OMAHA, Neb. — Florida came into Omaha much the way it entered its season — with hype.
The Gators took the field at TD Ameritrade Ballpark on Friday, shagging deep flies and hitting simulated batting practice in front of a smattering of reporters and fans who were anxious to get up close and personal with the most powerful team in baseball.
And, if you listen to most of the reports out there, Florida is not just the most powerful, ball-blasting team out there. It’s the best.
That theory will be tested Saturday night as the No. 2 Gators take on Texas in a rematch of the 2005 College World Series championship series, won by the Longhorns.
This season, the Gators are 4/1 favorites to win the College World Series (Texas has 17/2 odds). It is a team that tore apart nearly everything in its sight this season, earning a 50-17 record and smashing 67 home runs.
“They hit balls hard, they hit them far, and they hit them often,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido.
There are seven players in the Gator’s lineup hitting over .300, four more than Texas. There are seven Gators with more than 30 RBI — Texas has three. Florida averages almost seven runs a game, while the Longhorns score about five.
Starting the year as the No. 1 team in the nation carries a curse of high expectations, but the Gators have played up to par all season, not falling farther than No. 3 in the national polls. The motivation to succeed is due in part to last year’s CWS, in which the team left Omaha without a win.
“We were a little overwhelmed last year,” said designated hitter Preston Tucker. “We’re more prepared now.”
As usual, Texas has pitching in its favor. Taylor Jungmann (13-2) will be expected to stymie the best offense in baseball, particularly sluggers Mike Zunino (.376, 18 HR, 66 RBI) and Tucker (.314, 14 HR, 68 RBI).
“I’m not going to change anything,” the junior right-hander said. “I can only control where I put the pitch.”
The Florida hitters are aware of who they’re facing.
“He has a great fastball that he locates and works ahead with, and a really good breaking ball,” said Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year. “We have to go and grind out every at-bat and make him throw a lot of pitches.”
If Jungmann can limit the Florida offense to just a few runs, Texas has a good chance to win. It should help that TD Ameritrade plays much bigger than Florida’s home park.
“It’s big, you have to play gap-to-gap instead of trying to put balls over the fences,” Zunino said.
The dimensions here play similarily to Texas’ Disch-Falk — 335 feet down the foul poles, 375 in both power alleys, and 408 to dead center.
“We’re going to have to drive the ball rather than lift it,” Tucker said.