach. We had a great practice (Saturday), it was spirited, a lot of execution. And, like I said, just trying to stay out of the way as best as possible and let these guys do what they do best and that's play."