Gators Ignore Expectations, Earn Spot in CWS

It was supposed to be easy. After the Gators returned so much talent and experience for this season, they were an easy preseason No. 1 and expected to breeze through to Omaha. Expectations can take a toll on any team or coaching staff. It did that to the Gators, but Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his squad pushed through. On Sunday, the Gators clinched their third straight trip to Omaha.

"It was hard for our team to deal with," said a noticeably relieved O'Sullivan after the 9-8 extra innings win. "It was like the big elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about. It was kind of just there."

The expectations weren't a factor during the beginning of the year. Florida cruised to a 23-2 record by March 27 and looked like the juggernaut most people labeled the team as in the preseason. There weren't noticeable weaknesses, the freshmen were contributing and it was all going right for Florida.

Then came the lull.

Everyone knew it would come at some point, but for Florida, it lasted longer than expected. After the 23-2 start, the Gators went 17-14 to close out the regular season. The wheels hadn't fallen off, but they were coming loose.

"It's just not the external people," O'Sullivan said about the pressure. "You, in turn, start putting pressure on yourself. You feel the pressure of trying to get your team to where they should be supposedly. Then you've got the draft right there at the end of the season. There has been a lot."

As the draft crept closer, the pressure to perform got higher. Proven players with track records of almost three years of crushing conference pitching soon started to swoon.

What a difference it makes for the draft to be over.

The team that some national college baseball publications referred to as one of the best ever showed signs of it this weekend. They're not there just yet but Florida showed over the weekend that its capable of being the team that had the expectations put on it, but most importantly in the team's mind, they're five wins away from a national championship.

"It's hard to get to Omaha, number one, but add that you're supposed to get there when there's so many things that can happen in this game that can keep you from getting to your ultimate destination," O'Sullivan said.

"It has not been an easy road. It has been an enjoyable one. These players handled the pressure and expectations extremely well. I couldn't be more pleased and proud of how they've handled this year."

The veterans on the team played a big part in the expectations. Preston Tucker was a big part of that. Playing in his final game at McKethan Stadium on Sunday, the senior has admitted throughout the year that it might not have happened if Florida won the national championship last year.

The Gators fell two wins short of that in Omaha, making Tucker's decision to return for his senior year an easier one. He said on Sunday there's no doubt he made the right choice.

"This type of game and how things worked out—that's what I came back for," Tucker said. "The competition here is unbelievable.

"If I could pick a game to go out with here at home, I think that's the one. It was back and forth. It was frustrating, it was exciting and a battle all the time. I definitely won't forget this game. This is what I came back for."

The back-and-forth nature of Sunday's game has everyone exhausted. Asked to describe some of Josh Tobias' at-bats, O'Sullivan was forced to ask a reporter if he could remind him of what happened in them.

It was that kind of day at McKethan Stadium. The team that entered the postseason with talent and ability looks like the group they were expected to be—one of the best in the country. With some luck and skilled mixed together in Omaha, Florida can take that next step to the program's first national championship.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there," O'Sullivan said of the College World Series. "There has been the draft and the relief of getting it over with and getting to Omaha, I'm looking forward to watching this team play as we move forward."

As is the rest of the country.

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