Win or go home for Gators, Flashes

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.

OMAHA, Neb. — It wasn't supposed to be like this.


Florida's Brian Johnson yells after lining out to South Carolina right fielder Adam Matthews in the seventh inning of an NCAA College World Series baseball game in Omaha, Neb. on Saturday. (The Associated Press)



-Florida vs. Kent St., 5 p.m., ESPN2, WRUF
-Arkansas vs. S. Carolina, 9 p.m., ESPN2

This was the year. They had battled through the grind of a season and an under-seeded regional and super regional, through rain delays and stifling heat to get here as the No. 1 seed.

They were healthy and focused and came to Omaha with a swagger.

But on Saturday night in the bowels of TD Ameritrade Park there were hushed tones and fallen faces for the Florida Gators.

“It's going to be tough,” said senior Preston Tucker. “But it's been done before. If anyone can do it, we can.”

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

They came to Omaha with their baggy throwback uniforms with confidence and charisma. They were in a perfect situation because there was a team on the other side of the bracket that was even a bigger longshot and was receiving the most attention. They would slide in here under the radar, even if they had won 25 of their last 27 games.

They had talked with their chests out about “belonging” in the bracket with the mighty SEC teams.

But on Saturday evening in the bowels of TD Ameritrade Park, they had the look of a team that had been through a hurricane.

“It's going to be tough, very difficult,” said Kent State's Jimmy Rider. “But that's the reason we play. You want to go up against the best.”

That's the thing about the College World Series. Eight teams come here with dreams of a dogpile, and two days into it there are four of them wondering if they are about to play the last game of the season.

Florida and Kent State will meet in an elimination game Monday at 5:10 p.m. For one of them, a special season is about to end with a thud.

“The quality of a championship team is being able to bounce back from failure,” said UF freshman Josh Tobias. “We're a championship team. We'll bounce back.”

But it's such a long bounce to get back in position to still win this thing.

Florida needs to win Monday to stay alive and that is all UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan is worried about.

“When you get into the losers' bracket,” he said, “you can't look too far ahead.”

There is no question that Florida has the pitching depth to still make a run in this tournament. Hudson Randall will go Monday for the Gators, and O'Sullivan still has starters Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson available. Plus, with the days off, it's easier to bring pitchers back.

But no matter what happens, Florida knows that the road to the championship series will have to go through South Carolina again.

Both Florida and Kent State coaches were disappointed with the way their teams played on Saturday. The Gators had committed only two errors in five NCAA games this year and committed three against South Carolina. Kent State had only four hits against Arkansas and its only run came on a Rider home run.

And as tough as it's going to be for Florida to climb back into this thing, think how Kent State's Scott Stricklin feels. You're in the CWS, you lose your opener and, hey, here's your elimination game — the top seed in the tournament.

“Look at Florida up and down that lineup and that pitching staff, it's just unbelievably talented,” he said. “And I know it's tough. It's a daunting task in front of us.

“We'll be ready to play. We told our kids, enjoy it. Get it out of your mind. Get ready to play (tonight) again in Omaha, Nebraska, which our kids are thrilled to be here. But that's the thing. We've got to make sure that we're not just happy to be here. We want to compete and get some wins and make a run at it. It's still possible.”

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

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