The Florida Gators have fought back from their self-dug hole at the College World Series, or at least made it halfway back to base camp.
After a CWS-opening loss to Texas Tech last Sunday, the Gators have eliminated Texas and extinguished Texas Tech, setting up an all-SEC semifinal with Arkansas for the right to play for a national title.
Now, things get really hard for the Gators.
It would be hard to beat Arkansas even once, after all. The Razorbacks boast one of the nation’s best offenses, and that offense has been fearsome this postseason: Arkansas has scored five or more runs in all but one of its eight NCAA Tournament games to date, and has scored nine or more runs five times, including once in Omaha. Casey Martin leads a quartet of Arkansas players who have all hit .331 or better and socked 13 or 14 dingers this year, and four other Hogs have six or more homers this season.
And Florida has to tie up these Hogs twice, with a win on Friday (8 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN) only earning the right to try again on Saturday.
That’s why Florida is throwing Brady Singer — and/or why Singer insisted Florida throw him — in this first game: There is no tomorrow for the Gators unless they earn that privilege. Arkansas, by slugging its way through Texas and Texas Tech without dropping a contest, does have the luxury of staying alive with a loss, which is no doubt part of why the Razorbacks are holding ace Blaine Knight in abeyance until Saturday, choosing instead to start the less-used, less-effective Isaiah Campbell on this Friday night and hope he will not let the 17-2 bludgeoning that Florida managed when he started against the Gators in Gainesville earlier this year recur.
Singer, working on four days’ rest, is liable to give Florida — and Arkansas — everything he has left in the tank, and the Gators have rarely, if ever, had a gamer quite as ferocious as he is. Florida’s offense appears to be rounding into form at the right time, with the insertion of Brady Smith for Jonah Girand at the bottom of the lineup on Thursday paying off with an RBI triple and the return of JJ Schwarz finally getting a high note in the form of a homer. The Gators’ defense remains sloppy, but it was at least less so against Texas Tech in the second go-round.
Florida is as good as Arkansas, if not better or hotter, and Florida is capable of beating Arkansas twice in a row — it already has, even, recovering from a Singer-started Friday night loss to win that series in Gainesville.
But this is Florida’s toughest task yet in Omaha, and the Gators will need to rise to it.