UF baseball has ridden Hoover momentum into Omaha


Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said winning the SEC Tournament was "a turning point" for his team.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 8:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 8:42 p.m.

OMAHA, Neb. — They were the preseason No. 1 team and bounced around in the top five for most of the year. But it wasn't until the regular season was over that Kevin O'Sullivan realized he might have something special with his Florida baseball team.

Facts

Up next for Florida

What: College World Series, best-of-three final series
Who: Florida (53-17) vs. South Carolina (53-14)
Where: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha

Schedule
Game 1: Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
Game 2: Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
*Game 3: Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN, 103.7 FM, AM-850
*if necessary

Sharing the regular-season title with South Carolina and Vanderbilt was a step in the right direction. But it was in Hoover, Ala., that the Gators showed they were a tournament team.

“We knew we had a chance to be good,” O'Sullivan said. “We shared the SEC title and that showed it. But when we won the SEC Tournament, that was big. It was a turning point for us.

“That was a big momentum boost for our team. We kind of built on it.”




Florida has won 12 of 14 games in the postseason and three straight in the College World Series. As a result, the Gators are in the finals of the CWS for the second time in school history.

Florida will have a tough road to win its first national title against fellow SEC opponent South Carolina in the best-of-3 series beginning Monday at 8 p.m.

The Gamecocks have set a record by winning 14 straight NCAA games.

It will be the Bearded Warriors against the Walk-Off Kings when the two teams face off. Florida players have been growing beards in the postseason as a show of unity. Some are good (like Steven Rodriguez's and Preston Tucker's Abraham Lincoln look), some not-so-good (Cody Dent, Nolan Fontana).

South Carolina has won two of its three games in walk-off fashion just as it did a year ago in winning the College World Series in its final at-bat.

“Obviously, South Carolina has got something very, very special going on right now,” said Virginia coach Brian O'Connor after his team's 13-inning loss Friday night. “And the way their club is playing, the way they played at the end of the year last year reminded me of when Oregon State went on that run where a couple years in a row they won back-to-back championships. And it just seems like they just find a way.”

While Florida had Vanderbilt's number all season winning five of six games against the Commodores, South Carolina comes into the finals not only with the experience of winning last year's CWS, but of beating Florida twice in three games in Gainesville.

“They're a very good team,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “We've seen them so we know a little bit about them. But they are a very good team. We're looking forward to it.”

In the regular-season meetings, South Carolina roughed up Brian Johnson in the opener on its way to a 9-2 win. Hudson Randall, who will start Monday's opener, pitched a complete-game five-hitter in the second game, a 2-1 UF win. In the rubber game, Florida lost a 3-0 sixth-inning lead and lost 4-3.

“We all share a common goal, which is to win it, not just to be here,” Tucker said. “I think we're all ready to play.”

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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