Gators are Omaha Bound

The emotion that Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan showed on the field after the Gators clinched back-to-back College World Series appearances for the first time in school history was rare for him. All season he was subdued and collected as his team earned the No. 2 national seed.

When the last out was recorded and Florida was Omaha-bound, he gave the crowd multiple passionate Gator chomps and celebrated with his team.

"There was a lot of adversity today," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said after the Gators won their 50th game for the third time in school history. "It was just an emotional game. It was emotional for the players and for me. I probably learned more about coaching in the last 24 hours than I have in the last four years."

The game featured three lead changes, but each was drastic enough to make it feel like the team ahead would cruise to victory. The final one came in the seventh inning. After Mississippi State scored three runs to take a 6-4 lead, the Gators got some help to start their half of the seventh. Freshman reliever Daryl Norris walked Bryson Smith and Nolan Fontana to start the inning.

Mississippi State head coach John Cohen went to closer Caleb Reed, who threw 83 pitches on Saturday, to face the heart of the Florida lineup. The Gators elected to bunt SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino, moving the runner to second and third with one out.

Preston Tucker delivered the big swing. With first base open, Cohen elected to pitch to Tucker, although trying to throw pitches out of the strike zone and get him to chase. Instead, Reed left a changeup in the strike zone, and Tucker lined it well over the 400-foot fence in center field.

"There weren't a lot of balls around the strike zone," Cohen said. "You kind of figure if you throw it out of the strike zone and he chases, you'll get an easy out. He just went down and got it."

Instead, Tucker unloaded on it for a home run that he calls the biggest in his career. There have been plenty of them, since three RBIs on the swing put him into the 200-RBI club in a career at Florida, joining only Brad Wilkerson and Matt LaPorta, but the swing Sunday is one he will never forget.

"I'd like to think so, yeah," Tucker said. "We just gave up runs and everyone was questioning whether we could come back. It completely changed momentum."

The movement of momentum into the Florida dugout was important after what happened in the top of the seventh.

It all started with two outs after Nick Maronde allowed a double to Cody Freeman. O'Sullivan brought Tommy Toledo in from the bullpen, who allowed Nick Vickerson to tie the game with an RBI single. Brent Brownlee followed with a two-run single that gave the Bulldogs a 6-4 lead and put all the pressure on the Gators.

Toledo (6-3) rebounded to throw two perfect innings to close out the game. After suffering a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder and taking a line drive off the face last season, being on the mound when his team clinched a College World Series berth meant a lot.

"To see my teammates run out there after that, there's no better feeling than to go back to Omaha," Toledo said about the postgame dog pile. "This was our goal, and we all worked together."

After Mississippi State won Saturday's game on a walk-off home run from Vickerson, it was important for the Gators to jump out to a good start. That happened when Mike Zunino hit a solo home run in the first inning, while Daniel Pigott (two-run homer) and Vickash Ramjit (first career homer) went back-to-back in the second inning to give the Gators an early 4-0 lead.

Zunino finished the season 14-for-30 against Mississippi State with three home runs, 10 runs, and 10 RBI in seven games.

Vickerson had another big hit in the fourth inning with a three-run blast that pulled Mississippi State to with a run and gave the Bulldogs hope.

Toledo recorded the last out on Vickerson when he flew out to the left field warning track. It was a sense of closure to record the final out against the hitter that tormented the Gators all weekend.

"He had a great series and was swinging it good this weekend," Toledo said. "It ended up working out for us."

Alex Panteliodis started on the mound for the Gators, recording the sixth NCAA Tournament start of his career, which set a new school record. Josh Adams made his 248th career appearance in a Florida uniform, also setting a new school record.

Florida's first game in Omaha will be Saturday against the will on Sunday night's game three between Texas and Arizona State.

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