Gators face Gamecocks again
OMAHA, Neb. -- Go ahead and label the first three games of the College World Series Friday and Saturday as the undercard.
Florida and South Carolina have earned the right to be called the main event.
The No. 1-seeded Gators and two-time defending national champion Gamecocks meet in the final opening-round game, set for Saturday at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
It has everything you'd want in a heavyweight battle, notably the rematch factor. South Carolina swept Florida in two games last year in the CWS championship series. They met four times this season. The Gators won the final two of three March games in Columbia, S.C., and another at the Southeastern Conference tournament last month.
If any team appears most likely to snap the Gamecocks' record 21-game NCAA postseason winning streak, it's Florida.
"Every time you play them," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said, "you have to play your best. It's never going to be easy. Saturday night will be no different."
This meeting marks the first opening-round CWS rematch of a game that decided the national title since Arizona beat Oklahoma State in 1960.
Perhaps the Division I baseball committee took a peek at the potential bracket for Omaha when it seeded South Carolina at No. 8 nationally on Memorial Day.
Florida pitcher Greg Larson said he recognized the symmetry as soon as South Carolina was unveiled as the No. 8 seed on the ESPNU selection show. The Gators had been placed in the top spot early in the telecast.
"I was anxious to see who we'd play if we got [to Omaha]," Larson said.
His reaction to the Gamecocks?
"We're over last year," he said. "We've moved on. We're focused on Saturday night and not worrying about what we did with them in the regular season."
That's the party line, and everyone involved is sticking to it.
"It's a new year," South Carolina pitcher Forrest Koumas said. "They have a great team. We have a great team. We're looking forward to playing them."
O'Sullivan said he didn't mention the events of last year to his team when it played South Carolina in March and May. And he won't do it this weekend.
"I don't want to put pressure on our players," O'Sullivan said. "I don't want to talk about last year. Last year was last year. We got beat fair and square. It's as simple as that. Only one team is going to win, and obviously they earned it."
South Carolina beat Florida 2-1 and 5-2 last year in Omaha.
The Gamecocks won 9-3 in the series opener in the regular season this year, then lost to Florida 8-2, 5-4 and 7-2. Mike Zunino, Florida's All-American catcher, homered in each of his team's three wins and collected eight RBIs.
The lone win for South Carolina came with its star, senior ace Michael Roth, on the mound. He allowed one earned run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. Florida junior Brian Johnson twice beat the Gamecocks, including a complete game May 25 at the league tournament in Hoover, Ala.
The pitching matchup Saturday: Roth against Johnson.
O'Sullivan unleashed a laugh when asked how to best attack Roth, who is 6-0 in the postseason for his career.
"You've just got to grind out some at-bats," the coach said.
Easier said than done, much like the task of beating the Gators.
"If they play the way they're capable of playing," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said, "they're almost impossible to beat."
Quite the setup for a heavyweight showdown.