Tough schedule has paid off for UF baseball


Florida pitcher Steven Rodriguez, center, celebrates with teammates Alex Panteliodis (24) and Karsten Whitson (22) after beating Vanderbilt in an NCAA College World Series baseball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, June 21, 2011. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.

OMAHA, Neb. — Texas is long gone from this College World Series. But in a way, the Longhorns are still here.

Because last year's Florida was this year's Texas.

Last year, Florida's baseball team arrived at the CWS with wide eyes that were staring into oncoming headlights. They were two-and-through before they could use all the towels in their hotel rooms.

Florida was young then. Same for two-and-out Texas this year.

You may have heard Texas coach Augie Garrido talk about whatever happened in Omaha, it would help his team down the road.

Florida is living proof.

“There was a different look to this team when we got on the plane to come here,” said senior Josh Adams.

The Gators came in here knowing what to expect. They came in knowing what it feels like to be eliminated.

A year ago, they came in with enthusiasm. This time around, they came in with determination.

It's not that they aren't having a good time. But this is a business trip.

“We're trying to enjoy it,” said junior Preston Tucker. “We don't want to let anything slip away.”

Of the every-day players at this CWS, only Vickash Ramjit wasn't part of last year's team because he was redshirting after transferring from Miami. Of the pitchers who have thrown or likely will throw for the Gators, only freshman Karsten Whitson wasn't here.

Last year's freshmen — a major part of this two-year run — are seasoned sophomores, grizzled by brutal scheduling for two years.

Think about it — there haven't been a lot of games this season where intensity took a holiday. There were 30 games in the ultra-tough SEC, five more at the SEC Tournament, seven games against Miami and FSU, three regional games and three more in the Super Regional, plus the two games already played in Omaha.

“Playing our tough schedule has done nothing but help us,” said shortstop Nolan Fontana.

Add in the experience of being in Omaha and this is a team with a confident swagger.

“Last year, it was kind of like we were satisfied to be here,” said Fontana. “This year is a little different. We're here on a mission.”

It's a different team than the one Kevin O'Sullivan brought out here a year ago. The approach is different, the practices are different.

“Heck, we didn't have any time to practice last year we were out of here so fast,” said senior Josh Adams.

It's not just the players who benefited from the experience of playing in Omaha, but the coaches as well.

O'Sullivan had been to the CWS before, but it was his first time as a head coach in 2010.

“It's a much more clear picture for me this time,” he said. “I have no idea how it's going to work out, but I definitely feel I've handled it better.”

In the end, it's still baseball and baseball is an unpredictable game. A flare here, an error there and a liner into the gap and you can be playing from a hole. You get a tough call or a gust of wind and things might not go your way.

Florida is in the driver's seat right now, but that can change in nine innings.

And while that is true, O'Sullivan likes what he sees in his team heading into today's crucial game against Vanderbilt.

“I see a lot more confidence,” he said. “They're a lot more relaxed. I see them feeling like they belong. They're going about it like it's a business trip. There's not a lot of anxiousness. The players have done a good job of handling it.”

Handle Vandy one more time and you're playing for a national title. But it won't be easy.

It's not supposed to be.

“I don't know if they have more incentive because we've beaten them a few times,” O'Sullivan said. “There's enough incentive out here.”

This place is dripping with it. It's also thick with pressure.

And that is when you want a relaxed but confident team in your dugout.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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