This is the fifth in a series of looks at the eight teams in the College World Series. This one will be different, however, as Texas faces Florida. I will give a brief synopsis of Florida as well.
Texas has been synonymous with baseball success, and they surely feel they are entitled to every win no matter how important the game is. It's been six years since the Longhorns won their last College World Series in which they played an upstart Florida team and, strangely enough, it's also been six years the Gators and 'Horns met on the baseball diamond. While Texas baseball seems content on living off its reputation, Florida lives in the now with what could be the most complete team in college baseball. Any team should celebrate important accomplishments and getting to the CWS is something that only eight teams out of about 280 earn the right to do. Treating it as just another game goes to show how pompous the Longhorn fan can be. I mean, what other college could get it's own network with ESPN? (Simmer down, Notre Dame fans)
Here's a quick history lesson about Texas baseball.CWS a record 34 times and have come away with six national championships, the most recent being against the Gators in 2005. The Longhorns also have a great history of sending talent to the majors with such players as Roger Clemens and Huston Street. They've also sent such greats as Calvin Schiraldi, Spike Owen, and Mark Petkovsek, And since 1997, Augie Garrido has been at the helm for Texas. He's only the winningest coach in college baseball history. One of his biggest accomplishments, however, is being friends with Kevin Costner, who frequents UT's practices. The Longhorns also seem to have some great fans because if you look at their Wikipedia page, it's just flowing with information.
Texas (43-15) is the No. 7 national seed. The Longhorns were regular season co-champions with rival Texas A&M (more on them in the next installment) and got bounced in the semifinal round of the Big 12 tournament against Missouri. The Longhorns got the the College World Series by hosting the Austin Regional which featured (in seeding order) Texas State (41-23), Kent State (45-17), and Princeton (23-22). Texas started off with a win versus Princeton, but lost their next game to Kent State. The Longhorns needed a walk-off win against Texas State to survive, but managed to win two in a row against Kent State to move on the the Austin Super Regional where they faced Arizona State (43-18). Texas needed all three games to beat the Sun Devils and advance to the CWS.
The strength of the Longhorns is their pitching staff, led by All-American and 12th overall pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, Taylor Jungmann in the 2011 MLB Draft. Jungmann is 13-2 with a 1.38 ERA with 123 strikeouts this season. The Gators might be catching him at a good time, however, because he has lost his past two decisions, both in the NCAA Tournament. All-American and National Freshman Pitcher of the Year Corey Knebel is their closer, posting a 3-2 record with 1.15 ERA, 19 saves, and 60 strikeouts. Their team ERA is 2.27 while holding batters to a .196 average on the season. Comparatively, Florida's team ERA is 3.01 and Gators pitchers' opponents' batting average is at .245. Advantage: Longhorns.
As for offense, Texas is led by All-Big 12 infielders Brandon Loy and Erich Weiss. Weiss led the Longhorns with a .358 batting average and seven triples, along with four home runs and 44 RBIs. Loy hit .304 with one homer and 30 RBis. He led the 'Horns with 19 stolen bases. Texas' team batting average is .272, hitting 17 home runs and scoring 345 runs. Florida, on the other hand, hits .311 as a team with 67 home runs and 435 runs scored. Gators catcher Mike Zunino has more home runs (18) than the Longhorns do as a team. Big advantage: Gators.
In a matchup of head coaches, the advantage has to go to Texas and Garrido, based solely on experience. Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan is quickly becoming one of the games best, improving each year and getting the Gators to back-to-back CWS for the first time in program history.
The Gators (50-17) returned nearly everyone from last year's team and are one of the most experienced and well-rounded in the field. Texas seems to be built on pitching and defense which will get the job done. Florida clearly has the advantage overall based on its play in arguably the toughest conference in the nation and lack of major flaws. This matchup should be a great one between two football schools, even if some of us would really rather see Texas and Florida play on the gridiron sometime in the fall.
Florida and Texas play in primetime Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.com. The Longhorns will send their ace Jungmann to the mound against (my guess) Gators ace Hudson Randall (10-3, 2.29 ERA). Good news for Florida also. DH and second day starter Brian Johnson has been cleared to play. Austin Maddox is listed as day-to-day but reports are saying he's good to go as the Florida's closer if needed.