Florida heads to Omaha, Nebraska, as the hottest team in the country and Las Vegas’ odds-on favorite to win the 2015 College World Series.
The Gators — seeking their first national title — have pulverized opponents this postseason, outscoring them 73-18 during a nine-game winning streak.
Backed by an armada of arms and a deep and dangerous lineup, the young group believes it is ready for a coronation.
“It’s our turn,” UF’s freshman sensation JJ Schwarz said.
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“We’re really excited to get out to Omaha and hopefully take it home.”
Added outfielder Harrison Bader: “There’s no reason we can’t win five more games and a national championship.”
Florida (49-16) is brimming with confidence, but it faces a stiff test immediately in Miami (49-15).
The in-state rivals will meet in prime time on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN), a marquee rematch from a series in late February. The Gators took two of three from the Hurricanes, winning a pair of one-run games. UF didn’t square off against UM ace Andy Suarez (9-1, 2.96 ERA) though, as the southpaw missed the series with an oblique strain. The Gators’ No. 1 starter, Logan Shore (9-6, 2.50 ERA), lasted just nine pitches against the Canes because of an injured hip.
Now, both teams are healthy and playing their best baseball to date.
“I think they’re a lot like us,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Miami.
“I think they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on. And I think there are going to be other teams out there that we’ve played; Arkansas, LSU, Vanderbilt and some other teams. The message I’m going to send to our team is we’ve been tested. We know we’re good enough. We just have to go out there and play.”
The Gators, who ended Miami’s season three consecutive years, from 2009 to ’11, hope their formula of stout pitching, excellent defense and timely hitting will continue in Omaha.
They will need Schwarz to continue his spectacular surge, too, as the freshman DH/catcher is 22 of 39 (.564 average) this postseason. Schwarz has collected a bevy of awards — Collegiate Baseball’s co-freshman of the year, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association national freshman hitter of the year, MVP of the Southeastern Conference tournament and Gainesville Regional — in recent weeks, knocking nine extra base hits along with 17 RBI and 14 runs in his past nine games. He set a UF freshman record for homers (18) this year, including two in the team’s 11-4 clincher against Florida State.
“He’s really caught fire here,” O’Sullivan said.
“This is what happens if you’re going to win a championship. A couple guys just have to get really get hot. Obviously, he’s kind of getting to that point where he’s carrying us a little bit right now. … He’s just a really special player, a special hitter, a special catcher, and he’s put together quite the year.”