This evening, the Florida Gators begin their run in the 2017 College World Series. The Gators are making their third consecutive appearance in Omaha, and their sixth in the ten years that Kevin O’Sullivan has served as head coach. It’s the Gators’ 11th trip in school history.
Florida faces TCU, tonight, at 7:00 p.m., airing on ESPN2 and streaming via WatchESPN. The teams open play in their double-elimination half of the bracket. Louisville and Texas A&M are also on the Gators and Horned Frogs’ side. Win or lose, Florida will next take the field on Tuesday.
The Gators had to grind their way back to Omaha at times, dealing with injuries, batting woes, consistency issues, and weather delays. Florida overcame a .235 team batting average in March - which peaked as a .299 average in May - and managed to win more one-run games than any other team in the nation (18).
Florida faced must-win games in both regional and super regional play and kept its season alive. They are the only team that made it to Omaha having survived elimination games twice already in this year’s tournament.
After Florida was swept by Auburn to start conference play, it seemed like it could be a long season for the Gators. But Florida went on to win a share of the regular season SEC title, earn the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament (where the Gators made it to the semifinals), and were named the third overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. And, of course, Florida won the Gainesville Regional and the Gainesville Super Regional to advance to the College World Series.
Strong starting pitchers and outstanding defense carried the Gators all season. Florida also saw new contributors emerge as All-American closer Michael Byrne set a new school record for saves, and freshmen like Austin Langworthy and Tyler Dyson gave the Gators a boost in regional and super regional play.
There are no Cinderella stories in this year’s CWS. Five of the eight national seeds reached the College World Series, and every team in the eight-team field has been to Omaha at least once in the last six years.
TCU comes to the College World Series after clearing the Fort Worth Regional, and sweeping Missouri State in the Fort Worth Super Regional. The Horned Frogs are in Omaha for the sixth straight year.
The only CWS team with more than 100 stolen bases (102) is led at the plate by Evan Skoug and Austen Wade. Skoug has hit four home runs in five tournament games and has 20 homers on the season. His 12 postseason RBIs are the most among any CWS players. Wade has a team-high .342 average with five home runs, 37 RBIs, 52 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases
Getting back to Omaha for the third straight time is no small feat, but this time of year you will hear comments about the past performance of Sully’s teams at the CWS, and questions as to whether that has been good enough. The Gators have made six CWS appearances in his decade of tenure at UF, but Florida has just made it to the championship series once (2011) and is 6-10 overall in Omaha during that span.
It remains to be seen how the Gators will fare in this year’s series showing. Florida is again hunting for their first national title in baseball. The path to winning it all won’t be easy, but these Gators have already traveled an often bumpy road to Omaha. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was still more fight left in them.
Full College World Series bracket information and times can be found here.