The last opponent Texas faced in 2005 — the year the Longhorns won their sixth national championship — was Florida.
Now the two schools square off again, this time in a prime-time opener Saturday night, with the winner sitting pretty and the loser facing elimination.
The stakes may not be as high as the College World Series Finals, but if the Longhorns expect to be dogpiling on home plate by the end of this trip to Omaha, they’re going to have to beat Florida once — and this is their best shot.
Taylor Jungmann (13-2) takes to the mound in this opening game and, the last two weeks not withstanding, represents the only advantage Texas has over the Gators.
Florida (50-17) entered the year ranked No. 1 in the country and the odds-on favorite to win the national championship. The season went pretty much as expected — with regular season and tournament SEC championships — and the Gators earned a national seed (No. 2).
After stomping Mississippi State 11-1 in the first game of the Super Regionals, Florida lost by way of walk-off in the second game 4-3, but rebounded for an 8-6 win Sunday to clinch its trip to Omaha.
These two teams could not be more different. While Texas wins games with strong pitching and just enough runs, Florida likes to mash.
The Gators have hit 67 home runs this year. Individually, they have seven guys with over five and two guys in double digits. Mike Zunino, who was named the SEC player of the year, has 18 homers. Texas’ team total is 17.
Take Erich Weiss, who has the highest batting average of any Longhorn with .358. There are two Gators who hit better than that. Take Tant Shepherd, who has the third-highest average at .305. There are nine Gators who hit better than that.
“I’ve heard a lot of people saying good things about their power numbers, but I’m not going to change anything,” Jungmann said. “The only thing I can control is where I put the pitch and pick my spots.”
But is he at least a little more conscious or particular against such a powerful offense?
“Not at all,” Jungmann said. “I’m not going to look at their numbers — their averages, their home run numbers, their RBIs — whatever it is.”
Jungmann wouldn’t know it, but Florida’s team batting average is .311, 16th in the nation.
But if he can get back to his regular season form (he’s lost his two postseason starts), Jungmann and the Longhorns should have an advantage on the mound.
The UT pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.72, which bests Florida’s 3.01. The ace of the Gators’ pitching staff is sophomore Hudson Randall, who has a 10-3 record and a 2.29 ERA. Randall will match up with Jungmann — the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year — Saturday night.
It’s unclear right now how the new TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha will play, but Texas hopes it’s more like the cavernous UFCU Disch-Falk and less like Florida’s short-porch, low-fence McKethan Stadium.
“The win that blew out at Rosenblatt blows in here,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido. “It plays big, so I’ve been told. That’s better for us. We’re not exactly leading the nation in home runs, but we’ve beat out a few individuals.”
Not all of them.