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Wednesday June 13, 2012Gators Arrive in Omaha Understanding Road Ahead

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Gators baseball team timed its arrival here for the College World Series perfectly on Wednesday afternoon.

As the team bus rolled past TD Ameritrade Stadium toward the Gators' hotel a couple of blocks away, workers were busy hanging a huge "Florida Gators" banner on the stadium along Cuming Street.

A few minutes later the Gators received a red-carpet greeting at their hotel. The carpet was lined with more Gators.

These were the Memorial Gators from the Omaha Little League, part of the welcoming party that greeted Florida in its third consecutive trip to Omaha.

"We are glad to be back and we're ready to go,'' Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "This is a special place and we've worked hard to get back here over the last year."

The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Gators earned a trip back to Omaha with a 9-8 win in extra innings over N.C. State on Sunday in the NCAA Gainesville Regional.

The Gators (47-18) face SEC rival South Carolina (45-17) on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a rematch of last year's CWS Championship Series.

The Gamecocks won both games to win their second consecutive national title.

The Gators spent Wednesday traveling to Omaha and will participate in a press conference Thursday morning, followed by practice and an autograph session at TD Ameritrade Park.

The Gators will then have a team barbecue before attending the CWS Opening Ceremonies, one of the year's highlights from the city of Omaha.

"You can just tell the whole city embraces the College World Series,'' Gators senior pitcher Greg Larson said. "The environment is awesome. It's just a great atmosphere."

While the players are looking forward to the pageantry of Thursday's events, they also have some unfinished business in the quest of the program's first national title.

"We want to get it done,'' Larson said.

Junior pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson has never experienced a season that didn't end with a trip to Omaha.

Johnson said he feels good about the way this year's team is playing as it unpacked here for what the Gators hope is a two-week stay.

"We're playing as a team,'' Johnson said. "We're picking each other up. When somebody doesn't have a great at-bat the next person does. I think we're really putting it together."

As for all the hoopla off the field, Johnson isn't too concerned about any distractions popping up for the younger players like freshmen starters Josh Tobias, Justin Shafer and Casey Turgeon.

"All the older guys are trying to coach the young guys up on what to expect,'' he said.



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