Gators, Gamecocks meet in another key game
Published: Friday, June 15, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 12:39 a.m.
OMAHA, Neb. — In Florida, we know that the summer is going to be filled with pop-up storms. The sky is clear, there is nothing on the radar and suddenly it's raining.
Here in Omaha, we have a pop-up rivalry.
Florida and South Carolina have been playing baseball since the Gamecocks joined the league in 1992. But for most of that time, the games between them have just been SEC games.
South Carolina had and still has Clemson as its big rival. Florida has Miami and Florida State. But over the past three seasons, any time the Gators and Gamecocks get together it's a big deal.
They will continue that rivalry tonight in the College World Series, and when the brackets were first announced you just knew this would happen.
It really started in 2010 when Florida won the SEC championship on South Carolina's field. Both teams went to the CWS that year and, of course, South Carolina won the championship series against Florida last year. Florida won two-out-of-three emotionally charged games in Columbia during the regular season and beat the Gamecocks at the SEC Tournament this year.
Both Kevin O'Sullivan and Ray Tanner cringed at the word “rivalry” when asked about it earlier this week.
“We've had some good games and good battles, but rivalry does sometimes have a negative respect,” said Tanner, the South Carolina coach.
Said O'Sullivan, “I don't know if rivalry is the right word.”
You would expect that from these two guys. They are good friends and they live in the SEC, where the football rivalries tend to be so nasty that trees and marriages are in danger.
But rivalries don't have to be nasty. Sometimes, they can simply be great theatre with high drama.
And that's what this rivalry is.
South Carolina knows it will have to go through top-seeded Florida to get a third straight national title.
Might as well be tonight.
Florida knows it has to go through the two-time defending champs to get that elusive first national title.
Might as well be tonight.
“To me, it's a tremendous compliment that our program is considered a rival of South Carolina,” O'Sullivan said. “Just us matching up in so many important games has added to the rivalry aspect.”
We've seen this happen before. Florida and Ohio State weren't rivals before the 2006 football season. A lot has happened since then. A pop-up rivalry was born in Glendale and continued to Atlanta for basketball and even to last year's Gator Bowl with the Urban Meyer saga hanging over the game.
And certainly the fact that Florida's winningest football coach is a huge fan of Gamecock baseball is another added element to this one.
Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Gators and Gamecocks are matched up in Omaha. But we also know that when ESPN dictated which games would be played when, it's not just a coincidence that Florida and South Carolina drew the Saturday primetime game.
They get it. Everyone does.
It's a rivalry.
It's a former Clemson assistant trying to end South Carolina's 21-game NCAA winning streak. It's a rivalry built on respect, but it's a rivalry.
“It's always fun when we play Florida,” said South Carolina's Evan Marzilli. “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Florida feels the same way.
And while Tanner might not like the R-word, he saw it coming.
“I knew when Kevin O'Sullivan was hired, they were headed to the top,” Tanner said. “My first response when he was hired was, ‘Dang!'”
Tonight, when the fourth game of this CWS is over, one of the rivals' fan bases will be saying the same thing.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.