The Florida Gators would have to be near the top of any list of favorites for the 2011 College World Series. They are one of the more well-rounded teams in the field and much of the core of this team was in Omaha just last season.
They will be looking to finish what they started last year at this event.
This version of the Gators' run to Omaha began with a sweep of the regional round at home in Gainesville. In that regional, they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 33-11.
They began the regional with a 17-3 drubbing of Manhattan. Then, they scratched out a nail-biting 5-4 win over Miami on a walk-off single by Nolan Fontana. After Miami worked their way back to the regional final round, the Gators greeted them rudely by beating them 11-4 to move on to the super regionals.
In the super regional, the Gators seemed to have gotten a friendly draw. SEC foe Mississippi State had upset favorite Georgia Tech to win the Atlanta regional . The Gators had already won a series against the Bulldogs this season, and they seemed to be the far superior team.
That isn't exactly how it played out though. After winning the opener easily by the score of 11-1, they dropped the second game 4-3 thanks to a walk-off home run by Mississippi State's Nick Vickerson.
In the deciding third game, the Gators trailed 6-4 as late as the seventh inning, before coming back to win 8-6. They had survived to move on to Omaha.
The story for the Gators has been their incredible depth both in the lineup and on the mound.
So far this postseason, their offense has taken center stage. They have scored 55 total runs in six postseason games.
They are led at the plate by all-everything catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino boasts a .376 batting average, 18 home runs and 66 RBI.
He doesn't do it alone, however. Daniel Pigott has a .339 batting average, 15 steals and 39 RBI. After a rough season last year, Josh Adams has rebounded to hit .329 with six home runs and 42 RBI.
Preston Tucker is the biggest power bat behind Zunino, as he has 14 home runs and 68 RBI.
Proving how deep the Gators are, they were forced to replace first baseman Austin Maddox with bench player Vickash Ramjit after Maddox was injured in the regional-opening game against Manhattan. All Ramjit has done this season is hit .394.
All told, the Gators are hitting .311 as a team and have bashed 67 home runs.
On the mound, the Gators' talent is also nearly unmatched. Co-aces Hudson Randall and Karsten Whitson lead the way in the starting rotation and Nick Maronde, Greg Larson and Tommy Toledo are the best arms out of the bullpen.
Randall is 10-3 with a 2.29 ERA. Whitson is a perfect 8-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Third starter Brian Johnson has been out of action since the SEC tournament with a concussion.
He is said to be ready to return, but if he doesn't, Alex Panteliodis can be counted on. He is 6-2 with a 3.95 ERA and was the winning pitcher in both the SEC championship game and the regional-clinching game against Miami.
Maronde, Larson and Toledo have solid numbers in relief. Maronde has a 2.03 ERA in 33 appearances. Larson has pitched in 29 games and sports a 2.19 ERA. Tommy Toledo has a 3.41 ERA and has some starting experience, so he can give coach Kevin O'Sullivan multiple innings.
There is also hope that the aforementioned Maddox, who also serves as the team's closer, will return in time for the College World Series. Maddox has a miniscule 0.74 ERA and five saves.
The Gators have as good a chance as any to come out as national champions. They can win slugfests with their powerful offense and pitcher's duels with their deep pitching staff. Florida may very well be the most Omaha-ready team in the field.