Paths to College World Series different for Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles

When the College World Series begins today, Florida and Florida State will be among the eight teams, both in search of their first national title.

But credit for their journeys to Omaha, Neb., differ.

Florida entered the season with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, loaded with talent and filled with the uncertainty that accompanies youth.

Coach Kevin O'Sullivan's major concern was how the Gators, who play at 7 tonight against UCLA, would handle the adversity that comes with a long season.

"I would say about one-third of the way through the season, the freshmen started not acting like freshmen anymore," junior pitcher Kevin Chapman said.

"I'd never seen that before how quickly they just started playing really well, not making freshman mistakes. As soon as you saw that, and we started winning more games, you knew it was going to be a special season."

Florida's lineup has included four or five freshmen nearly all year.

In the decisive Game 2 of last week's Super Region against Miami, freshman Hudson Randall started on the mound and freshman Austin Maddox drove in the go-ahead run in a 4-3 10-inning victory.

But the players said the talented youth combined with strong senior leadership from players such as Chapman and Matt den Dekker propelled this team.

"The combination between the senior leadership we have and the freshmen talent is unbelievable," said sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker, a Plant High graduate.

Florida enters the CWS on a roll. It is 5-0 in postseason play, hitting .312 (58-for-186), picking up 21 two-out RBIs and outscoring opponents 43-10. The trio of Alonso High alumnus Alex Panteliodis, Randall and Brian Johnson has worked 35 of 46 innings.

O'Sullivan's biggest concern is making sure his young players aren't overwhelmed by the CWS experience.

"You can't change the atmosphere," he said. "I'm just trying to give them as much information as we possibly can to know what to expect. (Atmosphere) is a factor. It's a huge part of it … especially with a young team, that's going to be a huge, huge hurdle we're going to have to overcome."

Meanwhile, FSU, in Omaha for the 20th time (14th under coach Mike Martin), actually credits this year's trip to one game — that the Seminoles watched: Boston College's win against Miami in the ACC tournament.

"It's weird to say that the turning point was somebody else getting a win," star outfielder/reliever Mike McGee said.

"But it really turned the whole team around."

The Seminoles lost to the Hurricanes on the tournament's first day. But the Eagles' victory created an opening for the Seminoles to reach the title game.

"We took advantage of everything that came our way," said junior pitcher Geoff Parker, a former Zephyrhills High standout. "We fought … and just never stopped."

The Seminoles won their next three games to claim the ACC crown, swept three in region play in Connecticut then hung on to beat visiting Vanderbilt 7-6 in the third and deciding Super Region game to advance to Omaha, where they open at 2 today against TCU.

"We've got a bunch of fighters," Martin said. "They just make me so proud to be a part of them."

Martin has decorated players to be sure. But unlike some of his previous Omaha-bound teams, he doesn't have a transcendent talent such as Buster Posey or J.D. Drew or Paul Wilson.

"What's great about our team is every single person on the team contributes," McGee said.

"Every day, it's somebody different."

"What separates them from other clubs is we've got guys who don't care how we win as long as we win," Martin added. "You can't teach that. That's character."

For example, junior Stuart Tapley, a two-year starter at third, didn't pout when the coaches moved him to designated hitter so sophomore Sherman Johnson, a walk-on from Alonso, could play third. Johnson hit .332, was the MVP of the Norwich Region then drove in four in the Game 3 Super Region finale against Vanderbilt.

"Nobody on this team is selfish," said Parker, a ninth-round draft pick of Colorado. "I have not seen any of that me, me, me. Everything has been for the team, not for the individual, which is great because you need a team effort to get to the College World Series. And here we are."

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College World Series

Today

Florida State vs. TCU, 2

Florida vs. UCLA, 7

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Paths to College World Series different for Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles 06/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 11:32pm]

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