The Florida Gators were up 8-6 in the top of the ninth inning last Sunday in game three of the Gainesville Super Regionals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, when up to the plate stepped Nick Vickerson, the man responsible for forcing the winner-take-all game with a two-run walk-off homer Saturday and who gave the Bulldogs four of their six runs in the current contest, three of them from a home run. The Gator fans at McKethan Stadium were at a hush, and Gator Nation everywhere held their breath as they watched on ESPN. With the count at 2-2, Vickerson swung for the fences in left field, but fell short as the ball was caught by Tyler Thompson. As the players celebrated in a dog-pile and fans cheered across the nation, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan led the Gator faithful in celebration as he Gator chomped at the crowd behind the dugout.
A few hours later and a thousand miles away Arizona State Sun Devils would be eliminated by the Texas Longhorns in their own game three of the Austin Super Regionals by a score of 2-4 at Disch-Falk Field. The Texas team stood in front of the primarily burnt orange and white crowd with their signature longhorn hand signal, not quite as jubilant as the Gators were earlier in the afternoon.
The Gators and Longhorns played only two games against eachother both in the Championship round of the 2005 College World Series, which Texas defeated Florida 4-2, 6-2 and became National Champions.
The Gators are looking for a different ending this time as they face Texas in the opening round of double-elimination on Saturday at 7pm on ESPN. Texas is scheduled to start RHP Taylor Jungman (13-2, 1.38 ERA) while O’Sullivan has yet to determine his starter as DH/LHP Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66 ERA) could get the nod for the first time since suffering a concussion on the mound on May 28. Although Johnson said he felt fine through the Super Regionals, he was not cleared medically to play until June 16th. Another missing link that could return for the Gators is 1b/RHP Austin Maddox. Maddox sprained his left foot in the game against Manhatten on June 3rd, and although his cast has been removed he is still listed as day-to-day. Both players have been key elements to the Gators’ success this year, both with their bats and with their pitching.
Although Texas (49-17, 19-8 Big 12) is ranked seventh nationally, they have swept only three series in the 2011 campaign (Kansas State, Missouri, Texas Southern) and were handed losses by Maryland (21-35), Brown (13-29) and Kansas (26-30). Florida, ranked second in the nation, swept nine teams this year (USF – 1 in Tampa, Boston College, Miami (FL), Rhode Island, at LSU, Winthrop, at Tennessee, at Alabama, Ole Miss) and lost to one team below .500, Kentucky (25-30).
In the Austin Regional, Texas came out on top boasting a record of 4-1; their lone loss at the hands of Kent State falling 7-5 on June 4. They would however get their revenge, defeating Kent State 9-3 on June 5 and 5-0 on June 6.
Florida came out unscathed in the Gainesville Regional defeating Manhatten 17-3 on June 3, Miami (FL) 5-4 on June 4 and 11-4 on June 5.
All three SEC Tri-Champions are in the College World Series this year with the Vanderbilt Commodores playing the tournament opener Saturday at 2pm, while the South Carolina Gamecocks will play the last game of the opening round Sunday at 7pm against the Texas A & M Aggies.