Florida punches ticket, others move closer
Now is the time that everyone wants to be like Florida.
With a thrilling 4-3 win against in-state rival Miami on Saturday, the Gators were the first team to punch its ticket to the College World Series. It’s the first time the Gators have been in Omaha since playing Texas for the 2005 national title.
Seven other teams hope to join the fold for Omaha on Sunday.
We take an inside look at Saturday and what lies ahead.
Gainesville: Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan trotted off the field at McKethan Stadium all smiles for a good reason on Saturday. The Gators notched their sixth College World Series appearance with a 4-3 win against Miami. Though the Gators rose to the occasion in key situations, the game was highlighted by seven Miami errors. As for the Gators, UF last reached the CWS in 2005 and played Texas for the national title.
Austin: The series opener between the Longhorns and Horned Frogs was the Matt Purke show for the Horned Frogs. Texas sophomore right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann turned the tables Saturday with a fabulous performance of his own as the Longhorns captured a dominating 14-1 victory. Interestingly, the ‘Horns have been down 0-1 in two NCAA super regionals in the past. In both instances, the ‘Horns went on to win the series and national titles. Will that happen again?
Charlottesville: Color us fans of the way Oklahoma has been playing the past couple of weeks. The Sooners continued their impressive ways on the mound with solid performances from Michael Rocha and Jeremy Erben. However, the Sooners fell just short to Virginia, losing 3-2 as Cavaliers left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen allowed just two runs in eight innings of work. The Cavaliers are a win away from making back-to-back trips to Omaha.
Clemson: We’re still not sure what has gotten into Alabama the past few weeks, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good. The Crimson Tide got a gritty start from pitcher Jimmy Nelson, and reliever Jake Smith threw two innings of shutout baseball to help the team earn a 5-4 road win over Clemson. The Crimson Tide, in coach Mitch Gaspard’s first season, are a win away from making the program’s sixth CWS appearance.
Los Angeles: The Bruins haven’t had much luck against Cal State Fullerton the past few seasons but finally made their own luck on Saturday. The Bruins were down to their last out of the season before infielder Tyler Rahmatulla smacked a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. UCLA eventually won the contest 11-7 in 10 innings and now has a wealth of momentum entering the series finale.
Myrtle Beach: This game was all about South Carolina’s pitching staff working out of some late-inning jams. The Gamecocks did a fabulous job of minimizing Coastal Carolina’s big-time bats, as starting pitcher Blake Cooper struck out five batters and allowed just three runs on six hits in seven innings in a 4-3 victory against the Chanticleers. South Carolina is a win away from returning to Omaha for the first time since 2004.
Tallahassee: Vanderbilt’s pitching staff rose to the occasion in a huge way in the Louisville Regional last weekend. The staff got back to work Saturday after losing the series finale Friday. Vandy starting pitcher Sonny Gray allowed just two runs in six innings of work, and reliever Grayson Garvin – who was a hero last weekend – threw three shutout innings of relief ball in a 6-2 victory. Vandy can make its first CWS appearance with a win in the series finale.
Tempe: Arizona State displayed the anatomy of a champion against Arkansas on Saturday. ASU starting pitcher Seth Blair didn’t put together an impressive outing and allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings. The Sun Devils, though, still clawed their way to a 7-6 victory in 12 innings. Interestingly, the Devils had to use reliever Mitchell Lambson five innings in the victory.
TCU vs. Texas: The Horned Frogs got a solid performance from Matt Purke and a dismal performance from Steven Maxwell. Now they will rest the series finale on the shoulders of veteran Kyle Winkler, who enters the contest with a 3.05 ERA in 106 1/3 innings. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle also did not rule out Purke making another appearance, though he is leaning against the idea. Texas, meanwhile, will counter Winkler with junior right-hander Brandon Workman. Whichever team jumps out in front early will be headed to Omaha.
Oklahoma vs. Virginia: The Sooners may be a loss away from having their season ended, but they put together an admirable performance on the mound in the series opener against the Cavaliers. OU’s pitching once again must rise to the occasion with Virginia sending Robert Morey to the mound. Morey has a 3.72 ERA in 96 2/3 innings, and opponents are hitting him at just a .230 clip. To absolutely no surprise, the Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat to win the super regional.
Alabama vs. Clemson: What the Crimson Tide have accomplished the past few weeks simply is amazing. Remember, this team was not going to make the SEC tournament at one point a few weeks ago. Now the Tide are a win away from returning to the CWS after beating Clemson 5-4 in the series opener. The Tide also should feel good about their chances on Sunday with Nathan Kilcrease on the mound. Kilcrease has been fantastic as of late and has a 2.42 ERA in 93 innings.
Cal State Fullerton vs. UCLA: The Titans entered the ninth inning of Saturday’s game in the driver’s seat to return to Omaha. Then Tyler Rahmatulla and the Bruins stormed back and earned an 11-7 win in 10 innings. Now the series finale comes down to which team pitches at a higher level. That advantage goes to the Bruins, who will send left-hander Rob Rasmussen to the mound. Rasmussen has a 2.90 ERA in 90 innings. UCLA has not reached the CWS since 1997.
South Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina: Coastal Carolina had plenty of chances to win the series opener against the Gamecocks. But as it has done in past opportunities in big-time situations, Coastal failed to get the job done. The good news is it gets another chance Sunday. Coastal must receive a solid starting performance with South Carolina sending right-hander Sam Dyson to the bump. Worth noting is the fact ace pitcher Anthony Meo actually came out of the bullpen to throw an inning on Saturday.
Vanderbilt vs. Florida State: Welcome to the biggest day in the history of Vanderbilt baseball. No, we’re not kidding. It is, indeed, the most important day in the program’s history with a win sending it to Omaha for the first time. The Commodores hope Jack Armstrong gives them a solid start against the Seminoles. Armstrong enters the contest with a 4.32 ERA in 77 innings.
Arkansas vs. Arizona State: Arkansas almost beat Arizona State without ace pitcher Drew Smyly on the mound. Perhaps that development should be a good sign for Smyly, who gets the starting nod in Game 2 of the series. Smyly has had a fantastic campaign and enters the contest with a 2.56 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. If there’s a silver lining to Saturday’s loss to the Sun Devils, it’s that the Hogs forced ASU reliever Mitchell Lambson to throw five innings.