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In a season of ups and downs, the Gators learned Monday they are going back to the NCAA Tournament.

Monday May 27, 2013Gators Ready For Fresh Start After Getting News They Wanted Monday

In a season of ups and downs, the Gators learned Monday they are going back to the NCAA Tournament.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They gathered Monday afternoon inside the clubhouse at McKethan Stadium for the final verdict.

After 57 games -- 29 wins and 28 losses – the Gators watched the NCAA Selection Show in anticipation of their biggest win or loss of the season.

“Everyone was kind of anxious,’’ starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford said. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it or not.”

The Gators had to wait a while, but they eventually learned their postseason fate. They haven’t heard “play ball” for the final time.

They are headed to hoops country to continue their season at Indiana’s shiny new ballpark. Florida is in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season, earning the No. 3 seed in the Bloomington (Ind.) Regional at Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers’ home which opened earlier this spring.

Since their one-and-done stop at the SEC Tournament last week put them in that purgatory known as on the bubble, the Gators practiced and practiced and practiced some more.

That’s all they could do until Monday’s selection show.

“We practiced like we anticipated getting in,’’ Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “That’s how we attacked it. We did not know. I feel like we’ve gotten better.”

The Gators will open the tournament on Friday against No. 2 seed Austin Peay (45-13), champions of the Ohio Valley Conference and winners of 15 consecutive games, the longest win streak of any team in the 64-team field.

While Florida finished just a game above .500 and eighth in the SEC, it was who they played that got the final word. The Gators faced the nation’s toughest schedule according to strength-of-schedule metrics and didn’t back away from a slew of tough nonconference opponents prior to the grind of the SEC season.

Host Indiana was one of Florida’s nonconference opponents, winning two of three games against the Gators in early March at McKethan Stadium. The Hoosiers went on to win the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament titles. They are hosting a regional for the first time in school history.

Dennis Farrell, chair of the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee, said the Hoosiers were one of four schools up for the final two national seeds. Florida State and Oregon were eventually chosen.

Meanwhile, Farrell said the committee began meeting Saturday morning to discuss this year’s field. They started with a list of 113 teams vying for the 34 at-large bids. The Gators survived the cut over teams like Michigan State, Auburn and Campbell.

“Auburn was certainly on the board up until the very, very end,’’ Farrell said. “Campbell’s nonconference schedule was somewhat lacking. [Florida’s] nonconference strength of schedule was one of the top 10 in the country.

“Not only did they have the number one overall strength of schedule, which obviously comes along with being in the Southeastern Conference, but they also challenged themselves in non‑conference so I think that that impressed the committee.”

In his sixth season and after three consecutive trips to the College World Series, O’Sullivan anticipated a different route to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The Gators were younger and less experienced. They needed to be tested and they were, starting the season 11-16. Florida turned its fortunes around late in the season to finish 15-10 in the final 25 games.

Despite a loss to Texas A&M in their only game at the SEC Tournament, the Gators proved to the committee they belonged in the field of 64.

Shortly after finding out they made it Monday, the Gators took the field for an intrasquad scrimmage.

“Everybody kind of got energized from [the announcement],’’ senior Cody Dent said. “We have a chance to play in the tournament and do something. You get to play in the postseason and get to play to get back to Omaha.”

O’Sullivan became the first UF coach to lead a team to six consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.

The next goal is to hang around a while.

Crawford likes the Gators’ chances in the Bloomington Regional, which also included No. 4-seed Valparaiso.

“I definitely think Indiana and all the other teams aren’t very happy to see our names in their regional,’’ he said. “I definitely think we deserved to be in there just because our strength of schedule is one of the top in the country.

“We’re a young team and we kind of build a lot off momentum. If we get that momentum, people are not going to like us. We know we can do it.”

Florida is 12-14 against teams in the field. The Gators will try to recapture the kind of momentum they built during an 11-1 spurt from April 7 to April 27 when they went from 14-18 to 25-19, the season’s high-water mark, a stretch that included three-game sweep of South Carolina and a victory over FSU.

O’Sullivan saw a team that got better over the second half of the season despite limping into the tournament with nine losses in its final 13 games.

The Gators rarely made it look easy, but they earned enough respect to hear their name called Monday.

They now seek more respect starting in the Bloomington Regional.

“What we’re trying to do is build a program here and develop some consistency,’’ he said. “This is an important year for us to get in. It wasn’t the prettiest season but I’m as proud of this team as I am with any team we’ve had here. They grinded through it and they got to this point.

“It’s a new season.”

 

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