The University of Florida baseball team (47-18) will begin action at the 66th NCAA College World Series on Saturday when it faces South Carolina (45-17) at 9 p.m. on ESPN. The game will be carried on the Gator Radio Network and Country 103.7 The Gator with Jeff Cardozo and Mick Hubert. The double-elimination event will be held at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha for the second time.
Florida clinched its eighth trip to the NCAA College World Series on June 10 with a dramatic 9-8 win in 10 innings over NC State to sweep the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at McKethan Stadium. The Gators nailed down their third-straight CWS appearance and improved to 5-0 in the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina punched its ticket to Omaha with a 5-1 victory over Oklahoma on Monday to take both games of the NCAA Columbia Super Regional.
UF and USC have the unique distinction of being the only two teams to play in the final College World Series held at Rosenblatt Stadium and participate in the first two CWS held at the TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
The Gators have made previous CWS trips in 1988 (1-2, tied for fifth), 1991 (2-2, tied for third), 1996 (2-2, tied for third), 1998 (0-2, tied for seventh), 2005 (3-3, national runner-up), 2010 (0-2, tied for seventh) and 2011 (3-2, national runner-up). Against their foes within the 2012 eight-team bracket, the Gators have faced Florida State, South Carolina and UCLA in Omaha. UF is 3-1 (.750) against the Seminoles, the Gamecocks swept the Orange and Blue in the 2012 CWS Championship Finals, 2-1 (11) and 5-2, and the Bruins won the teams’ opening-round matchup in 2010, 11-3.
Florida was awarded the top national seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators swept the NCAA Gainesville Regional with victories over Bethune-Cookman (4-0) and Georgia Tech (6-2, 15-3) and then defeated NC State twice (7-1, 9-8 (10)) in the Gainesville Super Regional to advance to the College World Series.
Fifth-year skipper Kevin O’Sullivan will be bringing a team to Omaha for the third-straight campaign as a head coach. As an assistant under Jack Leggett at Clemson, O’Sullivan served on staffs that made the 2000, 2002 and 2006 tourneys. He passed Joe Arnold (1988, 1991) and Andy Lopez (1996, 1998) for the most CWS trips by Gator head coaches.
Over the past three years, the Gators have a 147-54 (.731) record, the top three-year run in school history. Included in this stretch are three-consecutive College World Series appearances (Florida had five trips to Omaha previously), three-straight Gainesville Super Regional and Regional crowns and back-to-back SEC Championships in 2010 and 2011.
Last Sunday, Florida plated a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning and withstood a rally by No. 11 NC State to notch a 9-8 triumph in the second game of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at McKethan Stadium. With the game in the 10th inning tied at 7-7 and Florida the visiting team, senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) (2-for-5) clubbed a leadoff homer just over the right-field wall to give the Gators an 8-7 lead. It was his first blast since May 11 against Mississippi State and eighth of the campaign. Freshman Casey Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.) (3-for-5) collected his third hit of the contest with a base-hit into right field and was sacrificed to second by freshman Justin Shafer (Lake Wales, Fla.) (2-for-3). Freshman Josh Tobias (Greensboro, N.C.) (2-for-5) sliced a two-out RBI single into right field to give the Gators a 9-7 advantage.
NCSU freshman Brett Austin (2-for-4) drew a leadoff walk from sophomore Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) (4-0), who was replaced by freshman Bobby Poyner (Wellington, Fla.). The rookie left-hander plunked junior Tarran Senay for a pair of runners on base and junior Grant Clyde sacrificed his teammates into scoring position with a bunt. Sophomore Keenan Kish (Worcester, Pa.) took over on the mound for Poyner and freshman Trea Turner brought the Wolfpack within 9-8 with a sacrifice fly to straightway center field. With the tying run on second base, Kish caught junior Chris Diaz looking on strikes to record his first career save and secure UF’s trip to the College World Series.
With the sweep of the Wolfpack, O’Sullivan improved to 18-3 (.857) at McKethan Stadium during NCAA play. In the win, senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) belted his 57th career homer, 26 of which have been solo shots. The homer was the 11th of his postseason career, adding to his school record. UF improved to 23-10 (.697) against top-25 opponents this year and is 10-0 versus ACC foes (3-0 vs. Florida State & Miami (Fla.), 2-0 vs. Georgia Tech & NC State).
Junior Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) threw seven shutout innings and junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) drove in three runs and had a two-run homer as the Gators posted a 7-1 win in game one. Randall (9-2) scattered six singles over seven strong innings, with four strikeouts and zero walks. The righty has now permitted two runs or less in 11 of his 15 starts this year, including his last five outings, and also picked up his school-record fifth win in NCAA Tourney action. Following an extended weather delay, Zunino cranked a two-run homer over the left-field bleachers in the bottom of the seventh and the teams later endured another 48-minute break before wrapping up the game. The Gators had a four-run third inning to seize control of the contest, while Tucker was 2-for-3 with a three runs and Pigott tallied two RBI. Zunino hit his team-leading 19th homer of the season. With the dinger, Zunino tied his record for most home runs in a season by a UF catcher, a mark he reached last season.
Florida and South Carolina will be meeting for the 10th time in the past two seasons. The clubs battled five times last year, with the Gamecocks emerging victorious on four occasions, including twice in Omaha to win their second-straight NCAA title. In 2012, O’Sullivan’s club claimed two of the three regular-season encounters in Columbia in the second league series in late March and ousted USC from the 2012 SEC Tournament.
In the teams’ most recent encounter, junior left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) notched the first complete game of his career and was supported by an 11-hit offensive attack as No. 2 Florida eliminated No. 4 South Carolina, 7-2, on May 25 at the SEC Tourney in front of 9,067 fans at Regions Park. Johnson (7-4) limited the Gamecocks to two runs on five hits and threw 89 pitches in going the distance. He also registered five strikeouts and permitted zero walks in the first complete game by a Gator at the SEC Tourney since Bryan Augenstein accomplished the feat in a 3-2 victory over Alabama on May 24, 2007. Zunino (1-for-3) drove in three runs, highlighted by a two-run homer in the third inning, while junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) (2-for-3) scored three runs out of the leadoff spot and Turgeon (2-for-4) had a two-run single during a three-run fifth stanza.
No. 1 Florida dropped the first game at No. 6 South Carolina on March 22, 9-3, to see its school-record winning streak end at 18 games before rallying to take the series over the Gamecocks with an 8-2 victory on Friday and a 5-4 triumph on Saturday. All three games at Carolina Stadium between the Eastern Division rivals were sellouts of 8,242 fans and the total attendance of 24,726 spectators matched the highest in the facility’s existence. USC had not dropped a series at home since the Gators had taken two of three games at the end of the 2010 regular season. Florida captured the series after losing the opener, marking the first time that had happened since last season at Mississippi State, when the Gators fell in game one (7-5) and claimed the next two outings (18-0, 3-1).
Fontana delivered a tie-breaking, two-out, two-run triple in the ninth to lift UF to a 5-4 victory in the finale. Fontana (2-for-5) had entered the contest 1-for-33 in his career against the Gamecocks and came through with the decisive hit. With the game tied at two runs apiece entering the ninth, junior Vickash Ramjit (Miami, Fla.) drew a two-out walk from USC junior Matt Price and junior Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) was hit in the back by a 3-2 pitch. Fontana picked an opportune time for his first triple of the season, ripping a 1-2 pitch from Price to the gap in right center to give the Gators a 5-3 advantage. The Gamecocks pulled within 5-4 on a solo homer by junior LB Dantzler before junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) closed it out. Zunino belted a three-run homer in the first inning of game two against the Gamecocks and added a solo shot in the rubber game, while Tucker was 4-for-11 (.364) at USC.
A five-run first inning and a season-high four homers by the Gators paved the way to an 8-2 victory that evened the series on Friday night. Zunino (1-for-4, three RBI) and Johnson (2-for-5, two RBI) delivered back-to-back homers in the first inning and Ramjit (3-for-4) connected on solo shots in both the sixth and ninth frames for the first multiple-dinger outing of his career. Johnson (4-0) allowed two runs and five hits over six innings to earn the win, while UF totaled 11 hits and also drew a season-high 10 walks. The Gators sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning and plated five runs in a frame for the fifth time in 2012. Sophomore LHP Daniel Gibson (Lutz, Fla.) threw 2.2 scoreless innings to end the game.
In the series opener, South Carolina snapped a 2-2 tie with a four-run seventh inning and added three runs in the eighth to defeat UF, 9-3. Randall set a career high with 11 strikeouts and yielded seven hits and two runs over 5.2 innings but was not involved in the decision. He was the first UF pitcher to reach double-digit strikeouts since Alex Panteliodis had 12 against Miami (Fla.) in the 2010 NCAA Gainesville Super Regional.
Last season, South Carolina claimed its second-straight national championship by defeating the Gators, 5-2, to sweep the best-of-three CWS Championship Finals in front of a record crowd of 26,721 fans at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on June 28. The Gamecocks plated three runs in the third inning and relied on the stellar pitching of left-hander Michael Roth to become the first program since Oregon State in 2006-07 to take home the College World Series title in back-to-back seasons. USC also extended its own NCAA records with its 16th Tourney win in a row and 11th-consecutive CWS triumph. The Gamecocks had capitalized on a pair of throwing errors by UF in the 11th inning to notch a 2-1 victory in the opener. Randall had carried a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning and the Gators had started the scoring on a sacrifice fly by Dent. Eventual CWS Most Outstanding Player Scott Wingo tied the game with a two-out RBI single up the middle in the eighth and South Carolina worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth, threw out Dent at the plate as the potential winning run in the 10th and stranded pinch runner Paul Wilson at second base in the 11th to close the game.