Gators > Baseball Continues Toward Title

| June 20, 2015

Florida Baseball

OMAHA — Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan stood in a tunnel outside his team’s clubhouse at TD Ameritrade Park early Friday evening and answered questions about the next biggest game of the season.

There have been a few of those lately for the Gators.

They had to beat Virginia on Friday to keep their season alive. The Gators answered the bell with a 10-5 victory. Facing elimination at the College World Series on Wednesday against Miami, the Gators pounded the Hurricanes, 10-2.

Florida’s next win-or-go-home game is Saturday night, a rematch with the Cavaliers for a berth in the CWS championship series against defending national champion Vanderbilt. The Commodores advanced Friday night with a 7-1 victory over TCU and have the next two days off awaiting the Florida-Virginia winner.

After four months, 69 games, and 52 wins, it’s all come down to one game for the Gators to have a shot at the program’s first national championship.

“We’re in this thing to win it,” O’Sullivan said. “We want to get to the championship round.”

The Gators have proven their mettle over the past month.

On May 20 at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., a dejected Florida team walked off the field after Arkansas rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to win 7-6 in the Gators’ first game of the postseason.

Already assured of an NCAA Tournament berth, the Gators wanted more out of their stay in Hoover. They showed it over the next four days by defeating Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt to win the tournament.

They had not lost a game since until Virginia edged them 1-0 behind a spectacular outing from left-hander Brandon Waddell on Monday.

While neither O’Sullivan nor Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor named their starter for Saturday after Friday’s game, Florida will likely start sophomore right-hander Dane Dunning and try to save lefty A.J. Puk for the championship series if possible. Most expect Waddell to take the ball for Virginia.

Whoever starts, look for O’Sullivan to push any button he has to.

“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We’re not going to hold back. We’ll worry about the next day the next day. We’re going to do anything we need to do to hopefully win.”

Despite the loss to Virginia, the Gators have been the most impressive team in Omaha.

Florida’s team batting average of .291 leads the CWS and its 2.06 ERA is second only to Vanderbilt. Florida has outscored its opponents 35-11 in four games. The Gators have won 12 of 14 postseason games and are now 6-0 in elimination games.

They need to improve to 7-0 to get a crack at the Commodores.

“We’re kind of used to it,” junior shortstop Richie Martin said of the do-or-die situation. “We have a lot of character than can overcome the adversity we’re faced with. Maybe being with our back against the wall is good for us. It gives us a sense of urgency.

“Either way, you gotta win. That’s where our focus is.”

With the lineup producing 10 or more runs for the third time in four games at the CWS on Friday, starter Logan Shore was able to blow past an early deficit when Virginia took a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

He wasn’t nervous. Not with the way the Gators are playing.

“I think everybody is pretty loose,” Shore said. “Everybody is ready to go right away. If we don’t score in the first, plan to score in the second. If we don’t score in the second, plan to score in the third. Everybody is playing with an edge. It’s going to be a fun one [Saturday].”

Both O’Sullivan and O’Connor are confident in their teams heading into Saturday’s showdown. The Cavaliers had won seven consecutive games until Friday’s loss.

What each team has done up to now is irrelevant come Saturday night at TDAP.

One game, winner takes all.

In his eighth season, O’Sullivan has brought the Gators to Omaha four times. They made the championship series four years ago but were swept by South Carolina.

After two seasons away, he has tried to appreciate this year’s trip more than the others. He understands more than his first three visits how difficult it is to get here.

“Regardless of what happens, I’ve really enjoyed this team,” he said. “They’ve given me and our coaches everything they have. They have worked really hard. We are just excited about the opportunity.

“We’re in a good place right now. We faced four elimination games in a row in the SEC Tournament. We have faced two now against really good clubs. We’ll let it all hang out. We’ve come this far, let’s just let it all hang out, let’s have some fun and see what happens.”

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