After splitting a pair of games at the College World Series, Florida and Virginia will do battle for a third and final time Saturday, with the winner advancing to the College World Series finals to take on Vanderbilt in a best-of-three series.
There is a definite feeling of unpredictability entering the contest, as their two previous meetings couldn't have been more different. The Cavaliers took the first game with a nerve-wracking 1-0 shutout while the Gators struck back in a 10-5 slugfest to force a decisive clash.
With both Florida and Virginia in a win-or-go-home situation, Saturday's game promises to be one of the most exciting of the entire college baseball season.
Prior to the SEC versus ACC showdown, here is a look at everything you need to know about the tilt, including predictions for which team will ultimately come out on top.
Where: TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska
When: Saturday, June 20, at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Florida Player to Watch: JJ Schwarz
Florida has no shortage of offensive firepower with guys like Harrison Bader, Josh Tobias and Richie Martin in the fold, but freshman catcher JJ Schwarz has already developed into the Gators' most important and trusted hitter at the plate.
Schwarz's power production is through the roof this season, as he ranks fourth in college baseball with 18 home runs and third in RBI with 73. Florida thrives at putting men on base and driving them in, and no Gators player is more adept at the latter skill than Schwarz.
It is evident just how good Schwarz is when watching him from afar, but his talent isn't lost on Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, as he gets to watch his star freshman from a front-row seat each and every game, according to Ian Cohen of the Independent Florida Alligator (h/t NCAA.com):
"He's just a special player," O'Sullivan said. "Special hitter, special catcher."
Schwarz is so good, in fact, that Jim Callis of MLB.com believes he would have been among the first players selected in the recent MLB draft had he been eligible to be picked:
The young catcher has big expectations to live up to not only due to the fact that the Gators went 51-17 this season, but also because of his sister, Taylor.
She won a second consecutive Women's College World Series title with Florida this season, and Schwarz fully intends to match her accomplishment, per Nick de la Torre of GatorCountry.com:
If the Florida baseball team is going to pull off the double with the softball team, then Schwarz will undoubtedly be a huge part of it.
He went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored in the Gators' most recent victory over Virginia, and if he contributes to that level and beyond Saturday, then Florida will have a date with Vanderbilt on the horizon.
Virginia Player to Watch: Kenny Towns
While Florida has ridden a freshman player to this point of the season, Virginia has relied on a more experienced player in the form of senior infielder Kenny Towns.
Towns is tied for the team lead with catcher Matt Thaiss at 61 RBI, but he is much more valuable than the numbers indicate. He is a veteran when it comes to performing on the big stage, and that has helped him become one of the best clutch hitters in the collegiate game.
According to Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress, Towns is very much at ease when he's at the plate in high-pressure situations:
"I think I just feel comfortable in the postseason," Towns said. "The games are usually on the line this time of year. It's nice to come through for your club."
The manner in which Towns handles pressure is something to behold, as he never seems to get nervous. He knows that he has a job to do, and he gets it done more often than not.
That fact isn't lost on the opposition, as Michael Lananna of Baseball America has heard firsthand just how feared Towns is as a hitter:
The Cavaliers don't have the same amount of depth and hitting ability that the Gators do, but they proved in their first meeting of the College World Series that they can win tight games with timely offense.
Provided Virginia is able to keep things close against Florida on Saturday, Towns is the type of player who could potentially make a decisive play in a big moment to stamp the Cavs' ticket to the College World Series finals.
While any team that makes it within one win of advancing to the College World Series finals is a great one, Florida and Virginia feel like polar opposites.
The Gators have been among the top teams in the nation all season long while the Cavs have been underdogs to some degree. That is due largely to the fact that Florida boasts a seemingly endless wave of big-time hitters, which was evident in its 10-5 win over the Cavaliers.
Although the Cavs know they can beat the Gators after having done so previously at the College World Series, Florida has all the momentum on its side at this point.
With Schwarz, Bader, Tobias, Martin and others leading the way for the Gators, they enter Saturday's contest as the prohibitive favorites. Intangibles can go a long way in baseball, but they won't be enough for Virginia to overcome a stacked Florida team.
Look for the Gators to come through with a 5-2 victory en route to what is sure to be an exciting College World Series finals against Vandy.
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