Gator baseball makes NCAAs
Published: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.
On Memorial Day afternoon, Florida baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan gathered his team in the locker room to watch ESPNU's NCAA Tournament selection show.
At that point, players and coaches still weren't quite sure that going 29-28 against one of the nation's top schedules would be good enough for the Gators to get in.
“Everyone was kind of anxious,” Florida junior pitcher Jonathon Crawford. “We didn't know if we were going to make it or not with the year we were having.”
Anxiety turned into exuberance when Florida's name was announced. The Gators ended up as a No. 3 seed in the Bloomington, Ind., Regional and will face second-seed Austin Peay (45-13) on Friday at 1 p.m. (ESPN3, AM-850).
“We're all pretty excited,” O'Sullivan said. “This is a chance to get into the postseason for the sixth straight year and this team has worked awfully hard. We've had our ups, we've had our downs. This is a new season and I know they're awfully excited to play next weekend.”
Florida reached the NCAA Tournament for sixth time in six seasons under O'Sullivan . It's the first time in school history that the Gators have reached the NCAA Tournament six straight years.
“What we're trying to do is build a program here and develop some consistency,” O'Sullivan said. “This is an important year for us to get in. It wasn't the prettiest season, but I'm as proud of this group as I am of any team we've had here.”
Like a Broadway play, Florida's season can best be broken down into three acts. Losing nine draft picks from a College World Series team, Florida struggled through February and March with a 13-16 record before hitting its stride in April. The Gators went 12-4 during the month, which included a road win over Florida State and home three-game series sweep of South Carolina.
But the Gators lost that momentum in May when they were swept at LSU to start the month. The Gators are 4-9 in May and were bounced in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last Tuesday against Texas A&M.
But Florida's final RPI (35) and strength of schedule (2) impressed the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee enough to earn a bid in the field of 64.
“Not only did they have the overall strength of schedule, which obviously comes along with being in the Southeastern Conference, but they also challenged themselves in non‑conference,” said Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell, who chaired the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
In Bloomington, the Gators could end up with a familiar matchup if they get by Austin Peay on Friday. Top-seeded Indiana, which won the Big Ten regular season title and tournament title, will host fourth-seeded Valparaiso in the region. Florida hosted Indiana for a series in early March and lost two of three games.
“We're familiar with them a little bit,” O'Sullivan said. “It was early in the season. To be honest, our focus is just on Austin Peay and we're going to do everything we possibly can to win the first game and then whoever we play the second game, we'll worry about that then.”
Austin Peay, meanwhile, boasts the nation's longest winning streak (15 games). The Governors have held opponents to four earned runs or less in 11 of their last 13 games.
Down the road, Florida could potentially face Florida State in the Super Regional if both teams advance because Tallahassee and Bloomington are in opposite brackets. Crawford said he thinks the Gators are capable of bouncing back from their recent struggles to make a run at the double-elimination tournament in Bloomington. Florida has practiced every day since returning from the SEC Tournament with an expectation that it would make the field.
“I definitely think Indiana and all the other teams aren't happy to see our name in the regional,” Crawford said. “It's a clean slate. We've just got to go out and play hard.”