GatorZone.com Senior Writer
OMAHA, Neb. – Hudson Randall watched on Friday as junior lefty Alex Panteliodis started and pitched six solid innings in Florida’s 6-4 win over Vanderbilt. The victory earned the Gators a spot in the best-of-three final at the College World Series against defending national champion South Carolina.
Randall won’t be watching on Monday.
Instead, the sophomore right-hander will take the mound as Florida’s Game 1 starter looking for the same kind of success he enjoyed against the Gamecocks on March 26 at McKethan Stadium. Randall pitched a complete game in Florida’s 2-1 win, surrendering just five hits and an unearned run in his efficient 95-pitch outing.
Before leaving TD Ameritrade Park on Friday, Randall already was focused on the Gamecocks, who have won an NCAA-record 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament games dating back to last season.
“It’s definitely my most hyped start going into it,’’ Randall said. “It’s the biggest stage I’ve pitched in. This is the championship series. You can’t get bigger than this in college.’’
Randall’s only appearance in Omaha came in the Gators’ opener against Texas. Randall outdueled Longhorns ace Taylor Jungmann in Florida’s 8-4 win for his team-high 11th win of the season. Randall (11-3, 2.24 ERA, 116.2 IP, 101 H, 12 BB, 67 SO) moved into the No. 1 starter’s role after his win in March against the Gamecocks and hasn’t looked back since.
“I’m really excited to get back out there,’’ he said.
FRESHMAN LIKELY TO START FOR GAMECOCKS
Following his team outlasting Virginia on Friday night in 13 innings, South Carolina coach Ray Tanner was asked about his pitching plans in Game 1 against the Gators.
“What are the chances of rain on Monday?’’ Tanner quipped.
Barring a washout, Tanner then said he’ll likely hand the ball to freshman right-hander Forrest Koumas, which would mean a rematch of the Randall victory over the Gamecocks in March. Koumas pitched six innings against Florida three months ago, allowing just two hits and one run. He walked two and struck out five and showed some wildness by hitting three batters.
Overall, Koumas is 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 18 games, including 11 starts.
“He pitched one of his better games against the Gators earlier down in Gainesville,’’ Tanner said. “That's where we are.’’
For a scout’s take on Koumas, here is what an anonymous coach told Baseball America entering the CWS:
“Forrest Koumas is 88-92 [mph] with a hard slider, but the thing he always did well is knee-high outside corner – the fastball down and away, fastball in, and slider down and away.’’
GATORS MAINTAIN NORMAL ROUTINE
Since they don’t play until Monday night, the Gators are practicing as usual this weekend to stay sharp. They practiced at an Omaha-area high school on Saturday and will practice at TD Ameritrade Park on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams are also participating in a press conference on Sunday to preview the championship series.
“We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing and stay focused on what we want to accomplish,’’ Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “This thing is not over. We still have a long way to go.’’
PANTELIODIS’ PERFORMANCE DRAWS APPLAUSE
Junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis’ outing in Friday’s win against Vanderbilt ended up getting overshadowed by the late drama, the return of Florida closer Austin Maddox, and Florida’s win to move into the CWS championship series.
But he earned high praise from those in both dugouts for surrendering only one run and three hits over six innings in a tension-filled game. Panteliodis also broke the school record for career strikeouts (35) in the NCAA Tournament.
“That could have spiraled out of control,’’ O’Sullivan said. “It all started with A.P. He was outstanding. If you would have told me before the game you were going to get one run over six innings, we would have taken it.’’
The only blemish was a first-inning homer by Aaron Westlake, who said Panteliodis was “utilizing the outside part of the zone’’ to be more effective as the game progressed.
“I missed my spot and he definitely got a hold of it,’’ Panteliodis said. “But after that, I got in the groove, settled down, started executing pitches, putting the ball in play and using my defense.’’
CORBIN ROOTING FOR GATORS
O’Sullivan made it know that he wasn’t looking forward to playing against his former colleague and good friend, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. The Gators won both games against the Commodores here and won five of six overall this season.
O’Sullivan and Corbin were assistants together on Jack Leggett’s staff at Clemson and remain close despite now facing off regularly in the SEC. After Florida’s win on Friday, Corbin revealed he is rooting for the Gators.
“To be honest with you … I hope they go off and win it,’’ said an emotional Corbin, visibly upset at his team’s season ending. “Right now I want to take my phone and computer and dump it in the Tennessee River and just spend some time with these guys [his players]. I just hate to see it come to an end.’’
WATCH OUT FOR BATS
One of the oddest scenes of the CWS came in the eighth inning on Friday when Florida catcher Mike Zunino swung at a pitch and his metal bat went flying into the stands.
At least half of it. As the barrel went flying, the handle remained firmly in Zunino’s grasp.
The bat flew several rows up and was retrieved by a young boy who later was escorted to Florida’s clubhouse to meet Zunino. NCAA officials traded the young boy a new bat for the broken one so Zunino could sign it.
Maybe it was an omen for Zunino. He struck out during the at-bat and is hitting .167 in the CWS, so a new bat could do him good.
GATORS JOIN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
Since the CWS went to a best-of-three series in 2003 to determine the national champion, only three schools prior to this season had played in multiple championship series: Texas (2004-05, 2009) North Carolina (2006-07) and Oregon State (2006-07).
Florida became the fourth school to join the club with its victory over Vanderbilt on Friday. The Gators advanced to the CWS championship series in 2005 before losing to the Longhorns.
Gators outfielder Bryson Smith leads all players with 17 hits in the NCAA Tournament. Smith is 17-for-36 (.472) in nine games and has a 13-game hitting streak overall … Preston Tucker leads all players with 20 RBI, including six in the CWS … South Carolina has a team ERA of 1.30 in eight NCAA Tournament games … Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana’s two-run single on Friday that gave the Gators a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning snapped an 0-for-17 skid.