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    Florida vs. South Carolina: The CWS Title Preview

    A pair of SEC Eastern Division rivals will meet in Omaha for the 2011 College World Series title.

    The Florida Gators, winners of the SEC Baseball Tournament, will face defending national champion South Carolina in a best-of-three series beginning on Monday at TD Ameritrade Park.

    Find out what the nation's top writers are saying about this series, and were the edge lies between Florida and South Carolina.

    Aaron Fitt, BaseballAmerica.com

    "For the third year in a row, college baseball will not have a Cinderella national champion. And for the third year in a row, the national champion will hail from the Southeastern Conference.

    When the CWS Finals begin Monday at 7 p.m. ET, a pair of true heavyweights will battle for the national title. Marquee matchups don't get better than this: defending national champion South Carolina against preseason No. 1 Florida, which also ended the regular season atop the Top 25 rankings. The Gamecocks and Gators tied for the SEC regular-season title (along with Vanderbilt), and both teams earned national seeds in the NCAA tournament.

    While neither of these teams qualifies as a surprising finalist, no team ever breezes through the long regular season and rigorous postseason—not even South Carolina, which is riding a record 14-game NCAA tournament winning streak into the Finals. Two of South Carolina's three wins in Omaha came in walk-off fashion, including a white-knuckle 13-inning affair against Virginia on Friday. And Florida had its march through the postseason interrupted by Mississippi State's come-from-behind, walk-off win in the second game of the Gainesville Super Regional. The Gators then squandered a four-run lead in the third game and had to come from behind in the late innings to get to Omaha.

    Both teams have had to shoulder the burden of expectations, and they have handled it with aplomb.

    "It's been a different year for us this year because we've kind of had a bull's eye on our backs since day one," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We knew we had a chance to be good, but to be at this position at the end of the year, it doesn't always work out that way. We've had some struggles in midweek games. I don't know if it's lack of focus or it certainly has a lot to do with the competition we play, because everybody we play in midweek is good. But I think going through some of the adversity has helped us get to this point. I think I keep pointing back to that super regional game on that Saturday when we got left on the field. I think that was a turning point in our season. I think that helped us all."

    O'Sullivan pointed out that the Gamecocks also wore a bull's eye this season as the defending national champions, but South Carolina's biggest challenge was more concrete than that. The Gamecocks had to replace their two weekend rotation stalwarts from a year ago—Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson. They entered the season without any pitchers who had proven themselves in starting roles over a full season, and even when they traveled to Florida on March 26, their rotation was in flux. No. 2 starter Steven Neff was scratched from his start that weekend by shoulder tenderness, so the Gamecocks turned to freshman righthander Forrest Koumas for his first career start. He responded with six innings of two-hit ball and remained in the rotation from that point forward.

    "The thing coming into the season was the pitching staff—was it going to be good enough, was the starting rotation going to be good enough?" said junior lefthander Michael Roth, who became the staff ace this year and earned first-team All-America honors. "I think some of us had something to prove. And thus far I think we've done a good job."

    As SEC East rivals, Florida and South Carolina are very familiar with each other, and in this case familiarity has bred respect. It was very clear in Sunday's pre-Finals press conference that the coaches and players have great admiration for each other."



    Kendall Rogers, PerfectGame.org

    "The only thing better than winning a national title is winning back-to-back national titles. That’s precisely what South Carolina will try to do when it faces Florida in the College World Series Championship Series Monday through Wednesday this week. The Gators, meanwhile, are attempting to win the program’s first national title.

    “I was reflecting with my coaches about the teams we’ve played throughout the season and how good they were. It’s hard to advance, so [playing for the national title] is a tremendous accomplishment for both of our universities,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “There’s no greater place to be this time of year than Omaha.”

    “I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be a great series, though it won’t be easy,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They’re playing extremely well and don’t give you a whole lot. We’re going to have to be on top of our game if we want to have any success. It’s just ironic for two SEC teams to go head-to-head in Omaha.”

    The Gamecocks wouldn’t have it any other way, but they’ve had quite the exciting road to the title series. They defeated Texas A&M on a walk-off hit in the CWS opener, while they defeated Virginia the first time around in dominant fashion and beat the Cavaliers in the second meeting using heroics to get the job done.

    Florida has had a less stressful road to the title series. The Gators made easy work of Texas in their CWS opener before controlling Vanderbilt for much of the game in a 3-1 win over the Commodores in the first meeting. The second meeting is one the Gators won despite momentum shifting back and forth between they and the Commodores.

    The Gators and Gamecocks have met three times this season, with all three meetings coming in a three-game series in Gainesville, Fla. The Gamecocks won the series – the second weekend of SEC regular season play – in impressive fashion.

    South Carolina and Florida meet a final time this season to determine the national title. "



    Mark Ethridge, SEBaseball.com

    "Down to two. We started back in February with 300 teams all hoping for an Omaha dogpile. No one is particularly surprised that Florida and South Carolina are the last two teams standing. The Gators are the preseason number one team. The Gamecocks are the defending champions. Like a heavyweight fight, this is a fitting end.

    Back when the frost was on the ground and the season was young, Florida was the team everyone looked to. Packed with talented professional talent and hungry for success after a quick exit in Omaha last year, Florida is right where they should be this June.

    Their program has followed a logical progression making steps each season. In coach Kevin O'Sullivan's first campaign in 2008, his club was picked last in the preseason and finished second in SEC East. They went 0-2 in the Tallahassee Regional.

    Their run continued the following season with an SEC East title earning a Regional host. They won the Regional but fell to Southern Miss in the Super Regionals. In 2010, the Gators won the SEC and won their way to the CWS but dropped out quickly with an 0-2 showing.

    The expectations were sky-high for this season and the Gators never buckled. They tied for the SEC crown with juggernauts South Carolina and Vanderbilt, won the SEC Tournament, hosted Regionals and Super Regionals, and have stormed through Omaha 3-0 to the title round.

    Have they already reached the next step? Or do they jump over this finals appearance and win the whole thing?

    To get there, they will have to overcome the team of destiny: South Carolina."



    Scott Carter, Gatorzone.com

    "Are you ready for some small ball?

    A combination of ingredients that college baseball hasn’t tasted in many years could make the Florida-South Carolina final in the College World Series a white-knuckle, low-scoring series.

    Runs have been scarce throughout the inaugural CWS at TD Ameritrade Park. In 12 games, not a single team has scored 10 or more runs in a game. That’s something the Gators did 13 times prior to Omaha, including three times in the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina has reached the mark nine times, including once in the NCAA Tournament.

    Needless to say, this is not former LSU coach Skip Bertman’s kind of CWS. His teams won four titles from 1990-98 in what is now referred to as the Gorilla Ball Era, a period that included a 21-14 win by Southern Cal over Arizona State in the 1998 championship game that featured a CWS-record eight home runs.

    That’s one more home run than has been hit in the entire 2011 CWS. So what has changed? This year’s CWS features a more pitcher-friendly bat, a more pitcher-friendly ballpark, and a more pitcher-friendly game in which pitching and defense are in vogue more than in recent years.

    The likelihood that every run will be at a premium was a popular topic at Sunday’s CWS press conference featuring the Gators and Gamecocks.

    “You know, the numbers may be down, but I think offensively it’s been an exciting series,’’ Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “There may not have been the home runs, but I think offensively it’s been exciting – the grinding out of the at-bats, the hit-and-runs, the drags, the pushes, the defending the bunt.

    “The walk is now a huge part of the offense.’’

    Small ball played a huge role in the way both Florida and South Carolina advanced to the championship series. A pair of bunts by Cody Dent and Nolan Fontana sparked a rally in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Gators’ 6-4 win over Vanderbilt.

    Meanwhile, South Carolina won a 3-2 thriller in 13 innings against Virginia when catcher Robert Beary laid down a bunt with runners at first and second and one out. Virginia pitcher Cody Winiarski fielded the bunt cleanly, but his throw to third was wild and allowed pinch-runner Adam Matthews to race home in a walk-off win for the Gamecocks."



    Brian Foley, CollegeBaseballDaily.Com

    "The Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks will face off in the 2011 College World Series Championship Series (best of three) starting tomorrow in Omaha, Nebraska. Both teams swept through the opening round of the College World Series with identical 3-0 records. The Gators picked up a victory over Texas by a score of 8-4 before defeating Vanderbilt 3-1 and 6-4 to got to the Championship round. The Gamecocks on the other hand grabbed a 5-4 win over Texas A&M before winning over Virginia twice by scores of 7-1 and 3-2 in 13 innings. "