Special group of Gators look to wrap careers in Omaha

Florida senior Preston Tucker will finish his Gator career as the school's all-time hits leader, but wants to be remembered as a national champion.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, June 8, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.

You know it's coming and they know it's coming.


Gainesville Super Regional

Who: Florida vs. N.C. State
Where: McKethan Stadium
Saturday's game: Game 1, 2 p.m., ESPNU, 103.7 FM
Sunday's game: Game 2, 1 p.m., ESPNU, 103.7 FM
Monday's game: Game 3, 1 p.m., ESPN2, 103.7 FM (if necessary)

But with so much on the line, Kevin O'Sullivan has other things to focus on.

“It's human nature to think about it,” he said. “I'm trying to put it in the back of my mind. I don't want to think about it.”

No matter what happens over the next two or three days, the last games at McKethan Stadium are rapidly approaching for a group of juniors and seniors who have done what no group at Florida has done before them — make playing in super regionals a given.

The seniors will be playing in their fourth straight, the juniors in their third straight. The seniors know this is it, and many of the drafted juniors also know they will soon be moving on.

“It's crazy,” said junior catcher Mike Zunino. “For the past three years, this has been home. We definitely want to end it on a good note.”

The best way for this group to end their home careers would be to not end their college careers quite yet. The winner of the best-of-three series between Florida and North Carolina State will advance to Omaha and the College World Series.

The series will definitely be the last home games for seniors such as Preston Tucker, who will leave Florida with a slew of records including most career hits.

“I know records are made to be broken, but I don't know if that one will ever be broken,” O'Sullivan said. “Arguably he's the best hitter to ever come through this program.”

Tucker holds most of Florida's postseason records as well, but the one thing he really wants is still a goal he is chasing.

Asked how he thinks he'll be remembered at UF, Tucker said, “Hopefully as part of a championship team. There are not a lot of players who can say they were the first to do something.”

Florida will start Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.83 ERA) today at 2 p.m. against North Carolina State's Ethan Ogburn (5-3, 3.23 ERA). The two teams will play again Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday if necessary at 1 p.m.

For the Gators, the weight of the expectations of being a preseason No. 1 and curiosity of the Major League Baseball Draft are behind them.

“I like where our team is right now,” said O'Sullivan. “I feel like we're in a really good place.”

That place today will be at home for the last time for so many of the stars of this team.

“I definitely have thought about it,” Tucker said. “Every year seems to go by faster than the year before. And every year, this team has gotten a little more talented.”

This year's team may be the most talented in the last four, but it will have a battle on its hands just to reach the heights of the last two College World Series teams. N.C. State has been an offensive juggernaut and rallied to beat Vanderbilt twice to advance to this point.

That's the same Vandy team that beat Florida twice in the SEC Tournament.

“You get to this point and every team is really good,” O'Sullivan said. “We're going to have to play well to advance.”

And stretch out so many college careers a few more games.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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