It was the last weekend of the college baseball regular season. Florida and South Carolina entered a three game series in Columbia, SC tied for first place with identical 20-7 records in the tough SEC. The winner of the series would win the SEC and be a national seed. This would mean home field advantage throughout the NCAA Tournament leading up to Omaha.
It doesn't get much tougher for a visitor than playing at South Carolina. Not only does an opponent face a great team, which we all saw in Omaha, but a tough environment.
South Carolina takes baseball seriously. The school has a gorgeous stadium that with the standing room can exceed 10,000 screaming fans. Florida's McEthan Stadium holds 5,500 and the only time it was full this season was for the Super Regionals against Miami.
Florida went in there and won the series in the first two games. Alex Panteliodis and Hudson Randall both shut the Gamecocks down. Florida then emptied its bench for game three and the Gamecocks won.
The Gators and Gamecocks then proceeded to mow down the competition in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina took down a tough Coastal Carolina squad in Myrtle Beach in two straight one-run games to advance to Omaha. Florida swept Miami in Gainesville to do the same.
Both teams lost their opener in Omaha and were sent to the loser's bracket. Florida then bowed out meekly to Florida State.
In two College World Series games, both Panteliodis and Randall pitched with a severe case of the jitters. Neither looked like they had all season. Pamteliodis hit the first two UCLA batters he faced and didn't last very long in a UCLA 11-3 rout.
Randall was down 4-1 by the third inning. He was gone in the fourth. The Gators staged a bit of a comeback in the ninth before a double play sealed their fate in an 8-5 Florida State win.
South Carolina, on the other hand, routed top seeded Arizona State in an elimination game, then took down Oklahoma to advance to the last round of the bracket. There the Gamecocks would also face their in-state ACC rivals, the Clemson Tigers. They beat the Tigers twice to advance to the finals where they swept UCLA.
Florida was left to sit and watch the team they had beaten to win the SEC celebrate a National championship. I hope it made the Gators sick to their stomachs. I hope it made them angry. Other than Matt den Dekker and Kevin Chapman, the Gators will all return next season. They will return knowing that they have the talent to win it all. There will be no excuses.
Much like the 2007 basketball team and the 2009 football team, it will be all or nothing for the 2011 Gator baseball team. Anything less than a title will be a disappointment.
The 2007 hoops team came through. It was one of the greatest moments in school history. The 2009 football team fell just short. It was one of the biggest disappointments in school history.
So the Gators knows what is expected, and they know they have the tools to get it done. Now it's just a matter of working hard and going out there and performing.