Peter Alonso ready to lead Florida Gators in College World Series
There is definitely pressure and high expectations on the Florida baseball team as it returns to the College World Series.
And it seems that is just how the Gators like it.
After coming within a victory of reaching the CWS title best-of-3 games round last June, the Gators are back in Omaha with the top national seeding and a starring role in the recent MLB draft.
Although Florida (52-14) has yet to win a national championship in baseball, it expects to bring the trophy back to Gainesville this time around.
“We want to win it and that has been the focus all season,’’ said pitcher Logan Shore, who gets the start Sunday when Florida opens up against upset-minded Coastal Carolina (49-16) at 8 p.m. “We are here to bring home a national championship and that’s what we plan to do.
“This is why I came to college, why 26 other guys here came to college. Just to be in Omaha is special, but this year, more than others, we’re here to take it home.”
The Gators looked like the best team in Omaha last year when they played rival Miami, outscoring the Hurricanes 25-5 in a pair of lopsided victories.
Florida struggled against Virginia, however, beating the Cavaliers in a must-win game to pull out of the loser’s bracket after being placed there by the Cavaliers in the first place.
Virginia then sent Florida home with a 5-4 victory, moved into the championship round and won the national title with a series win over Vanderbilt.
“We fell short last year,’’ first baseman Peter Alonso said. “We’ve had some extremely talented teams here and have fallen short. This time, we’re looking forward to bringing home to the first baseball national championship to Florida.’’
Said Shore: “It’s tough because we were close, we could smell it. And we came up short, and it’s tough.”
Based off last year’s finish — and their extremely talented roster — the Gators came into this season as college baseball’s favorite.
Florida opened its season with six consecutive wins before losing to the Hurricanes on Feb. 27 in Coral Gables. The Gators took two of three from Miami and were 17-1 when they lost again at Kentucky on March 26.
“Obviously, it’s been well documented before we even played our first game, the expectation,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I think we’ve handled it fairly well. We’ve had some spurts during the year where we may not have played our best.
“But I think the SEC schedule has certainly prepared us for this. And we played some very, very difficult places. ... To be honest, I don’t know if there’s more pressure than from the beginning. It is what it is. I think our players have handled it as well as they could have.”
Florida had a few challenging patches as O’Sullivan referenced although not many.
Despite losing just three conference series (Kentucky, Mississippi State and LSU), the Gators didn’t win the SEC regular-season title and lost two of five in the SEC tournament.
When the national seedings came out, Florida was the top team in the country. In Omaha, only Florida and Miami remain from the top eight national seeds.
Of the seven SEC teams invited to the postseason, only the Gators made it to Omaha. The Hurricanes are the only one of a record 10 ACC teams left standing as well.
“This trip never gets old,” O’Sullivan said. “I think this is our fifth time in the last seven years, and sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around the success our players have had on the field. ... I think it’s a great field. It’s going to be an awful lot of fun.”
The talent this UF team has on its roster is undeniable.
In the first two days of the MLB draft, eight Gators were selected.
The first Florida player to go was lefty starter A.J. Puk who went sixth overall — just a spot before the Marlins picked — to Oakland. Puk was followed by righty Dane Dunning (29th, Washington).
Shore (Oakland), Buddy Reed (San Diego), Alonso (Mets), Shaun Anderson (Boston), Scott Moss (Cincinnati) and Kirby Snead (Toronto) were also selected in the early going of the draft.
Following the draft, Florida dropped the opener of its super regional to Florida State then shut out the Seminoles in the final two games to advance.
The Gators roll into Omaha throwing 22 consecutive scoreless innings.
“I know they’re excited about the draft being behind them,” O’Sullivan said. “And I think ever since last Friday, second day of the draft, I know there was kind of a big sigh of relief, and I think everybody was excited to move forward.”